Virginia’s headline-grabbing elections last fall put Republicans back in the top three statewide offices for the first time in about a decade and a Republican majority back in the House of Delegates. However, since Virginia Senators enjoy four-year terms and none were up for election last November, Democrats still hold a slender 21-19 majority in that body. In order for a bill to become a law, it must pass both the House and Senate, and then be signed by Governor Youngkin. The State Senate, led by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), who according to the Virginia Mercury owns a shop that sells illegal and misidentified marijuana products with labeling targeting children, has promised to be a “stone wall” against GOP-led proposals from the Governor and House of Delegates.
Due to these disagreements between the parties, the General Assembly failed to create a budget during their normal session which ended a few weeks ago. Therefore, Gov. Youngkin has called the General Assembly back to a special session on April 4 to create a budget for 2022-2024. Both the Senate and House have sent representatives to a special budget conference committee with the aim of hammering out a compromise that all parties can accept.
Despite the recent pandemic, lockdowns, and economic downturns, the Virginia government currently enjoys a $16.7 billion surplus. One particular sticking point between the two chambers of the General Assembly is the GOP-led proposal to eliminate the tax on groceries. Since groceries make up a larger slice of a personal budget for people on limited incomes, that tax hits working people and those on fixed incomes particularly hard. Delegate Joe McNamara (R-8, Roanoke County/Salem) spearheaded that legislation to end the tax on groceries. According to his website, McNamara joined the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors and never raised a tax. He is also the only Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the General Assembly. Former Gov. Northam earlier spoke of ending that tax but despite four years in office and a Democrat majority in the legislature, he never did so.
Other issues up for debate include doubling the standard deduction on state taxes, reducing the gas tax, and how much of the surplus to return to taxpayers versus spending on other government programs.
According to the Richmond-based Virginia Family Foundation, some of the bigger differences include:
- The House proposes doubling the standard tax deduction, but the Senate does not.
- Of the $16.7 billion surplus, the House plans to $5.1 billion to Virginia taxpayers, while the Senate proposes returning only $2.2 billion to Virginians.
Under either approach, the vast majority of the state surplus is slated to be kept in government coffers for later spending, with only a small percentage to be returned to the workers and taxpayers who first generated the funds.
Due to a combination of reduced US domestic energy production, pandemic-related government hand-outs, historic government spending and printing of money, and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine, inflation is at the highest rate since the 1970s. Thus, most Virginians under the age of fifty or so have never before experienced such an inflation.
Despite the euphoria that many experienced when they received their pandemic-related relief checks months ago, reports indicate inflation is now on track to cost an average of $2,000 more in gas and $1,000 per year in groceries. In other words, the average household can expect to have roughly $3,000 less this year to spend on everything else, due to inflation driving up costs on many basics and also driving down the buying power of each individual dollar.
Due to numerous political, economic, religious and cultural reasons, the Democrat party has become increasingly unpopular here in the Southwestern and Central regions of Virginia, as the GOP has been in ascendancy. After the defeat of scandal-plagued Del. Chris Hurst in the New River Valley last November, Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke), who represents the highly gerrymandered 21st District, and Del. Salam “Sam” Rasoul (D-Roanoke City) are the only remaining Democrats in the General Assembly representing this western one-third of the Commonwealth.
Eyes are on the General Assembly in its special April 4 session to see which versions of the budget and which visions of a future Virginia prevail.