The 2022 Session of the Virginia General Assembly adjourned on Saturday, March 12. This has been an exhausting eight and a half weeks. The days have been long, and the news has not always been pleasant. We saw several recurrent themes this year.
First, the primary responsibility of the Virginia General Assembly every year is to pass a balanced budget. Faced with a record amount of surplus funds, the House and Senate took dramatically different approaches to developing a budget. The House, following the lead of Governor Youngkin, decided to prioritize changes to the tax law that could put a few extra bucks in peoples’ pockets. Some of those changes would force local governments to increase property taxes gradually, so the overall impact is questionable.
The Senate took a different approach. We evaluated the unmet needs in Virginia, recognizing that there will never be enough money to meet every need, and balanced that need with limited tax relief. The two sides are about $2.8 billion apart from a resource standpoint. The gulf between the two sides has not been this wide before, so we adjourned without a budget. We will go into overtime, in the form of a special session to be convened pretty soon, to allow the conferees to continue their work on achieving the constitutionally mandated balanced budget.
A second theme involves the power dynamic between the Republican Governor and House of Delegates and the Democratic Senate. Early on the Governor appointed a Secretary of Natural Resources who the Senate would not confirm. Candidly, the Governor knew that before the session even began. He went forward with the appointment anyway, and predictably the Senate rejected it. Apparently in response to that rejection, the House of Delegates removed a highly qualified Commissioner, Angela Navarro, from the State Corporation Commission and rejected 11 of Governor Northam’s appointees from last year. Those appointments were to the State Board of Education and some of the environmental boards. The Senate then rejected Governor Youngkin‘s appointments to two boards, including a new parole board.
There are two vacancies on the Supreme Court. The Senate has been in negotiations with House leadership since the beginning of the session to determine how to fill those seats. Any number of scenarios are possible that respect the current balance of power in Richmond. It is the responsibility of each one of us to resolve our differences and come up with a way forward, and it seems like there is a clear roadmap. Nonetheless, at this point, we have not been able to settle our disagreements.
It is my hope that this sort of dynamic does not take hold and control the situation throughout Governor Youngkin’s tenure. We need to be able to find common ground on which to work and accomplish things for the people of Virginia. We need to be able to have the kind of relationship where we sit down at the table and come to an agreement. So far the Governor has been pretty good about saying the right things in public, but I have seen very little follow-through. The result is, at present, a broken relationship.
A third dynamic is that the Republicans have used their new majority in the House of Delegates to introduce legislation to roll back many of the advances the Democrats made over the last few years, from criminal justice reform to environmental and energy reform and civil rights to election law reform. Much of the session was spent fighting the same battles we fought in 2020 and 2021, defeating Republican bills that were introduced in the Senate and then defeating them again in the form of House Bills after crossover. Way too much energy and too much press attention focused on these bills.
With that said, we still accomplished much. I will provide an update on my legislation and on Judiciary bills in the coming weeks.
It continues to be my high honor to serve you in the Senate. I think we will be back in special session very soon but in the meantime, I will be back in my office in Hot Springs or in my legislative office in Charlottesville. I can be reached at (540) 839-2473 or (434) 296-5491 and by email at [email protected].
P.S. In case you missed it, check out the Richmond Times Dispatch article on why the 2022 Session mattered.