The 2023 Regular Session of the General Assembly got underway on Wednesday, January 11. This is a short session, meaning it runs just 46 days. The budget is the primary work of the General Assembly, and the biennial budget is essentially set the first year of the biennium, during even numbered years. So this year’s discussions will be devoted to amendments to that document as well as thousands of bills that will roll from legislators during this election year.
This session began with the tradition of the Governor giving his State of the Commonwealth address. The Governor’s speech is usually given at 7:00 p.m. This Governor, for the past two years, has moved the speech up to 4 p.m. so he can be on the 6 o’clock news. The speech was fairly typical for political speeches and had several key themes.
First, the Governor wanted to remind us all that Virginia is now on the right track, implying certainly that Virginia was on the wrong track before he took office. Never mind that twice during the governorship of Ralph Northam, CNBC ranked Virginia as the best state to do business. Governor Youngkin points to our loss of population and loss of business opportunity as signs that we are losing out. He points out that North Carolina has steadily decreased taxes and that we are losing to states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas. The reality is that we have gained about 600,000 in population over the past decade and we have steadily maintained per capita income that is on par or exceeds that of those states.
There are certainly things we can do to improve economic opportunity in Virginia. Growth and opportunity across the Commonwealth is uneven. There are many people who slip through the cracks, but things have not been off the tracks here. We have continued to promote policies that create opportunity throughout Virginia, such as raising the minimum wage, working to lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs, and making the Earned Income Tax Credit partially refundable.
The second theme seemed to be that all of the reforms that Democrats enacted should be repealed. Chief among those are the laws we passed to protect our environment and to reform our criminal justice system. Candidly, Virginia is now a leader on environmental protection, and we now have a more equitable sense of justice in the Commonwealth. We will not retreat on the progress we have made.
In a divided legislature, it seems odd that the Governor would be on the attack against half of the legislature. If the goal is to get things done, it would seem that themes would be focused more on issues that we can unite around. There is certainly enough division in the world and in the legislature, and the Governor did nothing but deepen the divisions.
The third theme of the speech was somewhat peculiar. The Governor seemed focused on communist China. He points to trends in other states where Chinese entities have purchased farmland and made clear we have to prevent that from happening in Virginia. Clearly it is in our interest to maintain a competitive advantage where we can, but a Chinese company purchased Smithfield Foods, the largest producer of pork in this country, many years ago. To a large extent, the Governor is talking about problems that have already arisen. The horse is already out of the barn.
I am hopeful we can work together on improving our behavioral health care system and addressing the opioid crisis. Certainly every community has been touched by the scourge of opioids, and I welcome a renewed focus on this area. We have to identify new ways to engage people in treatment, expand access to high quality and evidence based services, and reduce the flow of fentanyl into our communities.
With respect to mental health, the Governor announced an initiative last month that focused on addressing crisis intervention. Candidly, the Governor’s plan has a great deal of promise. I addressed this last month but pointed out that the Governor’s proposal is basically the floor. There is so much more we need to accomplish. We need to take the Governor’s plan, which will provide sources of treatment to people in need much earlier if it is properly funded and staffed, and build on it. We have to have the workforce to provide the services. We need to address the 28% vacancy rate that exists statewide at our CSBs. We need to raise the reimbursement rates and get more people in the private sector engaged with the provision of services to Medicaid patients. We need to take active steps to rebuild the workforce by promoting, and funding, health education.
This session, like all sessions, will be a test of which priorities we can tackle. I am very hopeful that in spite of the partisan rhetoric, we can find ways to come together to meet the needs of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It continues to be an incredible blessing for me to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If I may be of assistance to you or if you would like to come see the General Assembly in action, please contact my office at (804) 698-7525 or email@example.com.