Before the Virginia legislative session began Wednesday afternoon, legislative leaders from the House of Delegates and Senate unveiled priorities, which have some stark differences between the two chambers.
The House of Delegates, which is controlled by a narrow Republican majority, is proposing broad tax cuts, school choice bills and a diversification of the energy sector. The Senate, which has a narrow Democratic majority, is proposing more limited tax and cuts and expanded state-funded childcare.
In the 2021 elections, Republicans flipped the House and the governor’s seat, but the Senate, which did not have any elections, went unchanged. During a news conference, House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said Virginians voted for Republicans because the party listened to their concerns and the policy agenda will directly reflect their concerns.
“The things we kept hearing the most about were their children’s future, the education of their children specifically, the rising cost of living [and] doing business… [and] the safety of our communities,” Gilbert said.
One of the top concerns for Republican leadership is the rapidly expanding inflation, according to Appropriations Chair Barry Knight, R- Virginia Beach. He said families are struggling to make ends meet and the state can address these issues because of an abundance of money from the federal stimulus programs and a revenue surplus. The House Republicans are proposing a tax rebate of $300 for individual filers and a $600 rebate for joint filing. They also support ending the grocery tax and doubling the standard reduction to reduce the overall tax burden on families and ensure a broad tax cut.
“We have a fiscal and moral obligation to help these struggling families,” Knight said.
The approach from the Senate is slightly different. Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said in a news conference Democrats will support a tax rebate, but will not support increasing the standard deduction. He said increasing the standard deduction would give tax cuts to people who don’t need it and keeping the deduction at the current level will free up money for people who need it most.
Saslaw also said Democrats will seek to expand affordable child care for parents, which will be necessary to address the labor shortage. He said Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget bill would eliminate the duration restrictions on parents participating in a childcare subsidy, which would allow parents to access the program as long as they meet the income requirements.
“[Our] goal is to make every Virginian’s life easier, safer and more prosperous and we have always fought for these ideals and will never settle for less,” Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, said.
Both sides will also take a differing approach to education. Leadership from both parties in both chambers support increasing teacher pay, but House Republicans also support expanding school choice opportunities through education savings accounts. This legislation would allow parents to use public money to enroll their children in private schools, rather than public schools, and expand charter schools.
Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, said Democrats will consider any legislation the Republicans propose, but will not compromise on principles and will not support a policy that takes money away from public schools. Republicans said the education savings account legislation will include a budget amendment to provide funding and said charter schools are public schools, so the charter school legislation could not direct funding away from public schools.
Regulations and energy policies proposed from the two chambers will also be different. House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, said the caucus will seek to rollback wasteful overreach from state agencies, rollback outdated COVID-19 regulations that don’t evolve along with new conditions and scale back regulations that hurt businesses and people, but don’t accomplish anything for Virginians. House Republicans will also support scaling back the Virginia Clean Economy Act and getting out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which puts heavy restrictions on the energy sector and could increase rates for customers.
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond said Senate Democrats will seek to maintain the energy and environmental policies, which she said will allow Virginians to enjoy the natural beauty of the commonwealth and fight climate change.
Both sides have begun to introduce bills that reflect their respective agenda on Wednesday.
This article was originally posted on Virginia legislative leaders set policy agenda on taxes, energy and schools