RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In his first address to a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly, Gov. Glenn Youngkin laid out his legislative priorities and called for legislators to usher in “a sweeping vision of change.”
The vision Youngkin outlined included tax cuts as Virginia enjoys a record tax surplus, designed, in his words to “lower the tax burdens on Virginia families.”
Youngkin’s address also touched on education, a key theme of his campaign.
“Virginia schools have a lofty reputation,” Youngkin said. “But lately we’ve not lived up to that reputation.”
He decried the teaching of “divisive concepts” such as critical race theory, which the Virginia Department of Education has repeatedly insisted is not taught in any Virginia classrooms.
Youngkin called for higher standards of accreditation in core subjects like math, reading and history, calling for an end to the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Youngkin also said he would support a budget that includes “a record investment in education including a significant boost in teacher pay”, a frequent priority of education activists. Both of those items were priorities of the budget proposed by the Northam administration in their final days.
Instead, Youngkin reiterated one of his campaign priorities, calling for “$150 million to help us meet our goal of starting 20 new charter schools.”
No More Mandates
Youngkin highlighted an executive order – signed on his first day in office – that purportedly allows parents to ignore mask mandates issued by local school divisions, “That means no more mandates and no more shut downs.”
Outgoing Governor Ralph Northam has disputed that, saying school divisions that fail to continue enforcing mask mandates will be in violation of a state law passed last year.
Youngkin said his administration would oppose a federal vaccine mandate for healthcare workers issued by the Biden administration.
But Youngkin also encouraged all Virginians to get the vaccine, saying that widespread vaccination will “keep people working, earning a paycheck and growing our economy.”
Labor and the Economy
Unsurprisingly, Youngkin vowed to veto any legislation that would end Virginia’s so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws, which outlaw union shops and blanket union contracts.
He also promised to continue the expansion of broadband internet service to Virginia’s rural areas, a priority that goes back several administrations.
“There is one vital thing we can do to help Virginians,” Youngkin said. “And that is remove some of the tax burden added on top of rising prices for groceries, gasoline and housing.”
One of Youngkin’s key campaign promises was abolition of the grocery tax, a policy that outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam included in his last budget proposal to the General Assembly, preempting Youngkin.
Youngkin has also proposed an increase in Virginia’s income tax deduction, bringing it in line with current federal levels.
“A culture of lawlessness has filled the void in Virginia with violent crime on the rise,” Youngkin said.
But statistics indicate that violent crime in Virginia has fallen over the last few years, according to data gathered by Virginia State Police.
Youngkin went on to call for more state funds to be directed to local police departments – but “only in localities that are increasing funding for their police departments.”
Youngkin also said he “won’t tolerate [lawlessness] within a state agency,” pointing to his recent firing of the entire VA Parole Board.
That board has been mired in scandal since a state investigation revealed that the board disregarded its own rules in granting parole to a man convicted of killing a police officer.
The Office of the State Inspector General now faces a lawsuit from the investigator who penned that report, alleging they and senior administration officials interfered with the release of damning information, attempted to intimidate her and fired her in retaliation after a draft report was leaked.
A Green Streak
Youngkin also vowed to take action to protect the Chesapeake Bay, saying he would work to end sewage overflows into the James River and fund better runoff retention practices on farms, two major sources of water pollution.
“I remain in awe of the raw natural beauty of our Commonwealth,” Youngkin said. “The mountains, waterways, beaches, parks, farm land, livestock, vineyards, and natural resources testify to our Creator’s artistry.”
However, Youngkin is unlikely to find many allies among environmental advocacy groups. He’s also vowed to withdraw Virginia from a regional initiative to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and appointed former President Donald Trump’s EPA chief – former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler- to head Virginia Energy.
Following Youngkin’s address, democratic legislators weighed in, with House Minority Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) calling him “out of step” with Virginians.
Filler-Corn stated that Youngkin’s plans for Virginians would leave many people behind. She said that despite him campaigning as someone in the middle of the road politically, he has been pushing extreme policies.
She said that Democrats will work to shine a light on what he is doing and will stop actions that could harm Virginians.
The minority leader went into detail on the governor’s education policies, stating that CRT is not taught in Virginia schools and that Youngkin wants to put politics in schools. She said the governor could prove he is serious about education improvements by keeping school funding set by Democrats in place.
She also called out Youngkin’s efforts to stop the minimum wage increase, promote anti-choice measures and cut access to early voting.
“This is not the type of governor Glenn Youngkin promised to be on the campaign trail,” Filler-Corn said.
The governor’s support for vaccines gained a bi-partisan standing ovation during the address but Filler-Corn challenged that statement. She said Youngkin has made it clear that he sides with those who oppose vaccinations.
Sen. John Bell spoke after Filler-Corn, he expressed concerns that Youngkin’s plans to make changes to the gas tax could leave Virginia transportation underfunded. He also said the governor was jeopardizing the Clean Economy Act.
Similar to Filler-Corn, Bell addressed one of Youngkin’s main focuses, education, he said that Senate Democrats would not be agreeing with any moves towards defunding public schools.
The Democrats pushed against Youngkin’s “sweeping vision of change” and said Virginia had made progress, claiming Youngkin threatened to take the Commonwealth backwards.