What’s at stake for Virginians’ wallets in November

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Carolyn Fiddler

October 16, 2023

Virginia’s November elections will not only determine which political party controls state government, but also how state money gets spent – and who it helps and hurts.

Just before the upcoming legislative session, when the candidates elected next month will assume their offices and carry out the work of the people, Gov. Glenn Youngkin will unveil a new two-year budget. The governor’s budget is historically a crucial starting point for negotiations over how taxpayer money will be spent in the coming years and what the state’s priorities will be.

If Republicans win majority control of the state House and Senate in November, Virginians can fairly expect Youngkin’s budget priorities to be put into effect. And based on Youngkin’s past budget proposals, we have some insight into what those priorities could be.

A major part of Youngkin’s budget proposals last year centered around tax cuts that provided the greatest benefit for corporations and the wealthiest Virginians.

“Specifically, the governor’s tax proposals … cost $1 billion and a majority of the benefit is reserved for profitable corporations,” said Ashley Kenneth, president and CEO of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, after Youngkin unveiled his proposals last December. “Rather than ensuring corporations pay their fair share, the governor’s plan would tax a family’s income at a higher rate than corporate profits.”

Further insights may be gleaned from other budget recommendations that Youngkin attempted to implement over his brief tenure as governor.

For example, measures Republicans attempted to implement via the previous year’s state budget include cutting the corporate tax rate and establishing a business tax cut that would primarily benefit wealthy Virginians.

Virginia is currently running a budget surplus, but trusting the state’s fiscal good fortunes to continue in perpetuity would be irresponsible. Instead of using the surplus to offset tax cuts for corporations and the commonwealth’s highest earners, the General Assembly could invest in creating a more balanced tax structure for Virginians of all income levels and boosting the state’s economic outlook by improving education funding.

Over the summer, a watchdog organization for the General Assembly released a report detailing how Virginia’s flawed education funding formula results in chronic underfunding of schools all across the state. Republicans’ budget proposals over the past couple of years have failed to meaningfully invest in Virginia’s public education system, although this year the Democratic majority in the state Senate succeeded in ensuring that schools across the state received some of the funding and support they so desperately need.

The budget agreement Democrats pushed for earlier this year also helped reduce costs for Virginians insured under the Affordable Care Act. The final budget included nearly $50 million for the state’s reinsurance program, which helped avoid a projected 28.4% increase in individual premium rates.

Democrats have indicated that keeping healthcare costs low will remain a priority for them.

“We know that the healthcare system needs work. Most people are one hospital bill away from living in poverty,” said House Democratic Leader Don Scott

Providing funding for the state’s reinsurance program helps “to ensure that the cost of healthcare insurance marketplace premiums are reduced, making sure that families have access to care when they need it,” he continued.

Democrats have supported other measures that they’ll never be able to implement if Republicans have majority control of one or both chambers after November.

One example is Democratic Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s rent stabilization proposal, a measure she introduced early this year. If this law had passed, localities across the state would be able to establish a cap on rent increases that’s tied to regional changes in the Consumer Price Index. Currently, Virginia imposes no limits on how much a landlord can increase a tenant’s rent each year. In 2022, Virginia ranked as the fifth-highest in the nation for one-bedroom rent increases.

Early this year, Democrats also attempted to enact paid family and medical leave in the commonwealth. Beneficiaries would have received 80% of their average weekly wage for up to 12 weeks per year. The measure passed the Democratic-majority Senate but was killed by Republicans in the House of Delegates. Democrats are likely to propose the measure again in 2024, but if the GOP controls either chamber of the General Assembly next year, it will almost certainly fail again.

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

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