Virginia’s first session of 2019 starts on Wednesday, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are mapping out what some of their priorities will be in the coming year. Republicans currently hold slim majorities in the Senate and the House of Delegates and Democrats have the governor’s seat.
One of the main fights in recent weeks has come over tax policy. Republicans have been fighting against an inadvertent $1.2 billion tax increase coming into effect over the next two years because of a change in the federal tax code. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, on the other hand, wants to keep the money and spend it. Northam has proposed a two-year budget that assumes the revenue boost caused by the tax increases.
"Our top priorities for 2019 are providing tax relief for working families, slowing the massive growth in health care costs, making college more affordable, and keeping students safe in schools," Parker Slaybaugh, communications director for House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, told Watchdog.org.
"Unfortunately, another priority of ours is stopping the extreme liberal agenda that has been announced over the past few months," he said. "Democrats in the House have proposed tax increases, legislation that could mandate union membership in order to get a job, a radical proposal that will ban the use of fossil fuels, and not to mention their attempt to take away rights from law-abiding gun owners."
Jeff Ryer, press secretary for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, told Watchdog.org that one of its main priorities will be health care policy and that other specifics will be released at a later date. Senate Republicans have been pushing to make health care more affordable by increasing competition through insurance pools, making low-cost catastrophic plans more easily available, and increasing the duration of short-term limited duration plans.
Kathryn Gilley, a spokesperson for the Virginia House Democrats, told Watchdog.org that the commonwealth is going into 2019 with a stronger economy and better health care coverage than in previous years.
"We are in a position to pass legislation and provide funding for initiatives with widespread support across the Commonwealth, including teacher pay raises and additional resources for education, lower health-care costs and greater access to providers, and rural broadband," Gilley said. "House Democrats will prioritize these issues important to Virginians, as well as common-sense gun safety, greater voting access and election reform, and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment."
Leadership for the Senate Democrats could not be reached for comment.
Mike Thompson, the president of the Virginia-based, free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute, told Watchdog.org that the non-profit will be focused on a few issues in this upcoming session, as well. He said the biggest issue will be tax policy.
"Our major issue is urging policy makers to return the unbudgeted tax windfall to the taxpayers and to our businesses," he said. "Our proposal will benefit millions more than the GOP Caucus plan through doubling the standard deduction for individuals and will relieve our businesses of much of the Corp tax increases coming down the pike."
Additionally, the Thomas Jefferson Institute will be pushing for casinos in Virginia and reforming certificates of need laws to increase competition.
Thompson said that casinos, plus increasing the doubling of the standard deduction and reducing the income tax by one percent over a two-year period would improve the livelihoods of southern Virginians whose economy has struggled to compete with nearby states.