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by Brandon Jarvis

The political newcomer Glenn Youngkin who won in 2021 had to evolve into a Glenn Youngkin who governs and negotiates with politicians in 2022. Just moments prior to taking the oath of office on Jan. 15, outgoing Governor Ralph Northam handed the gov.-elect his keycard that had been chewed up by his dog and wished him luck.

Youngkin then met with all of Virginia’s living governors, except for Terry McAuliffe, in a room across the hall before he took the oath and addressed the commonwealth. Two jets flew over the ceremony during his speech, to which the governor improvised by saying “we celebrate the sounds of freedom” and the crowd began chants of “U.S.A.” 

Youngkin’s address that day harped on campaign promises and trying to unite Virginians as he peacefully took power from Northam. “My fellow Virginians, the spirit of Virginia is alive and well,” Youngkin said. “And together we will strengthen it.”

Two hours after taking the oath of office, Gov. Youngkin signed 11 executive actions from within his office at the Capitol building attempting to enact key parts of his agenda immediately.

One of those orders was to remove mask mandates in public schools and it received quick backlash with lawsuits in opposition delaying the implementation. Eventually, Republicans in the General Assembly, with the assistance of Democratic state Sen. Chap Petersen (Fairfax), took the matter into their own hands and passed legislation removing the mask mandates for public schools students in Virginia. 

Youngkin specifically named that legislation as work he is proud of doing while speaking in front of the George Washington statue in the Capitol Rotunda Saturday. 

Another order signed on inauguration day was to remove divisive teaching concepts in Virginia schools – a gentler way of banning critical race theory, the campaign talking point that often garnered the loudest applause at Youngkin events last year. The Department of Education used this order and directive from the governor to review and remove multiple topics from the public school curriculum. 

The governor also vowed to remove the commonwealth from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in order to reduce the cost of living for Virginians. But that appears to be more difficult than just an order from the governor. 

RGGI requires carbon-emitting power plants to purchase allowances for their emissions in quarterly auctions. Youngkin’s executive order on inauguration day instructed the state’s Director of Environmental Quality and the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources to provide a report that evaluates the costs and benefits of participation in RGGI.

That report has not been released publicly. 

Senate Democrats blocked efforts by the Republicans to remove Virginia from the agreement during the legislative session, but Republicans are still making efforts through budget amendments to try and achieve their goal. 

Related: As Virginia nets another $74 million, RGGI uncertainty lingers

School choice was also a key part of Youngkin’s campaign and his strongest effort to achieve this was by establishing lab schools across the commonwealth. The Department of Education defines lab schools as “public schools established by contract between the governing board of a college partnership laboratory school and the Board of Education.

Under the current law that was established in 2010, only public and private institutions of higher education that operate approved teacher education programs are permitted to apply to create a lab school. This law has not yet been utilized, however.

The legislation that Youngkin is backing would open up the application process for any public or private institution of higher education, or private business. “I do see this opportunity for us to bring businesses who have particular training or long-term needs for the workforce to actually give advice and counsel to what kind of curriculum might best fit for a region in Virginia particularly,” Youngkin said in January. “I think this is a chance for us to tap into all kinds of good ideas.”

Lab schools have a chance of success with Democratic senators supporting a version of the bill, but it differs from the House legislation and conferees will have to work out the differences. House Education Committee Chair Glenn Davis has said he expects the governor to amend the bill, either way. 

Democrats in the state Senate want to ensure that the funding remains in the future, instead of just a one-time investment. In a statement to Virginia Scope in January, Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said “lab schools need to be considered, but cannot be funded with one-time money.”

Youngkin wants $150 million to be put into the budget this year to help the program start.

After adjournment Saturday, the governor said the lab school legislation continues to be a big priority for his administration as negotiations continue over the incomplete budget. “I think there is bipartisan support for lab schools so I fully expect this to get done.” 

Another key promise from Youngkin was to provide tax relief but the sucess of that remains to be seen. Both chambers supported tax relief in some form, but there is a $3 billion difference in spending between the two chambers. 

House Republicans want to double the standard deduction, completely eliminate the grocery tax, and delay the planned 5-cent gas tax increase planned for this summer. The Senate wants to first do a study and determine what the impacts of doubling the standard deduction would be for Virginia fiscally and they also opposed delaying the gas tax increase. 

While both chambers favored eliminating the grocery tax, Senate Democrats want to keep the portion that goes to localities. 

These issues will have to be worked out by the budget conferees in the coming days.

Republicans felt that their sweep of three statewide races and flipping of seven House seats were a call for a mandate on their platform and they believe they went to bat for their voters during this session. “I’m proud to say that the House of Delegates not only listened to those concerns, but we passed legislation that addressed them, providing over $5 billion in tax relief, $2 billion to rebuild our crumbling schools, and ending unnecessary and overbearing mask mandates on our schools,”Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said Saturday. 

Democrats in the Senate believe they stood up for their party’s values and progress from the last two years. “For the past 60 days, Senate Democrats have doubled-down on safeguarding Virginia’s strong economy, ensuring every child receives a world-class public education, and providing more healthcare resources for Virginians,” said Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw said in a statement Saturday. “While our spending plan is not yet complete, we are standing firm on our values during budget negotiations making sure every Virginian can thrive and be successful.”

Youngkin noted that in the environment of a split government with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House, there has had to be a lot of give and take. 

“I’m encouraged with the recent progress on the budget and I’m grateful to the members on both sides of the aisle for their efforts,” Youngkin said in a statement on Saturday. “We need to finalize tax relief, lab schools, and other bipartisan priorities including investing in education, funding law enforcement, and addressing our behavioral health crisis.” 

Youngkin also emphatically stated that he has enjoyed the negotiations and working with lawmakers to reach agreements on legislation. Without a budget completed at the time of adjournment, the negotiations are not over, however. “As I said last week, it could take time to get the budget right. I’d ask that the negotiators work quickly,” Youngkin said. “Virginians are ready and together we can deliver for them all,” 

The governor is expected to announce this week when the special session for legislators to complete their work on a few remaining bills and the budget will take place. 

Virginia Scope is an independent news publication that is funded largely by donations and subscribers. As local newsrooms are losing writers each day, we are trying to fill the void to ensure that the public is informed and that leaders are held accountable for their actions. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber to our newsletter or making a donation through Paypal below so we can continue to work in Virginia. 

By vascope

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