Governor seeks to revise gas tax proposal Democrats rejected
Gov. Glenn Youngkin is proposing 38 changes to the bipartisan state budget lawmakers approved earlier this month, several of them dealing with hot-button conservative priorities that will be a tough sell in the Democratic Senate.
Youngkin’s amendments would delay the imminent early releases of some Virginia prisoners under a Democratic-led reform meant to reward prisoners for good behavior, restrict public funding of abortion, expand alternatives to traditional public schools, push colleges and universities to enact plans to promote free speech, suspend the state’s gas tax for three months and create a new, state-level felony to deter disruptive or “intimidating” protests outside the homes of U.S. Supreme Court justices or courthouses.
Many of Youngkin’s proposals are sure to face stiff Democratic opposition. Some, such as the gas tax holiday now proposed to run from July 1 through Sept. 30, have already been defeated after much debate. But the final stage of the budget process gives Youngkin one last chance to press his first-year agenda, even if some of it appears doomed, before lawmakers wrap up their work for the 2022 session.
“My amendments primarily focus on expanding opportunities for education, keeping our communities safe, and making Virginia the best state for business,” Youngkin said in a budget message sent to the General Assembly. “I believe that my amendments are necessary in order to continue the work that can unite Virginians, Republican and Democrat alike.”
The General Assembly will return to Richmond Friday to vote on the governor’s proposals.
The push for stronger protection of both federal and state Supreme Court justices comes after what authorities say was a failed assassination plot against U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The California man charged in the incident allegedly traveled to Kavanaugh’s home in Maryland but didn’t follow through on the plan and surrendered to the police.
After several pro-abortion rights demonstrations outside the Virginia homes of other justices, Youngkin took heat from some conservative commentators for not enforcing a state law against picketing or disrupting “any individual’s right to tranquility in his home.” At the time, Youngkin’s office said it was up to local police, not the state, to enforce the law. It’s unclear if the new law aimed at protests “with the intent to intimidate” justices would be enforced differently.
The new “unlawful picketing or parading offense,” punishable by up to five years in jail or fines of up to $2,500, to jurors, witnesses and court personnel. The language takes specific aim at the use of noisy devices like bullhorns near courthouses or the homes of people involved in court business.
Youngkin’s push for more public charter schools ran into resistance from the Democratic Senate, forcing the administration to pivot to so-called lab schools run in conjunction with colleges and universities. Senate Democrats have insisted on limiting the initiative to public higher-ed institutions, but Youngkin’s amendment would expand the eligible institutions to private institutions. The pending budget includes $100 million for the lab-school push.
Another budget provision from the governor would require colleges and universities to incorporate strategies for fostering free speech, academic freedom and “diversity of thought” within their six-year planning documents.
Other education-related amendments include a fix clarifying that teachers at regional learning centers and governor’s schools are also eligible for a $1,000 bonus approved for teachers, $4 million in additional funding for early reading specialists at low-performing schools and $4 million for security initiatives at historically black colleges and universities, which experienced a wave of bomb threats earlier this year.
Another $750,000 amendment would provide “supplemental security funding” for Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares and a “threat needs assessment” for statewide officials.
The Virginia Mercury is an independent, nonprofit online news organization covering state government and policy.