Frank Ruff: Big issues in 2023 General Assembly

Published 5:41 pm Thursday, January 19, 2023

The General Assembly kicked off the 2023 session last week. It is too early to have a good sense of all of the issues that we will face, however, these will clearly take time and probably keep the media’s attention.

Tax cuts

Governor Youngkin has proposed $1 billion in tax cuts for families by raising your standard deduction levels and by reducing the taxable rate after deductions. He also proposed a reduction of taxes on small businesses by 10% and changing corporate taxes from 6% to 5% to better compete for new jobs just as North Carolina did several years ago.

Preparing for a downturn in the economy

Virginia, as with most states, is flush with cash. Rainy day reserve funds have never been larger and tax collections continue to come in higher than expected in most states. This is a result of higher tax receipts driven by higher wages.

But the predictions of a looming recession are something that all of us must watch out for. Memories of the Great Recession remain in the back of our mind. We will remain fiscally prudent, making sure that we maintain our reserves.

Workforce development

The workforce crisis is one that touches every element of economic life. Teacher vacancy rates are at record highs. Health care facilities cannot attract enough nurses and doctors. Restaurants don’t have enough staff to operate at full capacity. Help wanted signs are everywhere. No one expects things to turn around soon.

We’ve known for years that, as the retirement of Baby Boomers picks up, it will be hard to replace them. They hold a wealth of experience and knowledge. I have tried to make that point for almost twenty years.

This is the reason that Governor Youngkin has asked me to lead the effort to transform our workforce policies to better address this shortage. That effort will include getting many more involved in apprenticeship programs. Additionally, we will attempt to better focus career technical education in high schools and community colleges. Others will adjust licensure requirements.

Employers say what is most important is individuals with the skills training and certification to do the job.

Mental health

America faces a mental health crisis, a long-festering catastrophe accelerated by the pandemic. It has manifested in a growing epidemic of death caused by drugs and alcohol, a steep decline in school outcomes, and a wellspring of loneliness infecting those in their pre-teen years as well as those who have retired. Virginia is no exception.

We do not have the beds designated to handle those with mental health issues. More importantly, we don’t have the workers who can and are willing to staff facilities.

Abortion fights

The Supreme Court’s decision last year striking down Roe v. Wade gave the states an opportunity to define how abortion is treated within their borders. Virginia will have a debate about what restrictions, if any, should we have regarding the most vulnerable. The two sides will deepen as the media attempts to put everyone in one group or the other, ignoring nuances as to when and under what circumstances.

Gambling

Virginia has gone hog-wild in recent years, giving citizens the opportunity to spend their money on pipe dreams of getting rich quickly without effort. It started with the lottery, then horse racing, and now casinos, sports betting, and gaming machines.

This year, hopefully, we will develop more regulation over all these ways to lose your money. We need to have the expertise needed to watch over the various machines to assure the public that everything is proper and above board.

There will be a continuing effort to either, once again, permit and tax those gaming machines that are often called ‘gray machines’, or ban them from the state. The casinos and horse racing interests are at war with the proponents of these machines. A conclusion to this issue is needed.

Energy

Under Governor Northam, Virginia bought into ‘green energy’ plans with little long term understanding of what it would cost consumers in either higher electric bills or in jobs and economic growth for the state. Governor Youngkin understands the problems this is creating. He is now trying to reverse some of these provisions before Virginia is overwhelmed by the consequences of the former administration.

I will attempt to keep you informed as the Session progresses.

Frank Ruff Jr. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen.Ruff@verizon.net, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.