RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia lawmakers on Monday began a special legislative session focused on ending a stalemate over the state budget and finishing work on bills left unresolved at the end of their regular session.
The House and Senate both passed a procedural resolution setting a schedule for the session and limiting legislation to be considered, mainly, to a two-year spending plan for the state. Lawmakers will also consider an array of bills that remained stalled when the regular session ended last month, including a proposal designed to lure the NFL's Washington Commanders to Virginia.
The Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate each passed their own spending plans in February, but were unable to reach an agreement. The two bills were about $3 billion apart on tax policy.
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and House Republicans are pushing for a package of cuts in income, gasoline and grocery taxes, while Democrats want a smaller tax cut package and to increase spending on education and other key services.
“The Senate has some spending proposals, and some of them are good and we agree with them, and we have some proposals on the tax policy side that they actually agree with. We will come to a compromise; it’s a matter of how long it’s going to take," said Republican Del. Barry Knight, the House Appropriations Committee chairman.
Knight said House budget conferees on Monday gave the chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee another proposal to work off of - “an option."
“Now we need to get in a room, lock the door and see what we can do about coming to a compromise,” Knight said.
The session began with a bit of partisan friction after Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell proposed an amendment to the procedural resolution to remove language that would have allowed lawmakers to consider any legislation sent over by the governor during the special session. Surovell said special sessions are typically narrowly focused, and this session in particular was called to work on the budget and any carryover bills.
“I think this language is basically an open invitation to make the special session about anything and everything the governor feels like, and that to me and our caucus is a dangerous precedent,” Surovell said.
Republican Sen. Ryan McDougle urged senators to vote against the amendment, saying it was aimed at preventing the Senate from voting on a proposal from Youngkin to suspend the state's gas tax of 26.2 cents per gallon for three months to give Virginians some relief from a sharp increase in gas prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“What this means is that there will be no vote in the Senate on suspending the gas tax, that’s what this is about," McDougle said. “This is about whether people in Virginia are going to have to continue to pay more for gas in the upcoming months.”
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw said that under the state constitution, governors can send bills to lawmakers to consider any time they are in sessions, and the amendment would not prevent that. Surovell later withdrew the amendment, saying there wasn't a clear agreement on what its effect would be.
In a news release, Youngkin said his gas tax proposal would suspend the tax for May, June and July, and then phase it back in slowly in August and September.
“With gas prices and inflation squeezing families' pocketbooks across Virginia and the nation, and with over $1 billion in unanticipated revenue in our transportation fund, the General Assembly must act now," Youngkin said.