RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin advocated for tax cuts, education reform, addressing law enforcement vacancies, investments in mental health programs and abortion restrictions during his State of the Commonwealth speech to the state legislature Wednesday.
The Republican governor's speech happened on the first day of the 2023 session General Assembly session, where lawmakers are expected to take up important issues over the next month.
Youngkin primarily reflected upon his first year in office, saying Virginia is "substantially better" than it was a year ago, but he added that more work is needed to make the state "the best place to live and work and raise a family."
Some of the state's accomplishments he outlined included eliminating the state’s grocery tax, raises for teachers and law enforcement, investments in K-12 education and new companies in Virginia.
"In the year we’ve worked together, we have made substantial progress," Youngkin told lawmakers. "We’re on the right path and Virginians know it. They see the transformation underway and they want more progress and they want it faster."
Watch Youngkin's full speech below:
Youngkin on the economy
Youngkin argued for further tax cuts for businesses and people to make Virginia competitive with other states, saying people are leaving for places with lower taxes and costs of living.
He specifically called for eliminating the tax on military retirement income for veterans and increasing the standard deduction by 20%.
"The writing on the wall couldn’t be more simple: the people of Virginia are overtaxed," Youngkin said. "[It's] not the government's money, but their money, and they are voting with their feet and their wallets."
Youngkin on education
Youngkin also called for further investments in K-12 education, citing the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that found significant learning setbacks for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This year’s NAEP scores painted a clear and unmistakable picture of learning loss across the Commonwealth," Youngkin said. "Virginia’s children suffered the largest decline of any state in the country for 4th-grade literacy and tied for the largest decline in 4th-grade math."
He asked lawmakers to extend reading specialists to the 5th grade, provide math specialists for the poorest performing schools and enhance dual enrollment programs between high schools and Virginia's community college system.
He also wants lawmakers to pass an additional retention bonus and $50 million for performance-based bonuses for teachers.
Youngkin on law enforcement
Youngkin outlined the steps he wants to take in addressing crime and law enforcement, blaming the state's vacancies, murder rates, and "heartbreaking news flow" on "soft on crime policies from previous administrations."
He spoke about Operation Bold Blue Line, his plan announced in October aimed at supporting law enforcement staffing, pay and recruitment, as well as bolstering technology. Part of his plan includes recruiting programs for high school, college, retiring military personnel and out-of-state law enforcement.
"We need more police on the street, more prosecutors to put criminals behind bars, tougher penalties for those who commit crimes with guns and more support for witnesses and community prevention," Youngkin said.
Youngkin on behavioral health
Youngkin called on the General Assembly to enact his "Right Help, Right Now” plan, $230 million in funding to overhaul the state's behavioral health system.
The governor said the plan includes $20 million to fund mobile crisis units across Virginia, $58 million to increase crisis receiving centers and $20 million to work with hospitals on increasing psychiatric emergency services.
"Virginia, like the country, is experiencing a behavioral health crisis," Youngkin said. "And our behavioral health system is overwhelmed, grappling with a level of mental health and substance use issues never seen before, all too often resulting in violence, suicide, murder."
Youngkin on abortion
The governor briefly spoke about new abortion restrictions, saying he wants the General Assembly to pass a 15-week ban on the procedure.
"It is clear Virginians want fewer abortions, not more," Youngkin said.
Youngkin on energy policy
Criticizing what he called unattainable long-term energy requirements, Youngkin said he wants Virginia to have an "all-American, all-of-the-above approach" to energy policy.
He called on lawmakers to invest in research on small modular reactors, hydrogen, carbon capture and more effective battery storage, as well as set carbon reduction goals every five years.
The governor also took aim at Virginia's laws tying the state to California's emissions regulations, referring to California's decision to phase out sales of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
"Unless we act, Virginia is hostage to the extreme policies of California," Youngkin said. "Common sense says that the law of Virginia should be written by elected leaders here in Virginia." (The Clean Air Act allows states to either adopt federal standards or California's standards)
On the topic of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, Youngkin called on lawmakers to spend $200 million for the Resilient Virginia Revolving Loan Fund and $237 million for nutrient removal projects.
Party leaders react
Virginia House Speaker Todd Gilbert, a Republican, praised Youngkin's speech as "a reminder why Virginians elected him and a House Republican majority."
"Virginians want a world-class education for their children, one that will see them prepared for the job market of tomorrow," Gilbert wrote in a statement. "Virginians want safe communities where their families aren’t worried about violent crime."
Republican House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore also praised Youngkin's plans, saying his tax cuts will ease the burden of Virginians during inflation.
“Anyone who’s been in a grocery store in the past year knows that inflation is crushing our families here in Virginia," Kilgore wrote. "And while the General Assembly can’t control the rate of inflation, we can make life easier for families by cutting their tax burden."
Following the speech, Democratic Senate House Caucus Chair Mamie Locke and House Democratic Leader Don Scott shared a video rebutting the governor.
Scott accused Youngkin of aligning with former President Donald Trump, saying he "seems to get his inspiration from the MAGA movement."
"We’re going to spend this session looking to deliver on real issues, [including] common sense gun reforms, a world-class education, and building an economy that works more for hardworking Virginians," Scott said.
Locke criticized Youngkin's plans, saying his proposals help "the wealthy and massive corporations," while doing nothing "to help hardworking Virginians and their families."