FRIDAY, APRIL 20, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include Governor Northam’s vetoed bills, the removal of taxes intended for northern Virginia’s public transit systems, and a surprise mayoral election in Virginia Beach.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I’m Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Hi there, Craig.
CC: Jeff, the General Assembly’s reconvened session has come and gone. As the smoke clears, all of Governor Northam’s vetoes stand including a controversial bill banning sanctuary cities by Republican Delegate Ben Cline who is running for Congress.
JS: The governor rejected 10 bills of the 800 or so sent to him by the General Assembly this past winter. This so-called “sanctuary cities” bill pushed by Ben Cline, as you know a Republican congressional candidate up in the valley, was the only veto that House Republicans chose to contest. Virginia hasn’t any sanctuary cities, that is, localities where the police refuse to cooperate with federal authorities over alleged lawbreaking by illegal immigrants. And Northam, of course, is of the view that while he is against sanctuary cities, there aren’t any in Virginia, and that the bill is unnecessary. And if it is anything, it is only an effort to intimidate the so-called “new Virginians,” this will be the fast-growing Asian and Hispanic communities here in Virginia. That these vetoes stand, that they were barely challenged, is of course a reminder of the diminished Republican muscle in the legislature. The Republicans had a 2-to-1 majority in the House of Delegates before last year’s election. It’s now down to two seats, and that’s a consequence of that big blue wave that brought in Ralph Northam. The Republicans have only a one seat majority in the Senate, and of course both majorities, both very slender majorities are on the line in the 2019 elections.
CC: But Jeff, House Republicans were able to flex some of that diminished muscle, as you put it, to defeat tax increases sought by Governor Ralph Northam to finance improvements to the D.C. area metro mass transit system.
JS: Yes and this has political and policy consequences. First the political consequences – those tax increases recommended by the governor were pulled out of the legislation by House Republicans at the urging of the House Republican Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo. He is the last Republican delegate from inside the Capital Beltway, and he insists he is all for more money for Metro. He just doesn’t want more taxes. Now these were very modest tax increases. We’re talking about maybe 22 million dollars in taxes on hotel and motel rooms and in recording real estate deals. Now local government in northern Virginia, which for the most part is controlled by Democrats, is in a state over this. And if it means anything politically, it means that Tim Hugo, who was barely reelected last year, may have an even bigger target on his back heading into the 2019 election. He’s further aggravated a lot of voters up there by opposing Medicaid expansion. Now on the policy side – what this means is that money now tagged for highways may have to be diverted to subways and buses, and that can make for a lose-lose situation in northern Virginia. Now the Metro funding issue is by no means dead. Remember because of the continuing Medicaid fight, the General Assembly has yet to adopt a budget, and as long as that budget is a work in progress, so too is the matter of additional state aid for Metro.
CC: Jeff, in November Democrats got shockingly close to retaking the House of Delegates. Now there’s a surprise special election for mayor in Virginia Beach. One Republican delegate from that area wants to run, and Democrats could be one step closer to retaking the majority.
JS: Will Sessoms, the mayor of Virginia Beach, pretty much stunned everyone this week when he announced that he will be resigning about a year and a half into his third 4-year term. He says he’s going to be returning to the private sector, though he hasn’t indicated exactly what he will do. Among the at least seven people mentioned for the Virginia Beach mayoralty is Delegate Glenn Davis. He’s an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican Lieutenant Governor’s nomination in 2017. His district, along with the entire City of Virginia Beach for that matter, fell to Ralph Northam the Democratic governor last year. Now if Davis ran and won, and Democrats picked up his legislative seat, the House would be tied – 50 Republicans, 50 Democrats. And this would set up a huge fight for control of the House in the next regularly scheduled election, again, next year when the Senate would be decided too. And those elections next year are important because they set the table for redistricting in 2021. And of course redistricting will determine who has the upper hand on legislative power in the decade ahead.
CC: And lawmakers left behind an 800-pound gorilla on their way out of Richmond this week that is of course Medicaid expansion.
JS: Ah yes, now for Medicaid expansion again. The session Wednesday, that so-called reconvened session, and the special session that the governor has called to work on Medicaid expansion and the 2-year, 115 billion dollar budget required to implement it - there’s a good deal of connection between the two. One example might be that coal tax credit that the governor wanted to delay for a year. It’s being pushed by Ben Chaffin, a coal fields Republican who also opposes Medicaid expansion. The delay in that bill, that was peeled out of the measure by Senate Democrats and Republicans, so the bill is now before the governor in its original form, and he has 30 days to decide whether to sign it or veto it. Now presumably Senator Chaffin would like Governor Northam to sign that bill, but there may be a condition, and that condition may be that he, Senator Chaffin, signs on to Medicaid expansion.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Have a great weekend.