From tiny acorns grow the mighty oaks of government.

By Steve Haner

The Democrats now running Virginia’s General Assembly are not just more progressive, but far more ambitious than their predecessors. To fully understand how ambitious you must compile the entire list of progressive bills advancing in the 2024 session and consider their total impact on the cost of living and cost of doing business in the commonwealth. Individual news stories miss the big picture.  

The push to radically regulate Virginia’s energy future discussed earlier is being mimicked with equally aggressive legislation throughout the rest of our economy. None of the ideas below are new, and most are already in law in places like California, New York or other more liberal states. What has changed is that when proposed in the past, they usually were rejected in Virginia on a bipartisan basis. Democrats now march in lockstep.  

The Assembly is still in its first phase and adjournment is set for early March. Which of the following will pass remains to be seen, and in many cases, amendments are already appearing. Most may also face gubernatorial veto or amendment, but that just underscores that Virginia is only one election of one official away from total transformation.   

In the case of the bills to increase the minimum wage (here and here), Democrats are simply building upon what they did during their last period of control. But if they succeed in setting future wage increases to automatically grow with inflation, the impact just builds and builds. Classes of employees reasonably exempted from the law currently, such as farm workers, may now be covered, as well.   

Likewise, the previous Democratic majority also took the first steps toward collective bargaining for limited groups of local employees, but only after elected local officials gave a green light to negotiate a contract. This year’s bill expands the right to bargain to almost all local and now most state employees, with no vote needed by a school board or city council. It was revealed that the most recent version does conveniently exempt employees of the General Assembly, however.

A pair of bills create a local-option system of rent control (here and here), with fiscal penalties for landlords accused of rent gouging. The localities cannot allow rent hikes that exceed the rate of inflation, but apparently can impose rent hike limits that are lower than the rate of inflation. Broad enforcement powers are granted, “liberally construed.” 

The Democrats would also empower local governments to impose more restrictive building codes, mainly aimed at snuffing out use of fossil fuels (here and here). The demonization of gasoline or diesel, already doomed in future cars and trucks, would now extend to the lowly leaf blower. Companion bills (here and here) allow localities to restrict them, ostensibly because of their noise (although electric blowers are hardly silent). Will families and companies be forced to scrap existing machines? Wait and see.   

Such bills are necessitated by Virginia being a Dillon Rule state, with local governments restricted to those powers granted by the Assembly and prevented from leaving the reservation. To fix that, this Assembly might start the process to just dump the Dillon Rule entirely (here and here). 

It is a short path from pilot program to statewide implementation to statewide mandate. The process is fully visible this session with another idea, this one started by Republicans. A bill advancing now gives every locality the option to increase its local sales tax another penny. Acorns become oaks. 

Watch that explosive growth happen with another progressive dream that may now become reality, a state-level mandate to pay employees who go out on family or medical leave. The paid family or medical leave could extend up to 12 weeks, financed by a new statewide payroll tax similar to how the Social Security system or unemployment benefits are financed. The initial payroll tax discussed in the fiscal impact statement is about 1%, up to $5 per week on both employer and employee.  

That is the acorn price, ignoring the mighty bureaucratic oak this will become. The bills are here and here. Oh, and in case you miss this key point, payroll taxes are highly regressive – harming the poor the most.   

There is already a legal mandate to provide paid sick leave of one hour for every 30 hours worked, but only for home health workers. In another acorn-to-oak play, a bill expands that to vast numbers of workers across the economy, even though many employers are already offering that or even better benefits. The real point of the bill, probably, is its new state enforcement powers, its major cash penalties and even a new right for aggrieved employees to sue.   

Oak trees will proliferate in the civil litigation forest under several pending bills. Virginia is now just one of two states that do not allow plaintiffs with a common claim to band together into a class action case in state courts. Several bills (here and here) would change that. Further expanding the incentive to sue, another pending bill also eliminates the long-standing cap on medical malpractice awards. 

Consider those together: allowing class action lawsuits in state court and allowing unlimited medical malpractice awards. Once they start paying larger or more numerous settlements, do you think the hospitals, doctors, pharma companies and their insurance carriers will just absorb that, or will your individual insurance rates rise? Just asking.  

Most citizens also might not focus on the cost to them of proposed changes in Virginia’s procurement laws, greatly expanding the percentage of awards and subcontracts directed to small, woman-owned or minority businesses. This bill establishes different set-asides for different categories, up to 42% or even 50%. It also greatly expands the opportunity for awards without competitive bidding.

If these companies were offering the best price or best quality under the existing bid process, no such bill would be necessary. Locking out larger competitors will just allow prices paid to creep up, with the resulting impact on state and local tax expenditures. As with many of the bills discussed above, the financial impact is not yet officially calculated (and any official calculation would not be trustworthy anyway.) 

Legislation that claims to change Virginia’s future bad weather or sea level is nonsense. That kind of climate is beyond human control. But the state’s strong business climate is very easy to ruin with legislation and regulation.  

First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

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34 responses to “The Aggressive Progressive Democratic Agenda”

  1. Time for a new Virginia motto: Like California… without the great weather

    1. how_it_works Avatar

      “Just like flyover country…except with high taxes!”

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Once again, boogeyman politics!

    Any bill that does not have enough support to overturn a Veto is
    more a “show” bill than a serious one. Both sides play this game of forcing the other to show who they are to the voters.

    But the other real question is – what do most Virginians support?

    Is it the same as the GOP positions?

    I don’t think so. Conservatives cry when Dems take control, but you know, there IS a REASON why they take control especially when the GOP can’t even maintain position that most Virginians might support.

    Is Virginia more like Oklahoma, Texas or California?

    The real answer , not the myth floating around in the heads of the Va GOP!

  3. Irene Leech Avatar
    Irene Leech

    Instead of considering class action lawsuits as encouraging litigation, think of them as encouraging folks to do the right things. Right now because these are not allowed, consumers often have no recourse when they don’t have deep pockets for going to court. With our data privacy law the only enforcer is the Attorney General – individuals have to do what the business designs and can only appeal to the business – and then ask the AG, who won’t act for a single consumer. If the AG thinks something is wrong, it has to give the company 30 days to fix the issue and make it go away. This is but one example. Can anyone say consumers have a level playing field with businesses in Virginia under these conditions? How could we make things fair?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Reasonable and rational thoughts can be a challenge on BR… but I encourage you – to help balance out things here in BR. thank you!

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        Irene’s input is always welcome and she could probably still know how to reach me directly. If I ranked those as most to least objectionable, the class action idea would not top the list, as long as a judge has to see some rational basis for the class and approve it. But in combination with the whole list, it just adds to the cumulative impact of changes that will add costs.

    2. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      Perhaps on some class actions suits yes, but most are just nuisances suits that don’t do anything for those aggrieved, just those litigating it.

  4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Useful summary. Thanks.
    Just to weigh in on a couple of items:

    Gas-powered leaf blowers. Good bill. If I were king, banning these infernal machines would be one of my first acts. Many a quiet morning or peaceful afternoon on my street has been wrecked by the noise of these things. Electric ones are much quieter. Raking leaves is even quieter and provides some exercise, as well.

    Increase in local sales tax for school construction. As you rightly noted, this was initiated by a Republican. It is also subject to approval in a local referendum. It’s hard to object to folks being allowed to decide whether to tax themselves. Yes, the sales tax is regressive. Given my d’ruthers, I would have picked a different method, such as ceasing to raid the Literary Fund to supplant GF expenditures and allow the Fund to revert to being the main source of local school construction money.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I was under the impression that these referenda were “advisory” in that The BOS needed approval to enact but could choose to not.

      In that vein, a referendum could be structured to allow sales tax or real estate or some other source … get the voters sentiment and follow it.

      The other problem is, and we see this in our county, the “no-tax” folks will oppose any/all no matter the school needs. Hard Core!

      “Don’t tax me for something for others”

      The county does have tax exemptions and deferrals for low income folks over 65.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        That legislation authorizes a local governing body to increase the local sales tax by 1 percent, with the proceeds being used to finance school construction. However, before it can become effecitve, it has to be approved in a referendum. The referendum is not advisory.

        The local govrening body does not have to initiate the tax increase, but, if it does, the voters have to approve it.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          The governing body would have to enact the ordinance after the referenda. With other local referenda, the results
          do not force the BOS to enact, they can choose to not. Maybe this kind doesn’t work that way. How about
          with the meals tax. If it passes the referenda, the BOS must enact the tax, they cannot refuse?

          1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            The process set out in the bill is this:
            1. Local governing body initiates the referendum.
            2. Referendum is held.
            3. If voters approve the additional sales tax, governing body may pass ordinance levying the tax.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            so on 3. – if voters approve… is it “may” or “shall”?

            I know on other local referenda, even if voters approve, the BOS can elect to no do what voters approved.

            I don’t know, for instance, say… some local voters want the tax or maybe a meals tax and they get the
            votes to put it to a vote, but the BOS is opposed. If the proposal passes, can the BOS still elect not
            to do it or they have no choice and are required?

          3. Why would a BOS initiate a referendum if they did not intend to pass legislation pursuant to that referendum if/when it is approved by the voters?

    2. Virginia Gentleman Avatar
      Virginia Gentleman

      A Republican introduced the increase in local sales tax idea. Can you say that a little louder for the people in the back? Wait – isn’t this post about the “Aggressive Progressive Democratic Agenda”? It is getting really hard to tell who the bogeyman is anymore – but as long people are scared, isn’t that the whole point?

    3. Randy Huffman Avatar
      Randy Huffman

      When the yard guys show up at my neighbors, they start off with a massive walk behind mower that sounds like a hot rod without a muffler, followed by a gas weedwacker to edge where the walk behind couldn’t get. By then the neighborhood kids and dogs have already found a place to hide, so who cares what kind of blower is used before they move on?

      I do my own yard work with a standard gas mower, it would tick me off if that was outlawed because my yard is too big for a battery, so then what, hire the monster mower as commercial applications would probably be exempt?

      I will note I recently did get a battery blower and do like it a lot as lighter and is less noisy, but it does not last very long, so it’s impractical for major leaf blowing, and I would add, commercial applications.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I have a blower, weed whacker, chain saw and mower and they all use the same battery that I have several of same size. It “works” fine. And I’m no longer hauling that stuff down to the small motor folks to figure out what it’s stopped and needs “stuff”.

        1. Randy Huffman Avatar
          Randy Huffman

          Battery power equipment is great but they have limits. You can’t cut up thick wood with a battery chain saw, or work for extended periods, so I have both. There is no way a battery mower can handle my yard, I get great exercise with my 21 inch gas Honda mower, I will do my own yard as long as I can. I just got a gas snowblower for those rare times I will need it; my research concluded my driveway was too long and steep to consider a battery one.

          But I agree battery equipment has come a long way and I will buy them if I think they can do the job. We don’t need legislation to outlaw something like a gas blower that has worked well for decades and is proven superior to certain applications.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            and it’s getting better and better…


            Anything my battery chainsaw can’t handle, I need to call someone anyhow… gotta move the rest of the tree and I can’t do that.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            and it’s getting better and better…


            Anything my battery chainsaw can’t handle, I need to call someone anyhow… gotta move the rest of the tree and I can’t do that.

    4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      I would much rather have a bill that required a real muffler on a vehicle. The infernal sound of hot rod “tuner” cars blasting their loud exhaust noise is maddening. Even worse in Front Royal, where a great many motorists don’t even have a muffler.

    5. Chip Gibson Avatar
      Chip Gibson

      Wholly support your opinions on leaf blowers and proposed raking approach to leaf control.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Elections have consequences. Elect dullards (i.e., Democrats), get idiocy (i.e., socialism).

    Big government is going so well in California, New York, Illinois. Why not try the same failed approach here?

    Youngkin needs to veto all of these bills. What’s the worst that will happen – he won’t get reelected governor in 2025?

    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      We have a course of remediation. All those lovely individuals that were on here complaining about Texas and its boarder can have some new house guests (somehow I think they might object).

      At least 5 boarder jumpers and a terrorist for each member voting yes, it might change their perceptive on lots of things.

    2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      “Youngkin needs to veto all of these bills”

      Probably the intent all along. Make Republicans show who they are for and who they are against.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        yes, exactly.

    3. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Could be a two or three day reconvened session in April. 🙂 I expect quite a bit of turmoil over the budget, too. We really won’t know what is going on with taxes until the amended budgets get revealed after crossover. Until then the cards will be held tight “within the bosom of the committee”.

  6. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “But if they succeed in setting future wage increases to automatically grow with inflation, the impact just builds and builds”

    Typical Conservative, ok you get a raise but I will just let cost of living erode that raise over the next couple years so you are right back where you started… or worse…

    Also, the impact does not “build and build” it maintains parity.

    “The localities cannot allow rent hikes that exceed the rate of inflation, but apparently can impose rent hike limits that are lower than the rate of inflation.”

    Ok so landlord raises must be protected from increases in the cost of living but renters’ raises can not… I wonder which way the voter will go on this one… 🤔

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      I don’t dispute many of these are popular/populist. Just their wisdom. The evidence that rent control is counterproductive, for example, is quite strong.

      1. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        They are only “popular” because the people they are popular with can’t do math nor are they willing to accept facts instead of emotions.

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        There is virtually no affordable housing in Fredericksburg anymore for low income families. Both home ownership as well as most apartments are out of reach.

        Landlords are getting top dollar including uber security deposits as well as good credit scores.

        Fredericksburg City has had an ongoing debate about whether they will allow accessory dwellings – which would help both those needing housing by fixed income retirees trying to keep up with increasing values and taxes.

        The apartments are upscale and cater to NoVa commuters and over 55 empty nesters.

        There’s a real question as to what govt could or should do or not.

        The “free market” is not providing a product that is in demand.

        It’s like as long as they can sell Lexus and Cadillacs, there are no Chevy’s or Fords for sale.

        1. how_it_works Avatar

          Probably most of the landlords who owned modest single-family houses they were renting out sold them within the last few years. I sold mine. Here are the reasons why I decided to sell:

          1)The Government has no problem telling a landlord that they can’t evict a tenant for nonpayment.

          2)The tenants, at least the ones I was getting, don’t respect the property. There’s no reason to rip doors off their hinges.

          3)The prices in the housing market went up and, in conjunction with the previous two reasons, made selling seem to be the best decision.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            I’ve known a few who had rental houses and even though they’re really particular who they rent
            to, the bottom line is that even good renters don’t treat rental property like they would their own.
            Others are even worse and security/damage deposits as well as good credit scores are required.

            At the end of the day, if you are a investor, you make choices also so renting must be lucrative if you’re
            willing to put up with the stuff you’re pointing out. When I rented many, many years ago, the landlord
            insisted he be able to “visit” once a year or so. I thought it was intrusive but now I realize what he
            was doing. I’m not even sure you can do that these days. Some folks just were not brought up right.
            More and more it seems.

  7. Erik Johnson Avatar
    Erik Johnson

    Sowing the seeds of creeping totalitarianism and all its ills.

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