Ahead of the Jan. 8 start of the 2020 Virginia General Assembly, local legislators met Tuesday morning with about 75 Lynchburg-area business leaders to brief them about what changes could come in the spring and how their businesses could be affected.
Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg; Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford County; Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford; and Delegate-elect Wendell Walker, who in November was elected to represent Virginia’s 23rd House District, spoke about upcoming issues at the biannual Politics and Pancakes breakfast hosted by the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance at Randolph College.
Peake predicted there would be a lot of changes in the Virginia General Assembly this year due to Democrats taking control over the once-red state including some trying to repeal the state’s right-to-work law. The law forbids compulsory union membership as a condition of employment; Gov. Ralph Northam has said he would not support repealing it.
“If anything happens to right-to-work, all these things will increase minimum wage,” he said. “You bring in a lot of anti-discrimination law, you double the minimum wage, you do all these things in one year, you increase taxes, they’re gonna increase business taxes to pay for a lot of social programs and that’s what we’re looking at. That’s what we’re gonna be fighting against to make sure we’re still business-friendly and you guys have got to get involved.”
Peake said he warned those in attendance at a Jefferson’s Assembly event in October in Bedford County what would happen if people didn’t get out and vote during the November election.
“People didn’t get out. It’s happened,” he said. “They got majorities in both houses and the governorship for two years. You better pay attention, you better get involved and you better start talking to people around the state or you’re gonna find it very difficult and a lot more expensive to run your businesses,” Peake said Tuesday.
Kenneth Garren, president of University of Lynchburg, asked about tuition assistance for students who cannot afford higher education.
Walker said higher education is an investment in the future and he said he has already met with Liberty University and University of Lynchburg to hear their concerns regarding funding.
“We are prepared for a political battle. There’s no question about that. The pendulum swings to the right, swings to the left. Politically, I understand what we’re facing,” he said. “As the new kid on the block, I will fight as hard as I can to make sure that Lynchburg and the rest of Virginia receives what it needs to continue to make this a great state to live, work in and be prosperous.”
Peake said with all the local colleges in the area, the local delegation will do its best but added that if Northam starts promising free things, people must know the money must come from somewhere else.
“Nothing is free, so money has to be adjusted from somewhere and you either raise taxes and it comes out of your pocket that way or it comes out of public safety or transportation or some other form of education. I think you’re going to see some increased taxes and I think there will be some increased revenue,” he said.
David Malewitz, parking manager for the city of Lynchburg, asked about the rumors of the Dillon Rule, which states local governments are limited to the powers granted to them by their state, being removed in Virginia.
Newman said Virginia would change dramatically and the ways businesses operate would be impacted should the Dillon Rule cease to exist.
“There have been no pronouncements thus far on the Dillon Rule,” he said. “You don’t have to lose the entire Dillon Rule to lose a portion of it, which could be very injurious to the business community, so we need to continue to watch that item, educate your friends and neighbors and leaders about the impact of the Dillon Rule and I can assure you that I think most of this delegation is going to fight to make sure it stays.”
Stephanie Nicholas, director of operations for OrthoVirginia, said another regulatory and financial burden that could be imposed on businesses of all types and sizes is mandatory paid medical leave and she wondered what the likelihood of it passing in the General Assembly would be.
Byron said to be prepared for the bill to pass and for businesses to become familiar with it.
“This will have a tremendous impact on businesses. There are some businesses that offer their own packages and that’s what we always support, is for them to be able to do what’s best for their own business, but it’s not good for every business,” she said. “And we’re going to do the best we can to stand up and give a good debate as to why these aren’t good for businesses in Virginia and do the best we can to change people’s mind, but outside of that, there’s not much we can do.”
Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.