The General Assembly session that begins in Richmond on January 10, 2024, could be a historic one. Not only because of the political alignment of the governor and the legislature, but also because of the potential for some grand bargains on issues that have been contentious for years.
A grand bargain is a term used to describe a compromise that benefits both sides of an issue, often at the expense of some minor concessions. It is not easy to achieve, especially in a polarized environment where each party has its own agenda and priorities.
But there are some areas where legislators may be willing to make some trade-offs, if they can see a win-win situation for themselves and their constituents. Here are some examples of possible grand bargains in the 2024 session:
- A sports arena in Alexandria: Governor Glenn Youngkin has proposed to lure the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals to Alexandria by offering state tax incentives and infrastructure improvements. However, this idea faces strong opposition from state Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and represents Hampton Roads. Lucas has said she will not approve an arena project that uses state tax dollars before delivering on toll relief and public schools in her region. She may be open to other options that do not involve public funds or environmental impacts.
- Retail sales of cannabis: Virginia legalized recreational cannabis use in November 2020, but it still faces legal challenges from opponents who want to overturn or limit its implementation. Some legislators have expressed interest in regulating retail sales of cannabis at the state level, rather than leaving it to localities or relying on federal guidelines. This could create a revenue stream for the state and reduce conflicts among counties over taxation and enforcement.
- Electronic “skill” games: These are online games that simulate gambling activities, such as poker or blackjack. They are popular among young people who want to have fun without risking money or breaking any laws. However, they are also controversial because they may encourage addictive behavior or exploit vulnerable users. Some legislators have suggested imposing taxes or fees on these games to generate revenue for education or prevention programs.
- Data centers: These are facilities that store and process large amounts of data for various purposes, such as cloud computing or artificial intelligence. They are essential for modern society and economy, but they also consume energy and generate heat and noise pollution. Some legislators have proposed creating incentives or regulations for data center development in Virginia to boost economic growth and innovation.
These are just some of the possible topics where a grand bargain could be reached in the 2024 session. Of course, there are many other issues that will require negotiation and compromise among lawmakers from different parties and backgrounds. The key will be to find common ground and mutual benefits that can satisfy everyone’s interests.
The General Assembly session is an opportunity for legislators to show their leadership skills and their ability to work across party lines. It is also an opportunity for them to make history by advancing reforms that can improve Virginia’s economy, society, environment, and governance.