This Week in Statehouse Action: Groundhog Daze edition
Bad news, everyone: I saw my shadow, so there are six more weeks of session.
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… okay okay, that’s literally not possible; legislative sessions last for different lengths of time in different states. And some meet year-round. And some don’t even convene every year!
Right now, though, that session map is LIT.
Literally every state but Alabama (convenes March 7), Florida (also March 7), Nevada (session starts Monday), and Oklahoma (also kicks off Feb. 6) is into its legislative session at this point; most have been going since early January.
And while it wasn’t the first to convene, the dubious honor of First To Adjourn will go to Virginia, which will wrap before February is even over (2/25, technically).
So with just three weeks of lawmaking left, what is going on in the Old Dominion, anyway?
Crossover is nigh!
This year’s short session (just 45 days; in even-numbered years, Virginia’s General Assembly meets for an additional 15 days for a grand total of 60) means that we’re almost at the point after which each chamber can only consider legislation that has already passed the other chamber–i.e. the state Senate can only hear House bills, and the House of Delegates can only hear Senate bills.
… which means shit’s about to get REAL in the commonwealth.
During short sessions, lawmakers are spared the arduous task of crafting an entire two-year budget, but they still have to adopt and make adjustments to the second half of the one they passed last year – time passes, circumstances change, tax revenue is either above or below expectations …
Or there’s a $201 million math error.
GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose run for governor leaned heavily on his “expertise” with numbers and finances as a Wall Street private equity guy, is on the hook for a screwup in a state Department of Education spreadsheet school districts used to calculate how much funding they’ll expect to receive from the state.
The tool–launched by Youngkin’s administration last June– takes into account things like number of students and local property tax revenue.
Maybe if the Youngkin administration were a little less focused on BS right-wing agenda items like erasing Black history from classrooms, censoring books, or defunding public education, they would have gotten the math right.
Instead, counties all across the state are left holding the bag because of Youngkin’s screwup.
The worst off? The rural areas (which, somewhat ironically, tend to vote for Republicans like Youngkin) that rely most heavily on state funding (to the tune of up to 80%!) because of their comparatively flaccid tax bases.
Relatively wealthy areas like Northern Virginia and the Richmond suburbs have far less to worry about, although the size of those school districts means the shortfall is far higher in terms of raw dollars.
The Youngkin administration isn’t saying who discovered the error, but it was apparently identified back in mid-December, though school divisions weren’t notified until over a month later (last Friday), and the lawmakers currently making adjustments to the budget that funds public schools didn’t know what was going on until just this past Monday.
The Youngkin administration hasn’t bothered to say why they hid this epic screwup for so long.
And truly, it would have been nice to let lawmakers know before the session was half over ffs.
So because Youngkin sat on his snafu, school districts across Virginia are facing a $58 million shortfall just for the rest of this school year alone.
This financial crisis probably wasn’t what Youngkin had in mind when he proposed a voucher scheme that would eliminate a full third of per-pupil funding from public education in Virginia (which is already underfunded), but I dunno – maybe he saw this as a handy shortcut.
Neither Youngkin nor his GOP allies in the legislature have made any visible effort this week to remedy this disaster.
Instead, Virginia Republicans were busy avoiding avoiding votes to ban abortion.
It is an election year in the commonwealth, after all, and the two-seat GOP House majority is in enough danger as it is.
So Republican leadership has refused to docket House bills restricting reproductive freedom, including (but very much not limited to) Youngkin’s proposal to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Can’t be having your members take votes that will come back to haunt them on the campaign trail, after all.
My Chamber Was Gone
And now, back to Ohio.
A few weeks ago in this space, I (admittedly rather gleefully) wrote about the leadership battle among Ohio House Republicans as they tried to sort out who would hold the Speaker’s gavel in the chamber.
If you’re just tuning in, though, the short version is that right-wing extremist Rep. Derek Merrin, who thought he was going to be Speaker in the new session, was stymied by an alliance of more moderate members of the GOP caucus + all the chamber’s Democrats.
These strange bedfellows instead elected the (... somewhat, everything’s relative) more moderate Rep. Jason Stephens to preside over the state House.
Merrin’s sense of entitlement wouldn’t allow him to let this go and get on with the business of legislating, however.
After the vote, he proclaimed himself “the leader of the House Republicans,” and 37 of the 43 GOPers who supported his effort to become Speaker began calling themselves the “Republican Majority Caucus.”
So the stage was already set for a session rife with infighting among the Ohio House Republicans. [popcorn dot gif]
But it gets better/worse (depending on your point of view–I welcome readers of all political stripes!).
Because weeks later, Speaker Stephens and the pro-Merrin Republicans are still fighting, and now there’s cash money involved.
Stephens claims that he’s in charge of Ohio’s House Republicans and of the Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA), which is the campaign fund that spends millions electing Ohio House Republicans.
But Rep. Phil Plummer, a Merrin supporter, is also claiming that he’s in charge of the OHRA. Merrin, by the by, is still claiming he’s leader of the House GOP caucus.
Now, these cats aren’t arguing over chump change.
Just last year, the OHRA spent $4.5 million on GOP House candidates, to say nothing of the $1.8 million in in-kind contributions.
Traditionally, the Speaker is also head of the majority House caucus, but that’s certainly not required by any law or rule.
Plummer is even threatening a court battle over the matter.
The OHRA website, by the by, has a cute little 404-esque message on its “Members” page at the moment, but don’t worry–you can still donate to support this dysfunction.
Get excited! The four-way primary for Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court election is barely three weeks away!
But coming up much, much sooner than that are three special elections in Pennsylvania that will finally give Democrats the humans they need to exercise majority control of the state House, which they actually won last November before they were stymied by the sudden demise of one Democrat and the resignation of two others to serve in Congress.
On Feb. 7, voters in these three districts will likely elect three new Democrats to the state House.
HDs 32, 34, and 35 (yes, I know they’re all near Pittsburgh, but how often do I have a chance to reference my favorite Boyz II Men song?) went for Biden over Trump in 2020 62-36, 80-19, and 58-41, respectively.
Republicans have reportedly not made serious investments in any of these contests.
So by the end of next week, Pennsylvania Democrats will likely hold a 102-100 (a Republican recently won a special for the state Senate, so one R seat will be open until the spring elections in May) majority in the state House.
So … will compromise candidate Mark Rozzi stay on as Speaker?
As an erudite consumer of this missive, you likely recall that Republicans refused to install Democratic designee Joanna McClinton as Speaker back in January, since Democrats were technically shy of the number of humans needed to elect her to the position.
But then, to the shock of pretty much everyone, a few rogue Republicans threw their support behind Democrat Mark Rozzi, who pledged to preside over the chamber as an independent, not caucusing with either party.
What he did not pledge to do, however, was to change his party registration, despite Republican claims that he did.
In response to Rozzi’s perceived betrayal, House Republicans have petulantly refused to pass a rules package, which is important because the House literally can’t operate without it
It can’t take up legislation or set the partisan makeup of committees or set the rules to recall a speaker or, like, anything.
Rozzi hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs, though–he locked up the House chamber (seriously!) and went on a “listening tour” across the state.
But after next Tuesday, Rozzi will finally have a fully operational House majority, and … then what?
I mean, the House will pass a rules package and shit will finally start getting done (... or not; the Republicans controlling the state Senate can play spoiler to pretty much anything House Dems try to accomplish), but …
Will Rozzi stay on as Speaker?
Or, since Democrats will actually have actual majority control, will Rozzi step aside and allow McClinton to get elected to the top job?
By the Time I Get to Arizona
Before we wrap up, let’s just poke our heads into the Grand Canyon State and see what’s going on…
Oh my lord, Republicans are seriously trying to break up Maricopa County into four separate counties.
Arizona Republicans have introduced measures that would break up the state’s largest county–which just happened to start trending seriously blue in 2020.
And this is exactly why Republicans are, essentially, trying to gerrymander a freaking county.
Don’t get me wrong, Maricopa is a huge-ass county.
It contains Phoenix, most of that metro area, and three-fifths of the state’s population.
The Republicans behind the proposal are claiming that cracking the county would improve local government, but we know better.
Splitting the county in the way the GOP proposes would dilute the political power of Maricopa’s growing Latino and Black populations while advantaging white Republicans.
Not-so-fun fact! In the Jim Crow era, white supremacists redrew a whole slew of county lines across the South to target Black elected officials and undermine Black voting power.
So, yes, this GOP scheme isn’t just a naked partisan power grab; it’s racist, too.
The Republicans behind the proposal claim it furthers their so-called “small government” goals, but that’s a load of garbage.
New counties need all the things that, like, all counties need, including infrastructure, government facilities, jails, courts, schools … you get the idea.
Also, it’s an expensive proposal!
Maricopa County officials estimate that the additional staff alone required to support the three new counties would cost about $155 million each year.
Three of the four new counties would have to raise property taxes to cover the new operating expenses.
The proposal’s description of the redrawn county lines is pretty lousy, but if you’re interested in seeing what they’d look like, you should click here.
Okay okay, you may be thinking to yourself. This is nuts, but there’s no chance it’ll actually happen, right?
Don’t be so sure.
Republicans actually tried this county-cracking scheme last year.
That bill advanced through committee but failed to get full floor votes after the then-House Speaker and a key state senator came out against the proposal.
But those guys aren’t around this year.
And while obviously Arizona’s new Democratic governor would veto such a garbage bill, Republicans in the legislature are trying an end-run around her.
The House version of this year's proposal would send the measure to the ballot in 2024, where Arizona voters would have the final say.
With one-seat majorities in both the state House and Senate, the GOP still faces an uphill battle to pass it at all, but it’s absolutely not out of the question.
A longer shot, probably, is convincing a significant chunk of Arizonans to raise taxes on themselves, expand government, and generally make their lives more complicated for no good reason.
But even if Republicans fail in this year’s effort to gerrymander Maricopa County, the fact that it’s not even the first time they’ve tried to do it suggests that it won’t be their last, either.
That’s a wrap for this week.
Hope you’re not too worn out from all your Groundhog Day festivities.
Or stuck in a weird time loop.
Regardless, thanks for hanging in!
I’m literally always grateful (and maybe even a little surprised) that you’re a reader of [[waves hands]] all this.
So thank you!
And take care of yourself.
We need you.
Thanks for reading This Week in Statehouse Action! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.