It’s almost the end of the year, so a good time to look back on all the things that happened. Conveniently, I began the year by posing 22 questions about what might happen in 2022. Now, at last, we can answer them, so here goes:
1. What will Glenn Youngkin do as governor? Not surprisingly for a Republican, he’s proposed to cut taxes, through a gas tax holiday. That hasn’t happened. Again, not surprisingly for a Republican, he’s tried to withdraw the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and he proposed new guidelines for dealing with transgender students and new standards for teaching history. On the other hand, he did pull a surprise by proposing a small modular nuclear reactor in Southwest Virginia. He torpedoed the likely appointment of former Education Secretary Anne Holton as chancellor of the Virginia Community College System and insisted his administration have a role in hiring the next chancellor, which hasn’t happened yet. He’s also cultivated a national profile as a possible presidential candidate. Whatever he’s done, Youngkin has been reasonably popular, particularly for a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state. As the year ends, the Roanoke College Poll found his approval rating at 52%.
2. What will the General Assembly do? The main thing the legislature does in an even-numbered year is to pass a two-year state budget. The budget this year included $4 billion in tax relief, a 10% pay increase for state employees and teachers, a partial repeal of the state’s grocery tax, plus record investments in public education, and a historic state commitment to school construction – $1.25 billion that supporters say will help leverage more than $3 billion for school construction and modernization projects. The budget also included $25 million to pay off the state bonds on the shuttered Central Virginia Training Center in Amherst County, which would allow the state to sell off the property – it’s considered prime developable land – and $15.7 million for the construction of lab space in Roanoke to help accelerate growth of a life sciences sector. For more, see the column I wrote earlier this year, “At least 10 transformative things in the state budget.”
3. What will happen with marijuana legalization? Nothing. The Democratic legislature last year legalized possession but Virginia still hasn’t set up the full framework for a legalized retail market. Furthermore, Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas about how that should be done. Democrats wanted to emphasize “social equity” by giving preference to those convicted of marijuana offenses. The Republicans who are OK with legalization tend to be of a more libertarian mindset, which also means they think the free market should be left alone to do its thing. Those two views could not be more diametrically opposed. Efforts to put together a bill that could actually pass collapsed during this year’s session. That means Virginia remains in a gray zone: Personal possession of cannabis is legal, but the sale of cannabis takes place in an untaxed, unregulated black market. I hear talk that there may be another push in the 2023 session but advocates of setting up a retail market aren’t keen on making the push unless and until the Youngkin administration signals that the governor would actually sign such a bill.
4. Which localities will ban retail cannabis stores? One provision of the bill that Democrats passed in 2021 gave localities one shot – and one shot only – at banning retail stores, through a local referendum in November 2022. That bill, though, came with a reenactment clause – and with Republicans in charge of the House, it wasn’t reenacted this year. This question has effectively been rendered moot by that lack of action.
5. Will the General Assembly pass a constitutional amendment to address school disparity? Nope. Never came up. Last year, state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, managed to get the measure through the state Senate – a massive surprise – only to have it strangled in committee by Democrats, many from Northern Virginia. He said he held off because constitutional amendments need to be passed twice, by two different legislatures, so he felt it was strategically wise to wait a year.
6. Will the General Assembly do something about school construction? Yes. Now, whether it did enough, we don’t know yet. Critics felt the plan that got passed relies too much on loans rather than grants and some localities won’t be able to afford those. Still, the legislature did pass something.
7. What will Jason Miyares do as attorney general? I wrote then: “He’s vowed to investigate the way Loudoun County schools have handled sexual assault cases.” The answer to that came this month, with two people, including the former superintendent, indicted.
8. Will the Mountain Valley Pipeline get completed? No. I wrote then: “The natural gas pipeline is mostly done, but still faces lots of regulatory hurdles.” That’s still the case. U.S. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, traded his vote on what was widely called a “climate bill” in return for a promise that his environmental permitting bill would get considered – and that bill included a provision that would greenlight the pipeline. But attempts to bring that bill up have failed.
9. How many people will get vaccinated? The year ends with 73.5% of Virginians fully vaccinated, about the same as when the year began. The least-vaccinated locality remains Carroll County, where 42.7% have been vaccinated. (See the story we did earlier this year on Carroll.) It remains incorrect, though, to say that the vaccination divide is along rural/urban lines. It’s true that the state’s most vaccinated locality is an urban one – Arlington County, at 83.5%. But some rural localities do post high vaccination rates – Northampton County on the Eastern Shore is 79.7%, Lancaster County on the Northern Neck is at 71.4%, Nelson County is at 70.8%, all of which are higher than Richmond (58.6%) and Roanoke (59.9%). Generally speaking, the outliers in Virginia are Southwest and parts of Southside; that’s where vaccination rates are lowest.
10. Who will win the midterms? Ten of Virginia’s 11 incumbents were reelected; the lone exception was in the 2nd Congressional District in Hampton Roads, where Democrat Elaine Luria lost to Republican Jen Kiggans. Nationally, Republicans won the House, but not by very much, certainly not what they were hoping for, while Democrats actually increased their margin in the Senate.
11. Will the Tobacco Commission territory be expanded? It was not. Some thought it should be as a way to help address the economic distress of certain localities that don’t fall under the commission’s footprint. Others are adamantly opposed to this. They point out that the commission was set up with funds from the master settlement with the tobacco companies in the 1990s, with that money expressly dedicated to building a new economy in tobacco-growing regions. To change the commission’s footprint is to break faith. This proposal, while talked about, never even came up in the General Assembly.
12. Will the Tobacco Commission’s Talent Attraction Program expand? It did not. To address population losses, the commission started a program in 2019 to pay off student loans for college graduates who agreed to move to commission territory and fill certain high-demand jobs that otherwise weren’t getting filled. This is a much more targeted approach than some communities have taken, where they will offer what amounts to a move-in bonus for almost anyone. The program is small but some legislators are thrilled by its prospects. State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, has called it “the most innovative idea I’ve heard in 20 years.” Nonetheless, the program wasn’t expanded.
13. How will the new football coaches at Virginia Tech and Virginia do? Not very well. Virginia Tech finished 3-8. Virginia finished 3-7, its season truncated after three players were killed.
14. Will Alden succeed in acquiring most of Virginia’s daily newspapers? No. Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund with a reputation for buying newspapers and then gutting them, made a bid last year for Lee Enterprises, whose Virginia properties include the dailies in Bristol, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Martinsville, Richmond and Roanoke, plus many weeklies and semi-weeklies such as the ones in Rocky Mount and Wytheville. Alden already owns the papers in Norfolk and Newport News. If successful in its bid for Lee, it would own all but a handful of dailies in Virginia, and all the major ones. However, Alden sold its stake in Lee in May and now appears to have abandoned this bid, according to Axios. (Alden did, though, make the news in a different way; an entity linked to the hedge fund has been buying up mobile home parks and raising the rates – including one in Montgomery County. See our coverage of that here.)
15. Will we get another dark sky park? Not yet. Virginia has five such parks that have been certified by the International Dark-Sky Association as dark enough to see certain stars: Staunton River State Park, James River State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, Rappahannock County Park and Sky Meadows. But other parts of the state could potentially qualify.
16. Will Virginia get its first on-shore wind farm? Not this year anyway. Apex Clean Energy proposed one north of Eagle Rock in Botetourt County in 2015 but it has yet to happen. At last report, the company had yet to find a buyer for the energy the facility would produce.
17. How much more solar energy will we get? A lot. It’s apparently a lot easier to build a solar farm than a wind farm. A report earlier this year said that Virginia’s solar output had doubled in the past year, and it’s surely grown even more this year as more facilities come online. Nationally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says that 38% of the nation’s power comes from natural gas, renewables 22% and coal 20%. It doesn’t give a specific split for how much of the renewable energy is from solar, but the single biggest source of renewable energy nationwide is from wind, which is biggest in the Midwest.
18. Where will the Afghan refugees at Fort Pickett get resettled? Some 10,300 evacuees wound up at the military base in Nottoway County. Of those, 5,217 were resettled in Virginia. The biggest number – 3,552 – went to Northern Virginia, followed by 688 in Richmond, 425 in Charlottesville, 215 in Newport News, 202 in Harrisonburg and 135 in the Roanoke Valley. These weren’t the only Afghan immigrants to the United States. From 2015 to 2019, Northern Virginia became a hub for Afghan immigrants. A report by the state’s Office of New Americans says that only Sacramento, California, attracted more Afghan immigrants. Fairfax County ranks second in the country for the most Afghan immigrants. Prince William County ranks fifth, Alexandria 13th and Loudoun County 15th.
19. Who will get broadband this year? I did, so that was a big deal to me. The federal infrastructure law is speeding up the extension of broadband internet into rural America, although mine had nothing to do with that. (See the column I wrote about this.) Before he left office in January, Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia was on track to have universal coverage by 2024, four years ahead of schedule.
20. What will happen once Bristol’s casino opens? Hard Rock opened its temporary casino in July, the first in Virginia, and broke ground for a permanent facility in December. For critics, Bristol does not seem to have become a city of sin. For advocates, tax revenues are now flowing to localities throughout Southwest Virginia.
21. Will we see more armadillos in Virginia? Yes, but we still have no evidence of a breeding population. Instead, in 2022 we saw a few more cases of random ones waddling through, as far north as Montgomery County. These are probably hitchhikers who just jumped off a freight train. They do that kind of thing. But as a species, armadillos are slowly making their way north. The armor-plated critters are already established in North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Nancy Moncrief at the Virginia Museum of Natural History says scientists believe that armadillos could probably survive as far north as Pennsylvania, so it’s entirely possible that someday we’ll be able to say Virginia Is For Armadillos. Just not this year.
22. What will happen that we don’t know to ask about yet? The U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade was a pretty big deal. We also weren’t expecting Youngkin to propose a small modular nuclear reactor in Southwest Virginia.