Governor Northam kicks off 2019 session with State of the Commonwealth Address

RICHMOND, VA (WJHL/AP) - Virginia lawmakers are kicking off the 2019 legislative session as Governor Northam updated the legislature on the state of the Commonwealth.   

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called on lawmakers Wednesday to raise teacher pay and give tax breaks to low-income families during his yearly address to the General Assembly.

The governor's office says this would be paid for by state revenue, that was higher than anticipated this year and money they expect to get if the Commonwealth conforms to the federal tax code changes. 
House Speaker Kirk Cox says one of the Republican party's main priorities is to get that money back into taxpayer's pockets. 

"We feel very strongly with the new revenue and especially a lot of that being derived from the federal tax cut, that's the big issue. For the middle class, you know, if we fix that problem it's about $800. You know, that's big money,"  said Cox. 

The speaker also said the parties can work together to find a compromise on many of these issues, especially ones in the classroom.  

The Democratic governor also pitched the Republican-controlled legislature on decriminalizing possession of marijuana, extending high-speed internet access in rural areas and allowing no-excuse absentee voting.

The grab-bag policy pitch comes as lawmakers kick off the 2019 legislative session. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of the House of Burgesses in Jamestown, the New World's first representative legislative assembly.

All 140 legislative seats will be up for election this year in contests determining partisan control of the assembly. That means many pieces of legislation - including those backed by Northam - are more likely to be used as ammo in political campaigns than actually becoming law.

Still, Northam repeatedly called on lawmakers of both parties to work together, a word he repeated throughout his speech.

One of the things to pay attention to in this session is the Interstate 81 corridor. 

"We have some issues that we're going to have to deal with, I-81 which is a big issue he's talked about. We all agree something has to be done. Getting that mix right. I'm interested to see what kind of detail he gives us, you know, on that," said House Speaker Kirk Cox, (R ) District 66.  

​​​​​​​This year's session is scheduled to last 45 days and end on February 23. 

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