Fairfax County senators react to governor’s veto of minimum wage bump

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin at the groundbreaking for the I-495 Express Lanes extension in 2022 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A bill to raise Virginia’s minimum wage got the ax in Richmond despite the support of three Fairfax County state senators.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) vetoed legislation on March 28 that would’ve increased the minimum wage from $12 to $15 an hour by 2026. Sens. Jennifer Boysko, Saddam Salim and Adam Ebbin, who all represent parts of Fairfax County, were among several Democrats to sponsor the bill.

The governor also struck down a bill sponsored by Ebbin (D-30) that would have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana in Virginia.

Ebbin said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the decisions and sees no reason to believe Youngkin will change his mind in future years.

“We need a Democratic governor to sign these bills,” the senator said.

The minimum wage bill would’ve boosted the rate to $13.50 an hour starting Jan. 1, 2025 before reaching the full $15 in 2026. Youngkin argued that his veto protects small businesses in parts of Virginia outside of the D.C. suburbs.

“The free market for salaries and wages works,” the governor said. “It operates dynamically, responding to the nuances of varying economic conditions and regional differences. This wage mandate imperils market freedom and economic competitiveness.”

A minimum wage increase “may not impact Northern Virginia, where economic conditions create a higher cost of living,” Youngkin added.

Salim (D-37), whose district includes Tysons, Vienna and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, disputed Youngkin’s claims, calling the veto “deeply disappointing and detrimental to the well-being of workers and struggling families across Virginia.”

“Our current minimum wage is not a living wage, particularly here in Northern Virginia,” he said. “I believe that every worker deserves a living wage. By rejecting this bill, the governor is essentially endorsing policies that grow economic inequality and hardship.”

Democrats in the Virginia Senate will continue to fight for a minimum wage increase next legislative session, Salim said.

Boysko (D-38), who represents Reston, Herndon, Great Falls and McLean, argued that the current minimum wage is part of a “cruel system” that forces many people to “scrounge for benefits” from the state and nonprofits, contributing to Virginia’s workforce shortage.

“Many businesses are not paying a living wage,” Boysko said. “If employers cannot figure out how they would live on what they pay their employees, we have an economic problem and a moral problem.”

For the marijuana bill veto, Youngkin pointed to adverse health effects associated with the substance. He argued that even medical cannabis has had “perverse and dangerous consequences” akin to opioids.

“Attempting to rectify the error of decriminalizing marijuana by establishing a safe and regulated marketplace is an unachievable goal,” he said. “The more prudent approach would be to revisit the issue of discrepancies in enforcement, not compounding the risks and endangering Virginians’ health and safety with greater market availability.”

Virginia became the first Southern state to legalize marijuana possession in 2021 after then-governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed a bill intended to set the stage for recreational sales to adults starting in 2024. Proponents characterized the move as a necessary corrective to address racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana crimes.

Ebbin, whose district includes Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners, argued that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and that preventing its legal sale only encourages people to turn to illegal sources.

“It’s an adult choice that some adults make, and we don’t need a black market,” he said.

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