With Virginia governors constitutionally limited to a single consecutive four-year term, there is no time to waste if an administration is to be successful.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) has been in office about a month but has been running into some major stumbling blocks in his “Day One Game Plan.” For instance, he has issued some controversial executive orders that may be illegal, and which are currently held up in court challenges. Along with some colleagues in the state legislature, I have also been digging into the impact of some of the governor’s policy proposals. We believe that the end result of some of his policies would be defunding core services, siphoning of public school funding toward charter schools and reducing access to the ballot box.
Legislation from the governor’s office includes bills that would freeze a scheduled minimum wage increase and repeal local authority to allow employees to collectively bargain. Fortunately, these anti-worker policies were blocked by Senate Democrats. As chair of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, I have seen a slew of bills introduced that advance positions advocated by Youngkin on the campaign trail that promise to restore “election integrity,” including ending same day voter registration before it even begins and reinstating overly restrictive voter ID laws. Committee Democrats summarily turned away these bills.
Fiscally, it is clear that Youngkin is new to the world of governance. Despite Virginia being constitutionally mandated to have a balanced budget, the governor has introduced plans amassing a stunning $3.5 billion in tax cuts and new spending without offering solutions to pay for them. The General Assembly and former Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) built an economy that created the current $2.6 billion surplus – but that money is needed to make major investments in education and mental healthcare and to reform failing agencies, like the Virginia Employment Commission.
Youngkin’s proposals would make these necessary investments impossible. In the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, we rejected legislation requiring localities to hold a referendum before making increases to their real property tax rates. Other states, like California, tried to do the same. The result was a fiscal calamity. We also tabled efforts to double the standard deduction on income taxes, recommending a study before we revisit it next year.
The taxpayers of Virginia entrust us to produce a well-balanced budget, and while Youngkin has some laudable goals to repeal and rebate some taxes, his lack of a plan to offset the revenue gap he’s creating should alarm every Virginian. The Senate is working to reshape some of those proposals into realistic policies, including a prudent, graduated approach to shielding veteran retirement income from taxation.
The governor has proposed eliminating the tax on groceries, including the 1% local grocery tax, without providing localities any way to make up the funds that would otherwise be used for education and local infrastructure. A bipartisan majority of the Senate finance committee opted to eliminate the 1.5% state grocery tax, while leaving localities intact for now.
Youngkin’s pick for Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, Andrew Wheeler, was recently rejected by the Senate. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President Donald Trump, faced more opposition from my constituents than any cabinet nominee in Virginia history, with more than 500 constituents writing to my office opposing his nomination.
Furthermore, another 150 former Republican and Democratic EPA employees publicly stated that, “Mr. Wheeler pursued an extremist approach, methodically weakening EPA’s ability to protect public health and the environment, instead favoring polluters.” Frustrated by this failure, Youngkin lashed out at a group of civil servants, directing the House majority to block 1,010 appointments to boards and commissions crucial to the operation of government. Fortunately, the Republican House majority refused this request and ultimately confirmed all but 11 appointments made by Northam.
Despite these stumbles by Youngkin out of the gate, I hope we will be able to work with his administration over the coming months to build a stronger Virginia.
The writer is State Senator for the 30th District of Virginia.