by Scott Lingamfelter
Elections produce clarity. One thing is noticeably clear after Republicans failed to achieve majorities in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly. For the next two years, the prospects for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin‘s legislative agenda are bleak.
That’s the bad news.
Here is the good news: it doesn’t have to be that way.
The inclination of those defeated in elections is to engage in “blamestorming,” seeking to find fault with this or that election strategy. We’re seeing that now as some Republican legislators grouse about the governor’s decision to emphasize abortion restrictions that played badly in some swing districts. That messaging debate should occur. But it’s imperative that the governor and the GOP in Virginia do some serious brainstorming on how to win back the hearts and minds of voters. Serious-minded governance can do that.
First, he should meet with legislative members of both parties before the Thanksgiving holiday and genuinely seek consensus on where both parties can work to make Virginia better. Using campaign-style messaging to achieve consensus, however, is an unwise legislative strategy. Campaigning is not governing. They are, as the British say, as different as chalk and cheese. It is time to govern with effective action, not headline-grabbing rhetoric.
Second, the governor should seek legislators to co-sponsor bills in areas where both sides can agree there is a real opportunity to succeed. That may mean that some bills will be initiated by Democrats with Republican co-sponsors, and some by Republicans with Democrat partners. Having agreeing co-patrons, while somewhat “inside baseball” for the public, communicates a clear message that both sides are serious about seeking a consensus that benefits all Virginians.
Third, the governor should surround himself with a fresh team of counselors who understand the people, the policies and the politics in the General Assembly. This requires a team that can work amicably with both sides of the aisle, understands policy, and appreciates the politics of individual legislators regarding policy changes. It’s incorrect to assume that all Republicans and Democrats will revert to ideology on every single matter. Local issues, particularly in swing districts, can indeed encourage compromise. And understanding those hometown nuances is important in legislating.
Fourth, the governor’s instincts on larger policy issues, especially in job creation, innovation and prosperity for businesses and families are excellent. He can advance this agenda if he is willing to work steadily and transparently with the legislature to demonstrate that he is indeed focused on what is best for Virginians. That means de-emphasizing social issues in the upcoming legislative session and pressing for an economic and jobs prosperity agenda that both parties would find hard to resist. A great place to begin is with a bold tax reform effort to make taxes in Virginia less burdensome, simpler, and designed to promote economic growth. This doesn’t require yet another study. Just action.
While Virginia income taxes are essentially flat, reform could make them lower while raising the filing threshold for lower-income residents. The bill payer for such a strategy is easy. End the millions of dollars in sales tax exemptions to corporations, which do little to grow the economy.
Next, end the hated car tax. The car tax is a local option and cannot be abolished by the state without a constitutional amendment. That takes time. But the legislature could immediately grant localities the option of implementing broader local taxes if they agreed to assess only a penny on each $1,000 of automobile value. Localities will forgo billing residents for such a minor cost. But a broader and fairer substitute tax could fill the car tax void while not punishing new car buyers who already pay a hefty sales tax on the purchase.
Then, abolish the machinery and tools tax that some businesses must pay on equipment they already own. It’s confiscatory and a disincentive for new businesses to relocate to Virginia. Moreover, businesses already here defer investing in new equipment bearing higher tax rates than on depreciated and less efficient machines and tools. Besides, scrapping this tax is a better option than lowering corporate taxation, currently a mere 6%.
Beyond taxes, consensus can be found in many areas, from regulatory reform to commonsense conservation like cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Finally, emphasizing an agenda that is a win for both sides of the aisle makes a lot of sense while sending this clean message: Mr. Youngkin has no interest in being a rhetorical lame duck, but rather a bold eagle ready to lead with an equally undaunted agenda for all Virginians.
Scott Lingamfelter is a former Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Republished with permission from The Republican Standard.