Richmond’s Reaganesque Time for Choosing

Chris Braunlich

by Chris Braunlich

Richmond, like Washington, has always been a place where an “insider’s game” is played – not in a pejorative sense, but simply as the way things are done.

Relationships are paramount, people speak in the arcane language of lawmaking, agendas are confusing for outsiders, and the activities of a subcommittee for an obscure commission are followed in detail because those in the know understand that what happens there will end up as a new regulation.

But in July, 1981 President Ronald Reagan did something no president had done since Franklin Roosevelt: he reached beyond the insiders and appealed directly to the public, asking for their help in securing approval of his tax rate cut of 25% over three years. Reagan’s ploy worked. When passed, the tax cuts led to an economic recovery lasting 92 months without a recession.

Now comes Governor Glenn Youngkin, launching a six-figure television campaign with a commercial laying out his own tax proposals and implicitly, if not explicitly, asking Virginians to weigh in.

This is not “the Virginia Way” of decision-making unhindered by the voices of voters and taxpayers, and Senate Finance Committee Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) immediately declared the ad “counterproductive.”

Counterproductivity, however, is in the eye of the beholder. So, too, is fairness.  Despite a mere one-vote majority in the Senate, Senator Howell sits astride a committee with 12 Democrats and five Republicans. Because of that one-vote majority, Senate Democrats are empowered to “stack the deck” and stack it they have, with one committee holding a four to one majority for the Left.

If the Youngkin tax agenda fails, it will be on purely political grounds. National Democrats may deride the independence of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin declaring him “one lone man obstructing the President’s agenda” but in Virginia one Senator empowers the obstruction of … well, everything.  Joe Manchin is a piker.

Having lurched so far and so quickly to port during the preceding two years that the electorate rejected their state-wide and House of Delegate candidates in 2021, the Left holds only the Senate … and that most likely because the body was not up for re-election. Describing themselves as a “brick wall”, they’ve not been hesitant about exercising their right to obstruct nearly everything.

Which is why Youngkin’s public focus on the tax issue is so dangerous for their future. With voters facing not only the worst inflation in 40 years but also higher taxes resulting from recent tax law changes, the public is unlikely to be sympathetic to the Senate Democrats’ argument that they have to block tax reductions in order to meet “unfunded needs” – especially when Virginia sits on a surplus of more than $16 billion, and even the House/Youngkin proposal would leave most of it untouched.

Doubling the standard deduction alone means that most working Virginia couples would see an immediate and permanent tax reduction of $517.  Add to it the short term boost of a gasoline tax break and elimination of the grocery tax and we’re not talking “billions.”  For Virginia families, we’re talking “real money.”

The opponents’ case is weak, made weaker by a Biden-fueled inflation and their own past tax policies. A contest in which citizens decide whether government or they, themselves, know better what should be done with their earnings, is usually no contest at all.

In full disclosure, moving the resolution of policy issues away from “inside baseball” to an “outside-in” strategy that empowers and encourages Virginians to engage is one the Thomas Jefferson Institute has now favored for some time, and acted on. We are glad to see it come to pass. Our own ads encouraging Virginians to speak out on the tax issue (albeit with a much smaller budget) preceded the Governor’s by more than a month.

But for Governor Youngkin, there are risks as well. Once the gauntlet is thrown, it will be harder to turn back, and success depends on Virginians responding.  Will they? Those favoring the economic stimulation coming with lower taxes should identify their elected officials now, and let them know where they stand.

In so many ways, it is a time for choosing.

A version of this commentary originally appeared March 29 in The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. Chris Braunlich is president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.  He may be reached at

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15 responses to “Richmond’s Reaganesque Time for Choosing”

  1. Wahoo'74 Avatar

    I hope Youngkin like The Gipper wins this battle with the entrenched Left.

  2. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Yikes!! Youngthing = Reagan? This might have been an informative piece until it began employing left/right wing lexicon. Why is it never sufficient to assert strong, cogent argument for a proposition? Where, oh where are the Bill Buckley presenters today?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Dead. Or wondering still yet how Trump figured in…

      Reagan, eh? Stepping back to the halcyon days before their birth. Well, 1981 is a big step from 1861. We should encourage this.

    2. VaNavVet Avatar

      It seems to be an unwritten rule that one has to blame the “left” for everything, but at least it is a break from “woke”.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Interesting comparison with Reagan and his tax cuts. Most have forgotten that Reagan later raised taxes. Does Youngkin have any such plans?

    As for the Democrats stacking the deck with the Finance Committee. It may not be right, but both parties have a tradition of doing this.

    Finally, it is not only Democrats that feel there are unfunded needs.

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    You’re gonna have to go back further than Ronnie if you want a Republican president who didn’t triple the debt, but other than that, I share a sentiment similar to others expressed here, to wit: Here’s hoping Youngkin, unlike Reagan, can recall what he did the on the previous day.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “Here’s hoping Youngkin, unlike Reagan, can recall what he did the on the previous day.”

      And that from a Biden supporter.

      Good grief.

      Biden doesn’t know what he did or said half an hour ago.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Ah, but I wouldn’t want to compare anyone to him as an exemplary leader.

  5. VaNavVet Avatar

    Gov Youngkin’s vote margin was so small that it is hard to say that it constituted a mandate of any kind. Perhaps cooperation and compromise might be in order.

  6. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “The opponents’ case is weak, made weaker by a Biden-fueled inflation and their own past tax policies”

    You do know that tax cuts (especially short term ones) are a form of fiscal stimulus, don’t you…?🤷‍♂️

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Agreed, but that’s not the stimulus path Biden has taken.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        So’s war. Now, about Panama, Grenada, Beruit, Libya…

      2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Yes, Biden has chosen direct government spending stimulus. Stimulus is stimulus by and large… if one is bad inflation-causing policy, so is the other. Hopefully, these guys will soon make up our minds…

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Tax cuts are not stimulus unless one assumes the money providing the tax cut was sitting in a vault and not being spent. i.e a genuine surplus not being spent on anything.

    There are two ways this can happen if not accumulating in a vault:

    1. – The tax-cut is paid for by actual spending cuts – which essentially means the money is being diverted from what it was spent on by govt to something else decided by the recipient (taxpayer) of the tax cut.

    2. – the tax-cut funded by debt which states cannot do but the Feds have no trouble doing… we’re awash in it.

    If it is a real surplus – (and it is) then the question is, is it a one-time surplus or a recurring surplus – year over year?

    And that’s the problem with Youngkins logic and the reason why the Senate, including some GOP , want a deeper analysis to understand how much of the current surplus is indeed recurring and not one time.

    Youngkin chose not to provide that analysis and instead bought TV ads appealing to the ignorati.

    To provide a recurring tax cut on the basis of a one-time surplus is fiscally irresponsible. something fiscal conservatives in the past would never do, indeed some GOP today.

    Youngkin is playing a populist game that really is a partisan thing and not necessarily really in the best interests – downstream for taxpayers.

    Take the gas tax – it pays for infrastructure – any ‘surplus” is temporary until it gets prioritized. It’s silly, even ignorant to think that Virginia has fully funded all it’s transportation needs – i.e. that all structurally deficient bridges have been fixed, etc.

    Ditto cutting the local sales tax – which funds schools. What do folksl think is going to happen when that source of funding goes away? Fire some teachers, increase class sizes? or raise local taxes on real estate and property to compensate?

    this can be some dumb stuff if we are not doing it careful and right now, IMHO, it’s not and it does need the Senate approach.

    The tax-cut yahoos are always on the warpath… they wreak havoc, we then have to figure out how to recover, then they do it again…


  8. Bob X from Texas Avatar
    Bob X from Texas

    Does the taxpayer’s entire paycheck belong to the state?
    What percentage of their paychecks is reasonable?
    If taxpayers are equal before the law why do taxpayers of different income levels pay taxes at different rates?

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