RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Tuesday touted his administration's accomplishments during his first five months in office at a ceremonial budget-signing event that seemed more like a high-energy campaign rally than a routine bill-signing ceremony.
The freshman Republican governor claimed a series of budget victories to a crowd of invited guests at the Tom Leonard's Farmer's Market store in Henrico County, including $4 billion in tax cuts, $400 million to increase salaries for law enforcement officers, and $100 million to expand the type of institutes of higher education that can partner with K-12 systems on so-called lab schools, an initiative the Youngkin administration says will help foster education innovation.
“Friends, we are getting it done together,” Youngkin said to loud applause from the crowd.
The budget cuts include one-time tax rebates of $250 for individual filers and $500 for couples, the elimination of the state's 1.5% share of the grocery tax and a nearly 80% increase in the standard deduction for income tax filers. Youngkin said the tax cuts will mean a savings of about $1,100 in the first year of the two-year spending plan set to take effect on July 1.
The event had all the features of a campaign rally, complete with pulsating music, signs and an enthusiastic crowd. As Youngkin entered the market, the religious rock song “Spirit in the Sky” blared loudly through speakers while Youngkin stopped to shake hands in an aisle filled with bins of fresh apples, avocados and tomatoes. The store was closed to the public during the event.
Youngkin recalled the November elections when he swept into office as a political outsider as Republicans also took control of the House of Delegates, propelled by what Youngkin said were voters seeking “profound change.”
“We got Virginia open for business,” he said.
Youngkin also spoke of defeats he has been dealt by the politically divided legislature, blaming the Democratic-controlled state Senate, particularly for rejecting his proposal to suspend the state gas tax three times.
“Virginians deserved a better answer from our Senate Democrats than ‘no,’” Youngkin said, also predicting that every time Virginians go to the gas pumps and see prices that are now averaging close to $5 per gallon, “they’ll think of Senate Democrats.”
Democrats who voted against the gas tax holiday said there was no guarantee the savings would be passed on to consumers and that suspending the tax could put a drain on state transportation funding.
Democratic Sen. Mamie Locke said Senate Democrats joined together to make sure tax relief in the budget helped families who need it most, “instead of lining the pockets of price gougers and out-of-state corporations.”
“Governor Youngkin has once again run up against Senate Democrats' brick wall — we are not going back,” Locke said in a statement after the legislature voted on Youngkin's budget amendments last week.
Youngkin cannot sign the budget bill into law until the General Assembly finishes enrolling the bill into its final form. Spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said that signing could happen as soon as Wednesday.