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EDITORIAL: A promising start, a worrisome future

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin

T he first six months of Gov. Glenn Younkin’s administration has seen him continue to struggle on two fronts.

The first front is his transition from businessman to governor. Though Youngkin’s business bona fides are indisputable, his experience in government is limited. Learning to navigate Richmond, and learning to lead not by fiat, but by coalition-building, is critical for his success.

The second front is learning to manage the extremists in his party, while keeping and building upon the trust of the independent voters who put him into office.

The recent budget agreement suggests that he’s doing pretty well on the first front. We grade five key areas of the budget compromise to see how Youngkin’s priorities and Virginia’s overall needs are coexisting.

Tax cuts: B+The beneficiary of an enormous tax windfall left by his predecessor, Youngkin wanted to double the standard tax deductions, offer rebate checks to citizens, repeal the grocery tax, and provide a gas-tax holiday, among other tax give-backs.

He got a good piece of what he wanted, but not all. His biggest loss was the gas-tax holiday, which Senate Democrats rightly derailed. Youngkin got some of what he wanted on grocery tax (the 1.5 percent state tax is ending, but the 1% local tax is staying), and in a compromise with Democrats, low-income residents keep the earned-income tax credit.

Youngkin is a bit grumpy about his loses, but compromise is good for Virginians. We have underfunded needs in infrastructure, mental health systems, and education. Slashing taxes recklessly is neither prudent nor responsible. Sunset clauses on the change in standard deduction ensure that if the loss is too great the state can restore these funding streams.

Education: A-There are lots of wins in this budget for public education, and some real concerns. The highlights include a 10% pay raise for teachers spread over two years, $1.25 billion for overdue and much-needed school construction, more money for administrative and support staffs, and more money for schools serving high-poverty children.

The worrisome part is the $100 million for lab schools. What these will actually be is yet to be determined. As we have previously opined, lab schools can be a positive force, but much remains to be decided about how the governor plans to implement them. Done poorly, this $100 million investment would look less wise.

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Mental Health: C-Virginia’s mental health system is badly broken, and the 37% increase proposed for state workers is a good first step. Democrats wanted more, but the compromise with Republicans is something to celebrate.

The bad news is that community service board employees, who are on the front lines, get no pay increases. That may change when budget crafting begins in 2023, but this is an inexcusable oversight.

Gambling Adjustments: A-The so-called gaming industry has a sweetheart deal in Virginia that this budget corrects. Many sports gambling companies paid no taxes because they were allowed to write off bonuses and promotions. Under the new budget, that perk expires after the first 12 months of operation.

This is a good first move. However, as we have noted, the costs to the commonwealth that are coming down the pipe due to addictive gambling looks to be significant.

If we’re going to have sports gambling sanctioned by the state, let’s make sure these companies are paying their share for addiction recovery.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: AThis budget directs the $36 million the commonwealth received from its membership in RGGI to Resilient Virginia Revolving Loan Fund and to provide flood relief to Hurley, a town in Buchanan County devastated by flooding last summer. This is a win-win for the environment and the commonwealth.

Youngkin’s midterm: BThe governor is off to a good start, and we hope he has learned that working with all Virginians is a better path forward than turning his back on the moderates who put him into office.

Which brings us to the second front Youngkin wrestles with.

He continues to entertain the culture wars fueled by the extremists in his party. Secretary Aimee Guidera’s shameful “honesty gap” report, which is based on a deceptive reading of NAEP and state testing data, and Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears tone-deaf and offensive speech at the recent NRA meeting in Houston, are just two examples.

Recent polling suggests that Virginians are warming to Youngkin, but that they remain solidly in favor of some policies that he has pledged to end. The most notable is abortion, which most Virginians support, according to a Roanoke College poll.

You’re doing well on one front, governor; don’t let the extremists derail your good efforts.

Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

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