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Youngkin touts plan to eliminate grocery tax in appearance at Alexandria supermarket

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin heads a roundtable meeting at a Safeway grocery store in Alexandria on Feb. 3. (Robb Hill/for The Washington Post)

A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Gov. Glenn Youngkin is calling for reducing only the state portion of the 2.5 percent grocery tax. He is calling to eliminate the entire tax. The article has been corrected.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) trumpeted a plan Thursday to eliminate the state’s grocery tax at an appearance inside an Alexandria supermarket, promising to counter inflation by slashing what he called a “regressive” policy.

“Today is about tackling the high costs in Virginia — the high costs I believe are unnecessarily borne by those that can afford it the least,” he said, speaking to a roundtable of Northern Virginia residents as they snacked on ham sandwiches and fruit.

He said national economic woes can be summed up in the jump in price tags at a Safeway location like this one — an increase he attributed to high labor costs as well as policies out of Washington that have jacked up transportation and fuel prices.

“People talk about the supply chain disruption, but we’re just seeing added costs in the supply chain as well,” Youngkin said.

Amid a turbulent first few weeks marked by his move to lift school mask mandates, this public appearance by the governor focused on a far less contentious piece of his agenda. The former private equity executive has proposed a wide-ranging list of tax cuts meant to take advantage of the state’s billion-dollar tax surplus.

Besides eliminating the state’s 2½ percent tax on groceries, Youngkin has also called for suspending the gasoline tax, issuing one-time tax rebates and doubling Virginia’s standard income-tax deduction.

Any measures in the budget plan would need to be approved by the General Assembly, but the grocery tax cut has received bipartisan support. Former governor Ralph Northam (D) included the measure in the budget proposal he put forth before leaving office.

Following a tour of the store, Youngkin took a handful of questions from reporters, including on his controversial email tip line to field complaints about teachers promoting “divisive practices.”

Asked what would happen next, Youngkin avoided saying whether his administration would be taking any action against those teachers. But the tipsters, he noted, could expect to receive some sort of reply.

“We’re responding to those inquiries to make sure Virginians know we’re listening,” he said. “That’s the job of constituent services.”

Youngkin also reiterated his support for luring the newly renamed Washington Commanders to Virginia, and said he had spoken to team owner Daniel Snyder to “understand his aspirations.” A bipartisan effort has grown in Richmond to create a football stadium authority that would finance and construct a new home for the Commanders.

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“Virginia should be the best place in America to live and work and raise a family,” he said, “and then maybe it’s the best place in America to have a professional football team.”

He also addressed the legal battles growing around his mask-optional order, saying he was “optimistic” the courts would rule in his favor. A group of school boards — including Alexandria’s — have sued him over the policy, and 70 districts around the commonwealth have declined to comply with the order.

“History will not look fondly upon them,” the governor said, “for taking these decisions to tell children who want to be in school that they can’t be in school.”

By contrast, Youngkin said he was “just so proud” of parents in Loudoun County who have sued the school district there for ignoring the order.

The topics raised in the news conference drew a stark contrast compared with the far more agreeable roundtable earlier in the afternoon, which highlighted policies with appeal for even those in deep-blue Alexandria.

He and Matthew Lohr, the state’s new secretary of agriculture and forestry, said they would double down on programs to promote Virginia agriculture and sell locally grown produce in supermarkets.

Youngkin also highlighted his efforts on the grocery tax as a way to lower the cost of living and make the state more competitive for business.

But in a deep-blue city where he got less than one quarter of the vote in November’s election, it could only get him so far. As a maskless Youngkin reached the cash registers on his way out, one shopper was ready to confront him with a loud demand.

“Governor, where’s your mask?” she shouted. “You’re in Alexandria. Read the room!”