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Youngkin calls lawmakers back to Richmond, starts TV ads pushing tax cuts

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R). (Bob Brown/AP)
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RICHMOND — Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Wednesday he’s summoning the General Assembly back to Richmond on April 4 to pass a state budget, and he launched a pricey TV ad campaign to pitch tax cuts to Virginians and increase pressure on lawmakers to act.

“I really am expecting a budget to be passed by the House and the Senate. It’s time,” Youngkin (R) said during a news conference Wednesday outside the empty chambers of the state Senate.

Setting a date for a special session is a risky move, since lawmakers have apparently made little progress in negotiating a compromise after adjourning their regular session March 12 without a deal on the two-year state spending plan.

Virginia General Assembly adjourns with job unfinished

The main sticking point: Youngkin’s agenda of sweeping state tax cuts. House Republicans favored his plan to double the state’s standard deduction, end the full 2.5 percent statewide tax on groceries, exempt $40,000 of military pensions, and suspend an increase in the gasoline tax for one year.

The Democratic-controlled Senate favored studying the entire tax system for a year before tinkering with the standard deduction, to make sure future revenue would not be unduly harmed; ending the state’s 1.5 percent portion of the grocery tax but allowing localities to continue to levy the remaining 1 percent; and holding the line on the gas tax on the theory that oil companies are unlikely to pass the savings on to consumers.

The differences created a gap of about $3 billion between the two spending plans, and lawmakers ran out of time during the regular session to solve the problem. Youngkin said Wednesday that he has been “staying abreast of what’s happening” but has not participated in legislative negotiations.

“I believe that by April 4th they’ll have a budget to send me,” he said. “We have very senior, experienced legislators on both sides in the Senate and the House and I know that they’re going to get this done.”

Youngkin said tax cuts are needed to help Virginians offset rising inflation, and he said he’ll introduce a new measure proposing a gas tax holiday.

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To make his case, Youngkin released a TV ad that shows him tossing a basketball to people representing grocery shoppers, military service members and middle-class homeowners in calling for tax cuts during a time of rising inflation. Youngkin, a former high school and college basketball player, closes the ad by sinking a 3-point shot.

The ad buy is greater than $150,000 and is aimed at broadcast and cable networks during March Madness college basketball games airing in the D.C., Richmond, Norfolk and Roanoke markets, according to a Youngkin political adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy. A separate “five-figure” digital version will run at the same time, the adviser said. Youngkin said the campaigns were paid for by his political action committee, Spirit of Virginia.

House and Senate Democrats said they were blindsided by Youngkin’s move, but Del. Barry D. Knight (R-Virginia Beach), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the governor had given him a heads-up.

“The governor called me back and said he’d like to see about getting the state’s business done,” Knight said. He expressed confidence that budget negotiators can reach an agreement by April 4 but said they will take whatever time is needed to “hammer out a good deal.”

“We’re not going to make any hasty moves,” he said.

Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), chairwoman of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, predicted that Youngkin’s TV ad — and his decision to call the legislature back before budget negotiators had reached a deal — would backfire.

“I think this is counterproductive,” she said. “It’s just going to make people more entrenched at a time when we were beginning to see some breakthroughs.”

Howell said negotiators had not been meeting amid what she called a “cooling-off period” following the regular session. But she said staff for the House and Senate money committees have continued analyzing various proposals.

She dismissed the campaign-style commercial as evidence that Virginians aren’t in Youngkin’s corner.

“He’s obviously trying to change public opinion, which strongly prefers investing in Virginia’s future rather than giving a few tax breaks,” she said.

Asked why he had taken the unusual step of making a TV ad to put pressure on lawmakers, Youngkin said: “I guess I’m maybe not the normal governor. I think one of the differences is that I am an outsider and I come in with ideas on how we communicate.”