The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Glenn Youngkin finally releases a policy agenda, with the clock winding down

Ashburn, VA — JUNE 30: Virginia Republican nominee for governor Glenn Youngkin on June 30 in Ashburn. (Michael Blackshire/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

It took much longer than it should have, but Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has unveiled a laundry list of policy ideas he promises to pursue if he wins the state’s top political job.

According to The Post’s Greg Schneider, the Youngkin plan rests on what used to be a Republican article of faith: tax cuts. Youngkin goes fairly big, proposing a “package of one-time tax cuts totaling some $1.8 billion and recurring tax cuts amounting to about $1.4 billion per year.”

Tucked inside Youngkin’s proposals are ideas that have been knocking around for decades in Republican and Democratic circles. And even one that took root in the Republican boogeyman state of California.

Top among the bipartisan oldies is Youngkin’s desire to repeal Virginia’s tax on groceries. Virginia is one of a handful of states that taxes groceries, a policy the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says has an “especially harmful impact on income and racial inequities since low-income families tend to spend a larger share of their income on groceries.”

Repealing the tax was an issue for former governor Doug Wilder (D) too, which means Youngkin has put on the table a tax cut that progressives (and even Democratic gubernatorial nominee and former governor Terry McAuliffe) should not only agree with but also readily embrace.

But more intriguing is Youngkin’s property tax roll back. As Schneider reported:

The Youngkin plan also calls for changes to the way localities handle personal property tax. Currently, if the assessment of a home goes up, a locality can easily keep its tax rate the same, meaning the homeowner pays more on the higher valuation. Youngkin would propose requiring that tax rates go down when assessments go up, unless voters in a locality approve otherwise.

There are a lot of moving parts here and even more history.

In a Facebook post, longtime Virginia political observer Bob Holsworth wrote that the property tax proposal is Youngkin’s “direct appeal to homeowners frustrated with rising assessments.”

And make no mistake: These are frustrated suburban homeowners who were once reliably Republican voters.

As Holsworth rightly noted, targeting a despised local tax is exactly what former governor Jim Gilmore (R) did with his pitch against the car tax in the 1997 gubernatorial election.

That appeal was so powerful, cutting across wealthy suburban neighborhoods and rural counties alike, that it took over the race and forced Democratic nominee Don Beyer to come up with a car tax reform idea of his own.

Holsworth also wrote that Youngkin’s property tax idea channels an anti-tax name to conjure with: California’s Proposition 13.

Youngkin may not embrace the comparison. In his remarks, Youngkin said Virginia under Democratic control had become “California East.” But his most intriguing tax cut idea owes as much to Gilmore’s targeting of a despised tax as it does California anti-tax icon Howard Jarvis.

And the idea of putting property tax hikes to a referendum? That’s an echo of the 2002 referendums in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads on proposed sales tax increases.

Then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) suffered a big, if temporary, political setback when both measures were defeated. He learned his lesson, successfully opposing a joint proposal to put the 2004 sales tax hike package to a statewide vote.

The history aside, the keys to Gilmore’s tax proposal were time and timing. Time in that he laid out the no-car-tax idea in the spring of 1997, and timing in that many car tax bills in Northern Virginia came due in October, just before the election. Gilmore exploited that calendar quirk to its fullest.

In the contested nomination fight, Youngkin spent a lot of valuable time on the Trumpian dog whistle of “election integrity.” That went nowhere and left him without much of a platform until now.

The big question, then, isn’t whether these are good ideas — partisans have already made up their minds and nothing will change them. It’s whether too much time has been lost — and far too much time wasted — getting these ideas before the broader electorate.