September 29, 2022
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Schapiro: A governor’s dual – and dueling – audiences | Govt-and-politics

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Nearly six months into his four-year term, Republican Glenn Youngkin – having won a few, lost a few and plotting to win a few more – is, no doubt, learning what can often frustrate a Virginia governor: Just because voters are on your side doesn’t mean their legislators are.

It’s the difference between campaigning and governing. Even fellow Republicans will say – sotto voce, of course, lest they inflame His Nibs and some of his more vindictive operatives – that Youngkin often seems to be doing more of the former than the latter. Some of this is perfectly understandable.

Youngkin’s presumably still on a high from bringing low Terry McAuliffe in the 2021 election handicappers didn’t believe Youngkin would win. And the chatter, which Youngkin encourages as a Fox News pin-up with a national fundraising apparatus, that he’s worthy of the presidency, having carried a blue-ish state, must mean his healthy ego is healthier.

Youngkin need only check the polls, public and private. If you consider the average of three surveys conducted since February – one each by Christopher Newport University and Roanoke College, the third by Public Policy Polling for a former Democratic House speaker, Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax – the governor’s approval rating is nearly 46%. Brilliant, it ain’t.

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But it’s better than not bad, given the times and the tenor of politics. Plus, Youngkin’s standing is practically stratospheric compared with that of President Joe Biden. The Democrat’s average approval rating across the three polls is 37%. That’s anemic for a guy who won Virginia in 2020 by 10 percentage points, more than five times Youngkin’s majority, 1.9%.

Youngkin clearly believes he can do better with Virginians. His continuing push to temporarily suspend the state fuel tax – 26.2 cents per gallon for gasoline, 27 cents for diesel – says as much. Pretty much everyone in the elective class is blamed for fuel prices surging beyond $4 per gallon. Youngkin figures relief at the pump is key to escaping criticism.

That Youngkin still isn’t getting traction on the issue – though he vowed in Bristol on Monday to jump-start it – speaks to a governor’s dual – constituencies and how the twain often don’t meet. Put another way: There’s a big difference between what the people want and what the politicians deliver.

At this point, the proposed fuel-tax holiday – rejected as a drain on transportation spending – is more about saving the populist cred of a cheerful multimillionaire governor than saving a few pennies for exasperated working- and middle-class Virginians. Such tax relief – it could be both visible and symbolic – is easily erased by the spike in prices.

The state budget lawmakers sent to the governor last week does not include the temporary rollback of the fuel tax. It was a casualty of the nearly six-month standoff over spending between the Democrats who control the Virginia Senate and the Republicans who rule the House of Delegates.

They fussed – occasionally, bitterly, and at times, secretly – over appropriations for the remaining weeks of the current fiscal period, which ends June 30, as well as those for the next two-year cycle, during which $165 billion would flow to services. Neither package becomes law until signed by the governor.

Before that happens, Youngkin can recommend the legislature change this or that. He could veto the bills in their entirety – that’s unlikely – or he could reject specific proposals, using the so-called item veto. Amendments would have to be approved by lawmakers. Vetoes would stand unless rejected by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.

The narrow partisan split in both bodies suggests a Youngkin veto would survive – unless Democrats and Republicans come together, concluding he is needlessly disrupting a hard-fought, two-party spending compromise that cleared both chambers on lopsided votes.

It’s not that delegates and senators would fault Youngkin for attempting a personal political splash. They do it all the time and often with less subtlety. It’s that delegates and senators would fault Youngkin for failing to grasp that policy is fought within an institutional framework that depends on consensus.

Concern that this may be lost on Youngkin, a newcomer to government accustomed to the my way-or-the-highway approach of the corpocracy, is widespread among Democrats. And that’s expected from the party out of power; in this instance, one furious over Youngkin’s gratuitous vetoes of Democratic bills passed with broad bipartisan support.

It’s the skepticism among Republicans that’s far more telling.

Republicans are thrilled to have one of their own in the governor’s chair after an eight-year wait. Some of them have come to prize a thing or two while wandering the wilderness, including standing up for the prerogatives of the legislative branch and that the cost of lower taxes – an article of faith among Republicans – should not be fiscal recklessness.

Both principles are embodied by Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Even before Youngkin’s victory, when he was trying to run on more than a smile and a fleece vest, Knight was publicly expressing skepticism about the nominee’s tax proposals, a number of which are included in the just-passed budget.

Knight, who, as a former hog farmer knows something about fat, raised concerns about their cost, impact on services and that they could handcuff local government. Knight also spoke up for the legislature’s duty to fashion a budget that reflected its priorities – Republican and Democratic – and, on occasion, politely told Youngkin to butt out.

Youngkin should listen to Knight.

Contact Jeff E. Schapiro at (804) 649-6814 or jschapiro@timesdispatch.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter, @RTDSchapiro. Listen to his analysis 7:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. Friday on Radio IQ, 89.7 FM in Richmond and 89.1 FM in Roanoke, and in Norfolk on WHRV, 89.5 FM.



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