By Shaun Kenney April 5, 2022
Senate Democrats continue to play a losing hand in Richmond, but do they know how bad their hand actually is? Survey says no…
Just to illustrate how fanatically out of touch Senate Democrats are as they frantically try to spend $3 billion on more government, check out State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) on Twitter as he blasts Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposal for gasoline tax relief:
🇺🇦Senator Scott Surovell 🇺🇦 @ssurovell
I think the Governor Youngkin meant to say: “Pass my bill and give money back to out-of-state drivers and oil companies now!” right? https://t.co/hH0rhN5Sny
Remember — we are sitting on a $3bn surplus fueled by COVID relief dollars and not by any metric of economic success. Yet Senate Democrats continue to lean into the hammock of so-called budget cuts as they continue to shove money into the maw of state government for the sake of producing mediocre results.
Just to illustrate how inane Surovell’s argument is, every year in Richmond there is the observation that as fuel efficiencies continue to increase and electric cars continue to gain in popularity, the effective impact of the gasoline tax to fund Virginia’s transportation system — which is not linked in any form to local land use one might add — becomes less and less every year. Couple this with the shift to green energy and the efforts of shady third-party environmentalist groups, and the beneficiaries always seem to be Russian oil companies who benefit from $100+/barrel oil prices.
Thus the cost of heating oil, gasoline, kerosene, fertilizers and other byproducts continues to climb, and those who are hurt the most are your fixed income seniors and working class poor.
Not that Surovell gives a damn about those people.
Yet the wider argument not specifically raised by Youngkin but one that ought to be discussed in a more active sense next year is whether or not the gasoline tax — like so many other tax vehicles we use in Virginia — is obsolete.
With the Biden administration announcing new rules that will force auto makers to increase their fuel efficiencies to 40mph by 2026? Two punches are being telegraphed here: that the gasoline tax isn’t going to be a reliable revenue source as fuel economies continue to increase, and that the conflict in Eastern Europe is going to continue for the foreseeable future, necessitating policies that will further guarantee US energy security over the next four years.
But that doesn’t bother Northern Virginia types making six figures all that much. After all, they can afford the higher taxes. Why can’t poor people? Which is why Surovell channelling his inner Paris Hilton and telling his constituents to “stop being poor” is both tone deaf and heartlessly numb.
General Assembly Deadlocked as Senate Democrats Demand More Tax Spending
First and foremost, allow me to brag just a little bit on the Virginia Mercury’s Graham Moomaw. Some of his photography at VM is simply… well… good.
That just requires a special eye that I can detect but do not precisely have. I know perhaps four or five people who have this talent.
Of course, this means I must do the prerequisite linking to his article summarizing how the General Assembly came back into town for the special session no closer to a budget deal than when they left:
The politically divided legislature is mostly split on the issue of tax cuts, with the Republican House of Delegates largely going along with Youngkin’s more sweeping relief proposals and the Democratic Senate insisting on more narrowly tailored tax cuts that they say leave more money to invest in core services like schools, mental health and law enforcement.
With the state budget flush with revenue and an influx of pandemic relief dollars from the federal government, Youngkin contends Virginia has plenty of money to completely scrap the state’s 2.5 percent tax on groceries, double the standard deduction for state income tax returns, suspend the gas tax for three months and give taxpayers rebates of up to $300 per individual or $600 per married couple.
Democrats have agreed to slightly lower rebates and a partial repeal of the grocery tax. But they argue the full tax-cut package, a top campaign issue for the new Republican governor, is fiscally irresponsible. They’re also pushing an alternative tax-relief plan to make the state’s earned income tax credit refundable, which they say would provide more targeted help for low-income Virginians.
So what is actually going on behind closed doors? Moomaw has about as much information as the rest of us have. The professionals are hammering it out and they are not talking about what they are doing.
Which is mostly waiting to see who blinks first.
Yet in the staring contest, if reviving a Virginia economy racked by overzealous COVID lockdowns coupled with the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe and pressures on energy prices, lumber, and more notably food prices then doing something to get Virginians back into the workforce earning decent wages has to be high on the scale of priorities.
Feeding government is a zero sum game; for every $1 you spend it generates precisely $1. Yet in the private sector, Virginians create things and innovate, increasing the productive power of $1 into $1.12 industrially or $1.21 commercially. Democrats conceptually are not aware of this, or more accurately, there are a handful paid not to recognize this because their world is centered around government services such as education, academia, bureaucracy and all the frills and fringes made possible by what should be a thriving free market.
In short, the Democrats have it inverted. Like the rooster who believes their crowing produces the sunrise, so too do Democrats believe their functionaries produce some sort of value to the market economy.
Alternatively, Republicans are keen to balance two perspectives in mind. First and foremost, that the business of Virginia is business — small business, medium business, large businesses, startups, entrepreneurs, college graduates looking for their first jobs, inventors, farmers, you name it. The proper end of an economy is neither the government nor is it a corporate spreadsheet, but good ol’ fashioned human flourishing. That’s what oikonomia means after all — the nomia (rules) by which oikos (families) thrive.
Not the state.
Not a bureaucrat providing basic needs (sic).
Which probably gets us back to an “elections have consequences” vibe here.
Senate Democrats Overplay Losing Hand (But Do They Know It?)
It’s no secret that Democrats nationally are hemorrhaging voters in a serious way as the old liberal consensus is devolving into a progressive witch hunt, complete with cancel culture, drag queen story hour, banning books like Dr. Seuss yet cramming school libraries with what is little more than printed smut, pushing abortion up to and beyond the moment of birth, Critical Race Theory, mask mandates, DEI requirements… tools the Puritans would have loved and the East German Stasi could only dream of having.
HIT Strategies has been conducting weekly focus groups to find out in real time how Americans are processing events in 2022. On Monday night we watched discussions with two different subgroups of partisan Democrats assembled by the firm: “Black Base, Always vote for Dems, Ages 25+” and “Youth Base; Always vote for Dems, Ages 25 – 39.”
There were significant differences within and between the two groups of nine voters. But there were some broad takeaways:
— A preoccupation with inflation and crime.
— Exhaustion with pandemic restrictions.
— Cynicism about politics.
— Deep frustration that President JOE BIDEN and Democrats have failed to deliver on their early promises.
— Sympathy for Ukraine mixed with a lack of enthusiasm for Biden spending too much time and money on the issue.
— Ambiguity about how important Jan. 6 should be for Democrats in the midterms.
Focus groups are immeasurably better than random polling. Where a consultant who can read a poll can get a hunch, focus groups are beyond useful not only at confirming hunches but can backfill gut intuitions with insights that get to the core of a question.
And so it went across hours of hours of conversation. Rising costs — of food, gas, education, medication and more — dominated.
If one could be so bold? We have conditioned a population to react to every major crisis with fear and alarm because it works. Trigger the amygdala and you can get people to believe anything.
So after a good 20 years of public affairs teams and consultants using this technique to shortcut thought and conversation, is it any small wonder why Americans writ large and Virginians specifically find themselves in a state of mental whiplash as they move from Orange Man Bad (TM) to BLM to Antifa to LGBTQ+ to transgender bathrooms to COVID to CRT and now the Ukraine?
The Democratic base is tired. More than this, they are losing hope and growing cynical about making a better world when the key to getting people to pay attention is the same physiological response — triggering your amygdala to generate a “fight of flight” response based on misinformation and half-truths manipulated by a public affairs outlet with just enough money to make something go viral.
All Pendulums Swing
Republicans alternatively are more resilient. Not because Republicans are naturally self-resilient people — ask us about stolen elections or immigration — but because of the omnidirectional nature of the media narrative. Republicans have the luxury of saying “absolutely not” in the face of a thousand little Robespierres whose only mantra is virtue or terror.
Bringing things back to Richmond, House Republicans and the Governor’s Mansion have a great deal more leverage than Senate Democrats possess. In years prior, the Democratic playbook was to bring things to the brink and threaten a government shutdown should they not get their way — the political equivalent of shooting hostages.
Yet the political climate — even among Democrats — has shifted and will continue to remain in place so long as Biden remains in the White House. If rumors are true that the judges will be announcing a snap election in Virginia in 2022 in order to conform with the new lines, Senate Democrats and many liberal Democrats who have not succumbed to the progressive fever dream will be at risk, not to mention US House seats up for grabs. The dynamic doesn’t change in 2023 as House Republicans cement their gains and Governor Youngkin begins to take some real and defining strides to realign and redefine the institutions.
If this sounds like pie-in-the-sky dreaming, allow me to dispel these illusions. The institutions know that they are in for some Schumpeterian-style creative destruction and are attempting at present to provide the guard rails to channel the change, as UVA president Jim Ryan explains broadly in an op-ed:
Even if there is no magic wand to wave away “cancel culture,” universities can still lead a way forward. We can teach our students not only about the right to free speech but also how to be empathetic speakers and generous listeners even – and especially – in the midst of our most contentious debates. Speakers who consider alternative perspectives, gather facts and think of the impact of their speech. Listeners who see the humanity in their peers and do not rush to disparage someone’s character simply because of an opinion expressed. We should remind students – and show ourselves – to “be curious, not judgmental,” to quote Walt Whitman via Ted Lasso. We should teach them to dismantle arguments, not people.
Read the Ryan piece in full.
This as the progressives at UVA threaten violence if former Vice President Mike Pence is permitted to speak at Mr. Jefferson’s University.
Meanwhile, Republicans need to start thinking boldly about what sort of change we truly want to see. Throwing the left into the gears of a new machine may be satisfying, but Ryan’s call to “dismantle arguments and not people” paves the way for more intellectual diversity in academia and education.
School choice — not feeder schools but true school choice — is a campaign promise that Youngkin has thus far made and failed to deliver upon. Media is evolving and one remains hopeful that Virginia conservatives can create and maintain an independent media. As for entertainment? Just turn Disney off and quit feeding people who hate us.
Senate Democrats are going to go for one last try in a $3B cash grab in the hopes Republicans are slow to the game. One remains hopeful that between Youngkin and our House Republican leadership that the old school brinksmanship of Senate Democrats are terms we find acceptable. Either they will negotiate in good faith or continue to remain intransigent. Good luck taking that back home to voters who are far more worried about gasoline prices and food shortages than they are about woke corporatism and feeding the institutions through taxpayer coercion.
Republicans have found their red lines and the ability to say no. Democrats test those red lines at their own peril.