Northam finance secretary turned Youngkin advisor says tax cuts are affordable

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin promised big tax cuts and a booming economy on the campaign trail. With the transition of power now underway, Gov. Ralph Northam’s former Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne is among those advising Youngkin on how to turn those promises into a reality. 

Layne, who recently returned to the private sector, was one of more than a dozen people named to Youngkin’s transition steering committee earlier this week. He plans to help Youngkin, who has never held elected office, navigate the bureaucracy of state government. 

“I’m looking at this as a service to the Commonwealth, not a political statement,” Layne said. “He’s our governor and all of Virginia should want him to be successful.”

Before leaving the Northam Administration, Layne oversaw the state’s economic downturn and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

In an interview, Layne pushed back on Youngkin’s claim that Democrats ran the state’s economy into a ditch. He said Virginia avoided cutting services during immense financial uncertainty and emerged with a record budget surplus. 

“Of course a lot of things are said on the campaign trail to get the voters’ attention and it’s probably somewhere in between,” Layne said. “I think the Commonwealth has done some things well.”

Layne, who also served as former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Transportation Secretary, disputed the Democratic nominee’s claim that Youngkin’s proposals would lead to severe cuts in education and law enforcement budgets.

Youngkin’s “Day One Game Plan” includes suspending the most recent gas tax increase for 12 months, eliminating the grocery tax, doubling the standard deduction and exempting a portion of veterans’ retirement pay from taxation. 

“They certainly are affordable based on the increase in the revenues and where the Commonwealth is going and I want to point out there won’t be any cuts with this,” Layne said, noting that the tax cuts may prevent additional investments in other areas. “Only in government do we say we are cutting something because we aren’t adding as much as somebody else would like.”

Youngkin also wants to provide a one-time tax rebate of $600 for joint filers and $300 for individuals. Layne said there is precedent for that. 

“The Commonwealth has a great deal of funds. It had a good year plus all of the stimulus. It’s going to be hard for a Republican or a Democrat not to share some of that with taxpayers,” Layne said. 

While he believes the economy is moving in the right direction now, Layne said many challenges lay ahead. He said Youngkin needs to further diversify Virginia’s economy, build a more robust workforce, bring back jobs lost during the pandemic and maintain stability once federal stimulus dollars are gone. 

Mangum Economics Founder and CEO Fletcher Mangum has been appointed by both parties to the Governor’s and General Assembly’s Joint Advisory Board of Economists in the past.

During the pandemic, Mangum said Virginia initially didn’t lose as many jobs as some other states due to its reliance on government employment and professional business services that could be done remotely. 

However, Mangum says Virginia now appears to behind other states in the recovery as the Commonwealth ranked 47th for year-over-year employment growth. While the unemployment rate is relatively low, Mangum said labor force participation is down so less people are looking for jobs.  

“Pretty much everyone is in the ditch so the question is how deeply are you in the ditch relative to everyone else,” Mangum said. “I think we’re trailing.”

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