Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include an increase in Virginia tax revenue, Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy hints at a run for statewide office, and the approval of Richmond's city budget.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper, and joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Shapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Good morning, Craig.
CC: Jeff, tax collections spiked in April indicating Virginia will have the cash to cover its new budget and a tax give-back.
JS: It was a 27% jump from April a year ago. That's an extra half billion dollars, $569 million to be precise, and because revenues are up, and this is largely a consequence of the robust economy and the Trump tax cuts and its sort of aftershocks, this means that the administration is confident it can cover its budget in the year ahead. But it can cover, as well, a $420 million tax credit that Republicans cooked up in this election year, and that will be in place largely in the form of checks to taxpayers in October just ahead of the elections. And the Republicans who narrowly control the legislature would like to think those checks will be a reminder to vote for their candidates. And this may ring a bell with some people. Back in 1997, Jim Gilmore was standing for governor, a Republican, and his promise of course was to do away with a local tax on personal motor vehicles, the shorthand for that, of course, the car tax. That tax is still in place, but it has been reduced because the state kicks back dollars to the localities to cover the lowered rates. Anyway, the timing of those car tax bills, particularly in Fairfax County was important in 1997. Fairfax sends out its tax bills in October right before the election, and back then that was the equivalent of candidate direct mail, in this case, the candidate, Jim Gilmore. And the Republicans are hoping they will get a similar boost in this year's legislative elections when those tax credit checks go out this fall. But let's keep in mind that Virginia in 2019 is very different from Virginia in 1997. The Republicans were still very much a statewide force back then. They've been in retreat for over a decade and could lose the legislature this year, the legislature of course, the party’s last redoubt of power.
CC: And another Democrat, another African American woman is signaling interest in statewide office.
JS: And this is Jennifer Carroll Foy. She's a first-term delegate from Prince William County. She is starting a statewide PAC. Now the money it collects can go to other Democrats, and that can generate chits for Carroll Foy should she stand for statewide office in 2021, perhaps attorney general. That PAC can also harvest money for a Carroll Foy statewide candidacy. Right now her first priority is getting herself reelected to the House. She was one of those 15 Democrats elected in 2015. Of course that wave of Democratic victories, a consequence of that anti-Trump tsunami, moved the Democrats within two seats of taking back the House of Delegates. Now Carroll Foy is not the only Democrat, not the only African American female Democrat who's started one of these PACs. Jennifer McClellan, a state senator from Richmond. She's been mentioned for lieutenant governor and governor. She was in the House before she moved over to the Senate in 2014, when Donald McEachin gave up that Senate seat to go to Congress. Now looking to the 2021 elections, look for even more trial balloons by Democrats. This is clearly a consequence of the racial and sexual controversies that have engulfed the top three Democrats - Northam, Fairfax, Herring. Northam can't run for reelection because of Virginia's “one term and you're done” rule, and Fairfax's and Herring’s ambitions are very much in doubt because of the headaches they face. So this has Democrats looking for new faces. There is special interest in minority candidates, not just as an acknowledgment of these embarrassments for Democrats, but as a bow to an important and exceptionally loyal component of the Democratic Coalition.
CC: And one of those new faces is the mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, who lost a big fight with city council over taxes and spending.
JS: City council this week approved a $747 million city budget. It includes more money for schools, street repairs, and city hall salaries. But the mayor wanted to finance this budget in part with a 9 cent increase in the real estate tax. The city council said, “Forget about it.” However, council did go along with Stoney's call for a tobacco tax. Now it is the first ever adopted in this tobacco town - for cigarettes, 50 cents per pack. It'll generate about $3 million a year, but that's a sliver of what that increase in the property tax would have generated. Council is largely relying on spending cuts to pay for programs on which it and the mayor agree. That includes education, which will get an extra $37 million. Now this episode speaks to the mayor's difficult relationship with city council, and if Stoney wants to be governor, and he does, how might he get along with a larger legislative body - the General Assembly? Stoney is trying to put the best face on this setback, saying there's still more money for top priorities, and he's not ruling out the possibility that he may push for his tax proposal again. Remember, Stoney and council are up for reelection next year.
CC: And the new and far reaching ban on abortion in Alabama, which is now the nation's most restrictive, is rippling through Virginia politics.
JS: A huge talking point for Democrats, who ahead of the legislative elections would rather not talk about Northam, Fairfax, and Herring. Though there are clearly signs that Northam is being rehabilitated. He's raising money, and he's raising his profile. And one of the things that he has done, on Wednesday he took to Twitter after the Alabama ban was signed into law and said that he's prepared to use his veto to prevent Virginia from doing what Alabama has just done. Democratic blogs have also been full of chatter about abortion rights. This is a very powerful motivator for the party's voters and many of whom of course are women, but it is also an issue that drives centrist Republicans and Independents to vote for Democrats. Mamie Locke, the head of the Senate Democratic Caucus, was quick to put out a statement after the Alabama measure was signed into law, and she spotlighted the remarks of a Republican delegate. Bob Thomas, he holds ex-Speaker Bill Howell’s seat up in Stafford, in which Thomas told a conservative broadcaster that Virginia would adopt Georgia-like abortion restrictions if Republicans hold the House and Senate and win back the governorship in 2021. The Georgia law prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Interestingly enough, we're not hearing much from Republicans on the Alabama or Georgia law, but that does not mean that Republicans are silent on abortion. Expect to hear from them. And this is a way that Republicans will gen-up their base, reminding voters what Northam said in February about late-term abortion. Remember he sounded a little bit more like the doctor he is, than the politician he’s supposed to be. Northam left a lot of people with the impression that he favors infanticide.
CC: Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times- Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Looking forward to it.