Virginia’s April revenues were strong, largely thanks to a shift in the tax due date, Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. He said Virginia is under-performing in recovery after the start of the pandemic compared to some southern states. Cummings downplayed concerns about a near-term recession but said he and the administration are worried about inflation in the energy and food sectors.
“I think, as you know, that is what is the backdrop to the governor’s focus on the grocery tax and the gas tax,” Cummings told the legislators, several of whom are involved in budget discussions debating Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposals.
Early in the Youngkin administration, the governor and Cummings said they were concerned by Virginia’s competition with North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, and Texas. Cummings referred to those states repeatedly on Tuesday.
“It’ all about creating new jobs, developing that organic growth rate in our Virginia economy,” Cummings said Tuesday. “There’s a battle going on with the states, particularly to our south, as we’ve seen more migration across our country than has been seen in a very, very long time. And we have to play to win against these states. Data shows us that leading up to the pandemic we under-performed relative to the country and our competitor states.”
Cummings said that since January, 42,000 more Virginians are employed, helping to close the gap, but said Virginia is still behind compared to both those southern competitor states and some northern and midwestern states.
“All of the states that we compare ourselves to are holding the first six positions in terms of job recovery, and that fourth column,” Cummings said.
He said that South Carolina is leading the pack, with 26 percent of jobs lost during the pandemic recovered.
Cummings is also concerned about the number of Virginians not participating in the workforce, but he said that economic pressures are shrinking their savings and bringing people back into the workforce.
“Higher workforce participation is needed. We need to get back to where we were. We are the state that’s lost the most out of all these states,” he said.
After Cummings’ February report to the committee, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) sparred with Cummings over pessimistic portrayals of Virginia’s economic condition and the comparison states Youngkin selected.
Saslaw made a similar comment on Tuesday.
“I just googled Gross Domestic Capital per, you know, person. We are higher, and in most cases, way higher than any southern state including Texas, Florida, Georgia. That’s Gross Domestic Product per capita. And the only states that seem to be higher than us, the highest is California, okay, and then New York; I see Illinois, New Jersey, and the state of Washington are higher than us,” Saslaw said.
He continued, “But every single state is lower than us, and in South Carolina, they are dramatically lower. They’re like a third-world country. I mean, how do you explain that versus what we’ve seen here?”
“Honestly I don’t look at that statistic, but we’ll go back and look at it,” Cummings said.
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