Youngkin set to take office, says ‘fresh start’ coming for Va. COVID response

WTOP’s Nick Iannelli will be traveling with the Governor-elect leading up to — and during — his inauguration. Stay with WTOP and for extensive coverage from Richmond. You can follow Nick on Twitter @NickWTOP.

After winning the election in November as a political newcomer, Virginia Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin is getting ready to take control of state government.

The first-time politician and former private-equity executive will be sworn into office Saturday in Richmond.

“We’re going to go through an extraordinary inauguration ceremony,” Youngkin told WTOP. “I’m really excited about it.”

Youngkin will be in charge of a divided government, with Republicans controlling the House of Delegates and Democrats in control of the Senate. Still, he said he believes lawmakers and his administration can avoid legislative gridlock.

“I really have spent an extensive amount of time making sure I’ve met the Democratic leadership,” Youngkin said.

“We have an opportunity to really come together and get things done for Virginians that they sent us here to do.”

Youngkin released what he calls a “Day One Game Plan,” promising to immediately push for a number of tax cuts he laid out during his campaign including eliminating the state’s grocery tax, suspending a recent increase in the state’s gasoline tax for 12 months and providing a tax rebate of $300 for individual taxpayers and $600 for couples filing jointly.

Youngkin said he plans to cut income taxes by doubling the state’s standard income-tax deduction, making it $9,000 for individuals and $18,000 for couples filing jointly.

A new tone on COVID-19

Virginia will see a major shift in tone in the pandemic as Youngkin stands firmly against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and mask mandates in schools.

That is in stark contrast to the current Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who signed off on a statewide mask mandate for schools and a vaccine mandate for state government employees.

“I’m going to encourage everybody to get the vaccine like I have continually done, but of course, we’re going to respect peoples’ ability to make decisions,” Youngkin said. “I do fully anticipate that Virginians will see our actions as a bit of a fresh start.”

Youngkin acknowledged the seriousness of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We’ve got a crisis in many of our hospitals across Virginia,” he said, adding that he supported Northam’s declaration of a 30-day state of emergency.

The order gives hospitals the power to expand bed capacity without new licensing processes and increase the use of telehealth. It recognizes the licenses of out-of-state health professionals and expands the number of health workers who can administer vaccines.

While it didn’t happen under his administration, Youngkin said that the recent Interstate 95 traffic disaster also would be on his plate.

Thousands of drivers were trapped in their vehicles on icy roads in the Fredericksburg area after a winter storm earlier this month. Some people were stuck there for 24 hours or more.

Youngkin said the investigation into the situation would continue once he takes office.

“I can’t imagine how those Virginians and guests through Virginia felt as they were stranded,” Youngkin said. “We need to make sure that we fully understand what happened and do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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