In York County appearance, governor hopeful Gillespie backs charters, tax cuts

Travis Fain
Contact Reportertfain@dailypress.com

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ed Gillespie campaigned around York County Tuesday, including a stop at a Boys & Girls Club site that may see funding cuts under President Donald Trump's proposed budget.

After meeting with club officials, and with educators from the charter school the club shares space with, Gillespie didn't take a hard position on Trump's proposed cuts. But the longtime D.C. operative said there are miles to go before a federal budget is finalized, and that he will be talking with Virginia's members of Congress as the legislative body reworks the president's spending plan.

That plan currently moves some $54 billion from domestic programs to the military. Virginia Peninsula Boys & Girls Clubs President and CEO Hal Smith, who met with Gillespie Tuesday, said his organization gets 25 percent of its funding from the federal budget.

Smith said he wasn't sure how Trump's proposals would affect the bottom line, but plans released last week by the administration show cuts to the block grants that help fund the clubs, as well as other after-school programs. Gillespie said he believes it is appropriate to use federal money for these sorts of programs, something the Trump administration has indicated it wants to move away from.

"I don't think anyone disputes the need to help those in need," Gillespie said. "Local, state and federal, and I would also say private charity."

During his trip, Gillespie promised to back legislation expanding charter schools. York River Academy is one of just nine charters in Virginia due to rules that require local school systems to approve charter schools in their area and Gillespie, like many Republicans, wants that number to increase.

Charters are public schools and get state funding, but they don't face all the regulations traditional public schools must follow, potentially making them mini-laboratories for innovation but also making them controversial. York River is co-located with Yorktown Middle School, and after the school bell rings for the day, its space is used by the Boys & Girls Club.

Gillespie is one of three men seeking the GOP nomination in this year's governor's race. A fourth, Nelson County distiller Denver Riggleman, left the race last week. The other two candidates, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, have also expressed support for charter school expansion.

Stewart is due Wednesday evening in Williamsburg for a campaign meet-and-greet.

Wagner has voted for several pieces of legislation in recent years meant to expand charter schools in the state, including Senate Bill 1283, which is awaiting Gov. Terry McAuliffe's signature, amendment or veto. Stewart supports a wide range of school choice proposals, including vouchers allowing public funds to be used for private school tuition.

Legislation to that end passed during the recent General Assembly session as well, again with Wagner in favor. McAuliffe is expected to veto the bill, and getting a Republican in the governor's office who will sign school choice bills is likely to be a significant campaign issue for conservatives hoping for movement on these issues.

After his morning visit to York River Academy, Gillespie visited the Grafton Kiwanis Club at lunch. He pitched his tax proposal, which would phase in 10 percent state income tax cuts over three years, as well as sunset local business taxes, provided local leaders can come up with plans to backfill the revenue those taxes now produce.

Gillespie traveled Tuesday with York County Sheriff J.D. Diggs, Poquoson City Councilman Thomas Cannella and George Clark, an active local Republican. He found an attentive crowd at Kiwanis, though members said they haven't really turned their attention yet to this governor's race.

"No matter where you stood in the last election, you probably are looking for a little breather," Kiwanis member Tom Tragle said. "I liked what I heard today (from Gillespie). But it's early."

In addition to the three Republicans, two Democrats — Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former one-term U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello —are running with at least one Libertarian, Jason Carrier planning a run. Primaries are slated for June 13.

Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.

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