Key Priorities: Jobs, Transportation, Education
Keeping Virginia the best place to live, work, start a business, raise a family and retire.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
In February 2009, a Newsweek cover told us: "We Are All Socialists Now." While this was telling in terms of letting us know where the new administration in Washington, D.C. and others may have wanted to lead the country, in Virginia – the home of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison -- we took a different path.
First, in November 2009, we elected a governor and a majority of the House of Delegates who wanted to reinvigorate entrepreneurial capitalism – not abandon it. Second, we observed Washington D.C.’s federal spending and taxing spree that our constituents were so concerned about and did the opposite.
In January 2010, when we started with a new governor, a new administration and 20 percent of the House of Delegates newly elected, we were faced with a daunting budget, a challenging economic environment and a $4.2 billion budget shortfall. Outgoing Governor Tim Kaine left us a proposed budget for the biggest tax increase in our history -- $2 billion. And to add insult to injury, his budget would have cut $60 million in Fairfax County school funds by freezing the school funding formula.
Fortunately, Governor Bob McDonnell and a healthy majority of the General Assembly went in quite a different direction and didn’t tax and spend more. We held the line on both. And we did it on a bipartisan basis.
We balanced the budget without raising taxes. The vote against the outgoing budget with the $2 billion tax hike was a unanimous 97-0. The Northern Virginia delegation was also unanimously opposed to the proposal to cut our school funding by $60 million by freezing the school funding formula. We worked with Governor McDonnell, our local schools, teachers, PTAs and PTOs and our local business community to successfully restore these funds.
The budget cuts which returned our budget to 2006 spending levels were achieved through bipartisan agreement and the budget gained a strong bipartisan vote in the House and Senate. By the fall, we had a budget surplus and lower unemployment – a stark contrast to all but a handful of other states. We also continued to be recognized as a top business-friendly state with the top schools in the country.
There was also strong bipartisan opposition (80-17 against) to the federal government’s mandate to force individuals to buy health care insurance and impose fines if they didn’t. Almost half the House Democrat caucus (19) joined Republicans to oppose Obamacare.
Already, more than 200 companies and unions (about three dozen unions now that actually supported the bill but can’t function under the mandate) have asked for exemptions from the bill, but states are still forced to shoulder these unfunded costs. The $2 billion in additional costs to Virginia from the bill wouldn’t even necessarily provide better or more care given the huge new bureaucracy that comes along with it. And this $2 billion would be on top of the exploding state health care costs we already have. While we have begun to deal with this healthcare challenge, allowing Virginia to find our own solutions rather than Washington dictated solutions would better serve the Commonwealth.
On transportation, we had a much delayed VDOT audit – which naysayers said was unnecessary. It turned out that while we were sitting in traffic and rest stops were being closed in the past administration, VDOT was sitting on $1.4 billion in transportation dollars which could have been working for us. That has now changed, as well as putting $500 milliion in bonds to work for our transportation needs.
And closer to home this year, we were able -- through strong bipartisan work -- to get VDOT to do an about face and work with our community for a single lane turn onto Georgetown Pike from Route 7 in Great Falls rather than the long planned two lane turn which was strongly opposed by the community. In McLean, we also worked together to make Transurban and VDOT aware of the community’s opposition to extending the Hot Lanes past the 495 Georgetown Pike exit, resulting with the company declining to move forward on that proposal.
Of course, budget cuts are always difficult. But while bad habits are often acquired during good times, good habits can be relearned during tough times. Individual savings are up. We put a freeze on state government hiring. We continue reform efforts and removing certain unfunded state mandates on localities. We continue to be one of the most generous communities. Particularly over our holiday season, we see our community coming together to help those less fortunate and to help fund valuable programs for our community when the government cuts back.
Our unemployment rate of 6.8 percent in Virginia and 4.6 percent in our area is well below the national average of 9.8 percent, and the 10th lowest in the nation. But with 280,000 Virginians out of work, they need our continued dedication.
We return to Richmond on Jan. 12, and once again our focus will continue to be on the key quality of life priorities of our community: Jobs, transportation and education. The governor’s budget amendments include new job-creation initiatives, including $25 million for our technology and research community to leverage private and federal research dollars so we will continue as a technology leader, new investments in higher education, and a plan to put $4 billion into transportation over the next three years.
All of this leads to getting more people back to good, prosperous jobs and ensuring that Virginia will be the best place to live, work, start a business, raise a family and retire.