McDonnell gives first State of the Commonwealth address
Last night Governor Bob McDonnell spoke of the achievements the state has made in his first year in office and the challenges that lay ahead in his first State of the Commonwealth Address. Craig Carper reports.
Speaking of some of the accomplishments made during his first year, the Governor says Virginia has done better than most states.
McDonnell: Since February 2010, Virginia has added 67,900 net new jobs, the 3rd highest number in the United States of America. Just the year before, in 2009, we ranked only 35th. Since February, our unemployment rate in Virginia has fallen from 7.2 to 6.8%. It is tied for the 9th lowest unemployment rate in all of the nation, and looking at all our major national rankings of all the major periodicals, guess what they say? Our Virginia remains the most business-friendly state in the United States of America.
McDonnell said for his second year, job creation is still priority one and that he will call for an additional 54 million dollars in state funding to help put more Virginians back to work. The Governor said a crucial part of growing jobs in the state is investing more in higher education.
McDonnell: Our “Top Jobs for the 21st Century” Higher Education Act is highlighted by a new $50 million investment in higher education, much less than what's actually needed to fund our current base adequacy model, but it's a start. These new initiatives will be targeted to undergraduate financial aid and incentives for efficiency, increased four-year graduation rates, year-round use of facilities increased degree attainment and other important initiatives. These actions will make college more affordable and accessible, and create a better-educated workforce and more jobs for our citizens.
McDonnell is also asking the legislature to support his plan to borrow 3 billion dollars for roads.
McDonnell: Let me be as emphatic as I can about why it is fiscally prudent to accelerate these bonds for all of us now. Interest rates are at near all-time lows, construction bids are coming in at the lowest rates in the modern era. Road building means jobs. It's been estimated that every $100 million spent on construction equals 3,000 new jobs. None of our transportation proposals will increase Virginia’s total authorized tax-supported debt at all. So I’m asking all of you to support a plan that will pump billions into new roads, create tens of thousands of new jobs, adds no additional debt, starts work now and doesn’t raise taxes.
McDonnell is also once again calling for the total elimination of state funding for public broadcasting.
McDonnell: I like PBS, it airs a lot of great programs, including, if I don't say so myself, tonight’s speech; I hope they're still on. But, you know, with hundreds of options in the free market, radio and television programming is simply not a core function of government.
The governor discussed making current state hiring freezes permanent and argued for a proposal he made last month for Virginia employees to begin contributing five percent of their salary to their retirement funds, while giving them a 3 percent raise, leading to an overall 2 percent reduction in take-home pay.
McDonnell: We are out of step now with virtually every major public and private sector pension plan in the country and the only solution that I think will work is that we have a shared contribution, shared sacrifice, between the state and our state employees.
And in a plea for consideration of an initiative he continues to fail to build support for, McDonnell asked the General Assembly to take another look at privatizing our state-run liquor stores.
McDonnell: Our ABC stores are very clean and efficient and manned by great state employees, but I don't believe that selling bourbon and gin is a core function of government, either, so I am proposing a plan to privatize the retail sales of distilled spirits, like we’ve done for beer and wine for nearly 76 years, and like 32 other states have already done successfully. I believe it'll generate $300 million in new one-time money for transportation with no annual loss of general fund revenue.
Democratic Senator Edd Houck of Fredericksburg said while he remains skeptical about some of the Governor’s proposals, like ABC privatization, he was eager to see his transportation bonds succeed, unlike many of his fellow Democrats.
Houck: I think he’s at least put a plan on the table that we can embrace if we work hard to come toward it. I think he’s got a reasonable plan. It needs to happen. For the good of Virginia, it needs to happen.
Having completed their first day, the legislature now has only 45 days to complete a full slate of new business before adjournment.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square