By Alyx Duckett
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – During his State of the Commonwealth Address tonight, Gov. Bob McDonnell said job creation is his top priority for the General Assembly’s 2011 session.
“Ensuring that good-paying and rewarding jobs are available for our citizens in every community in this commonwealth is the foremost priority of our administration,” McDonnell told legislators.
McDonnell noted that more than 280,000 Virginians are unemployed. “That is unacceptable,” he said.
The Republican governor called on the House and Senate to approve job-creating tools and resources to help start and grow businesses. For example, he asked for $5 million in funding for the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority, which would help small businesses gain access to capital.
Overall, as part of his “Opportunity at Work” budget and legislative program, McDonnell is seeking $54 million in new state funding. He said the program would help Virginia compete with Maryland and North Carolina as well as India and China.
Besides economic development, the governor outlined three other priorities for the legislative session that began today. He called on lawmakers to:
* “Put $4 billion into transportation over the next three years to get traffic moving and new jobs created.” McDonnell wants to finance the plan by issuing bonds – a form of borrowing that he said is fiscally responsible and would not require a tax increase.
* “Reform state government” by eliminating certain agencies and boards, requiring state employees to contribute toward their retirement plans, enacting a hiring freeze, privatizing state-owned liquor stores and cutting spending for such items as public broadcasting.
* “Make college more affordable and accessible for our students.” He noted that over the past decade, college tuition has doubled in Virginia.
McDonnell, who has just started his second year as governor, said he “will not tolerate a system that prices young people out of their futures.”
He wants Virginia to award 100,000 more college degrees over the next 15 years, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, math and health care.
“A college education gives more people greater access to the American Dream,” McDonnell said. “If you want to attract good jobs, you must have a well-educated workforce.”
Regarding transportation, McDonnell said his bond proposal would fund 900 road, rail and transit projects across Virginia. They include a new Midtown Tunnel tube in Norfolk; the extension of HOV/HOT lanes on Interstates 95 and 395 and the widening of I-66 in Northern Virginia; a section of the Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia; and several sections of Route 58 in southern and western Virginia.
“Almost a quarter of Virginia’s major urban roads are congested, workers in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads now have some of the longest commutes in the nation, parents are too often stuck in traffic when they should be spending precious time with their children,” McDonnell said.
“I’m asking all of you to support a plan that pumps billions into roads, creates tens of thousands of new jobs, adds no new debt, starts work now and doesn’t raise taxes.”
McDonnell concluded his 50-minute address with a twist on his gubernatorial campaign slogan.
“Bob’s still for jobs,” he told lawmakers.
“Let’s work together over the next 45 days to provide the opportunity and dignity of a good job to more of our fellow Virginians.”
Delegate Ward Armstrong, D-Martinsville, gave the Democratic Party’s official response to McDonnell’s speech.
Armstrong, his party’s leader in the House, said Democrats share McDonnell’s goals of more funding for transportation, higher education and job creation. “Where we have serious differences is how to pay for them,” Armstrong said.
He said borrowing money is the wrong approach.
“In 2010, voters from around the country, including here in Virginia, went to the polls with a very simple message for their government: watch your spending and stop mortgaging our future by spending more money than you are taking in,” Armstrong said.
“Virginia Democrats heard you loud and clear.”
For more on the Web
For the text and video of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s State of the Commonwealth Address, visit www.governor.virginia.gov
For the Democratic Party’s response, see http://bit.ly/eP61vV
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