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It’s the Economy, Constituents Tell Delegate Cox

January 22, 2012

By Mason Brown
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Jobs and economic development.

That’s what Delegate Kirk Cox’s constituents said is the most pressing issue facing Virginia.

Residents of the 66th House District, which includes Colonial Heights and part of Chesterfield County, registered their priorities during a telephone town hall meeting Cox held last week.

About 1,200 people participated in last Tuesday’s meeting. Cox polled them, and participants responded by using their telephone keypads. They also raised questions of their own.

“I find I learn much more from these town halls from you than you all from me,” Cox told constituents at the start of the polling process.

From left to right: Cox staff member Camm Tyler, Delegate Cox and Delegate Rick Morris prepare for telephone town hall. (Photo credit: Kirk Cox press release)

Participants were asked what they felt was the state’s most pressing issue. Besides job and economic development, the choices included education, transportation, crime and health care.

Respondents picked jobs and economic development as their No. 1 concern. Cox said the state government can take steps to address that issue.

“One of the most important things in order to have jobs and economic development is for Virginia to keep its triple-A bond rating,” he said.

A triple-A rating, assigned by credit rating agencies, indicates a strong capacity to meet financial commitments. Virginia’s rating increases its attractiveness to potential investors.

Cox said the state can hold onto its rating by increasing its rainy day fund, which it can tap in emergencies; by boosting its Federal Action Contingency Trust fund, which would offset future cuts in federal aid; and by holding the line on taxes.

“If you want good jobs and a good economy, you don’t raise taxes,” Cox said.

Education was the next most important issue to participants in the meeting. Cox promoted charter and private schools as alternatives to public schools. He also discussed the possibility of offering tax credits for donations to organizations that provide free or reduced-price lunches or offer scholarships to students who attend private schools.

Another topic at the meeting was the rules for presidential candidates to get on the ballot in Virginia. Currently, a candidate must collect signatures from at least 10,000 registered voters, with at least 400 from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts.

Only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul qualified for the Republican presidential primary that Virginia will hold on March 6. The other GOP candidates, such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, say Virginia’s rules are too strict.

Some state legislators have proposed relaxing the rules to get on the ballot – for example, by requiring candidates to collect only 5,000 signatures, with 200 from each congressional district.

At the telephone town hall, Cox asked constituents whether the ballot access rules should be changed. Almost two-thirds of the respondents said yes.

Cox said he tends to agree – but not for the March primary.

“I did feel like everyone knew the rules going in, and you have to go by that,” Cox said.

“But I do think what we need to look at is if the Virginia signature requirement being too high. I’m sort of leaning towards the 5,000 threshold. I think it needs to be somewhat rigorous because you need someone, obviously, that has worked and showed grass-roots support.”

Constituents also asked Cox how he felt about proposals to raise the gas tax to fund transportation projects. Cox said he opposed increasing the gas tax because it would hurt individuals already struggling with a sluggish economy.

He voiced support for Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to dedicate more of the existing sales tax to transportation. This would shift the money from general fund expenditures such as education and law enforcement.

Another topic at the meeting was whether the state should lift its moratorium on uranium mining so a company can extract the radioactive ore from a large deposit in Southside Virginia. Cox said Virginia must balance the economic benefits against environmental concerns.

“I would really like to see uranium mining in Virginia if we can do it in an environmentally safe manner because it would really mean a lot of jobs,” Cox said. He said that according to one study, uranium mining would create 1,000 jobs and generate more than $3 million in annual taxes revenues.

Lifting the ban also would help the United States toward energy independence, Cox said.

“Currently, the U.S. imports most of its uranium for use and producing nuclear power, which is a crucial source of energy,” he said. “I’m hoping we come up with a regulatory structure this year … and then maybe next year come back and vote on uranium mining.”
Cox wrapped up the telephone town hall meeting by thanking the participants.

“I like hosting telephone town halls because they give me the opportunity to directly connect with many constituents and help me to better understand and represent their views in the House of Delegates,” Cox said. “I look forward to hosting another telephone town hall very soon.”

Cox has scheduled his next telephone town hall for Feb. 10.

On the Web

To sign up and receive a call for Delegate Kirk Cox’s Feb. 10 telephone town hall meeting, visit www.kirkcox.com/tth-signup/.