Governor Bob McDonnell delivered his first State of the Commonwealth Address last night. The speech itself lasted close to an hour, and you can watch it here for yourself. Here are some of the highlights, and my own feelings about the speech.
It started with a light tone, a few jokes here and there, and words of thanks to former Gov. Tim Kaine for his years of service. He then invoked a brief moment of silence for the devastation in Haiti, and again encouraged all Virginians to help and donate in whatever way we can to the relief efforts there.
As in his inaugural speech, Gov. McDonnell stayed away from partisanism. He turned our minds to history and all the great leaders who've inspired us over the years, particularly Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Noting the difficult times both behind and ahead of us, he quoted Dr. King, saying, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." He then called upon the General Assembly to make their decisions based not on "which house or political party or which branch of government wins, but whether the people of Virginia win." He again pledged, as in his inaugural", to create "A Commonwealth of Opportunity". As you'll see from some of the initiatives he proposes (and I'm not talking just about his transportation plan), we have quite the ambitious new governor.
The governor then launched into his vision for the commonwealth, some positive outcomes he wants to see for Virginians. He reminded the Assembly that, though they are sometimes rivals, they are still colleagues. He spoke of Virginia's business-friendly laws, job-creating tax and regulatory policies, and prudent management and governance that have made Virginia a leader in the nation. "It all starts," he said, "with policies to promote job creation and economic development in our state."
"The inherent dignity of a good day's work and a worthwhile pursuit strengthens the soul, supports the family and reduces dependence upon government," he added. I certainly agree with him on that point. We face 10% unemployment in this country, and those who receive welfare, unemployment benefits and other entitlements from the government would do better to receive jobs.
The governor mentioned his first executive order, which established a statewide commission dedicated solely to creating jobs and promoting free enterprise and opportunity, which he considers to be "the first order of business" in this state. He pointed out the high unemployment in Virginia, and added his support to Gov. Kaine's amendment adding $1 million to the state budget for the Virginia Federation of Foodbanks. This segued into the "tough" budget cycle we face now. He first spoke for investing in the future, including increasing money in the job-creating Governor's Opportunity Fund, which has been successful in bringing more businesses to Virginia. State governments and even national ones compete heavily for businesses, he reminds us, and Virginia must do so as well.
Then came more specific proposals for creating jobs and prosperity for Virginians. Gov. McDonnell has formed a team, with Lt. Gov. Bolling at the head, whose sole responsibility is economic development. Their main priority will be the rural areas of Virginia, which now face double-digit unemployment numbers. At least once every thirty days, these areas will receive visits from either the governor or lieutenant governor to discuss how best to combat their problems.
There are more proposals in the governor's speech, including new funding for the biotech industry, and income tax exemption for qualified investments by technology and science startup businesses. Currently, money from the opportunity fund only goes to companies based on job creation and capital investment; he wants to expand it to companies that significantly increase local and state tax base, including more investment in education, workforce development and job creation. Also, $5 million for an industrial megasite location this year, because "when a major business is considering a move to Virginia, we've got to be able to meet those executives at the airport, drive them to a site ready for a project, and show them that the only thing missing is them. Virginia is ready for their business right now." As he reminded us, in business "in order to make money, you've got to spend money."
These proposals all came in the first sixteen minutes of the speech. For the rest of the hour, the governor continued to unveil initiatives, including specifics on how to "make Virginia the easiest state in America in which to open and maintain a small business." He spoke of investing in tourism, noting that we earn $5 for every dollar spent on attracting visitors. He reminded us that 2013 will be the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that we just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. He wants us to help tourists during these years to "reflect upon the lessons learned from this pivotal period in history ... stay awhile, spend lots of money, and help put Virginians back to work." To facilitate that, he proposes increasing the Virginia Tourism Corporation funding by $3.6 million in each of the next two years.
Another area of potential revenue windfalls is film production. He points out that "Secratariat", a film about a horse from Virginia, with a director from Virginia, is being filmed in Kentucky and Louisiana. Not having it filmed here cost Virginia an estimated $30 million in revenue. The Governor's Motion Picture Opportunity Fund simply cannot compete with other states, so he is asking for an additional investment of $2 million this year. "Movies made in Virginia results in jobs created for Virginians." (Can we say "Hollywood East"?)
Then there's aerospace. Governor Kaine committed to invest $1.3 million in the Virginia spaceport at Wallop's Island. Gov. McDonnell similarly wants to make it the "top commercial spaceport in America." He wants that money to stay in place so we can recruit top aerospace companies and even promote space tourism initiatives here in Virginia. (And you thought Hollywood East would be ambitious.)
Next, he mentioned Virginia's wine industry. I'm sensing a bit of a pattern here, actually. With California's businesses seeking other venues due to its burdensome tax rates, Virginia, with its new governor, is positioning itself to grab a few of those businesses. Science and information technologies, movies, aerospace, and now the governor proposes to direct a portion of the Virginia Wine Leader Tax to be deposited in the Virginia Wine Promotion Fund, which already helps fuel tourism. It's quite clever, actually, assuming that's what he's doing.
Coming in Pt. 2: the governor's energy and transportation agendas.
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