State of the Commonwealth

Published 11:42 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2012

McDonnell puts forth agenda in speech before assembly

Gov. Bob McDonnell addressed the General Assembly on the opening day of its 2011 session to present his vision for the commonwealth.

Drawing heavily upon the state’s history to set the stage for his remarks, McDonnell laid out plans for job creation, public safety, education, transportation, government reforms, environmental initiatives, health care and more.

“When he was running for office, Governor McDonnell made it clear what his priority would be — getting Virginia’s economy back on its feet, and getting Virginians back to work,” said Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins following the address. “’Bob’s for Jobs’ was more than just a slogan — it was a commitment that the governor and his entire team made and have kept.”

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McDonnell encouraged the members of the General Assembly to reach across the aisle during the upcoming session.

“To the members in the majority I say, ‘Don’t be arrogant. Don’t overreach,’” he said. “To the members in the minority, don’t be angry, don’t obstruct. To all of us, let’s be civil and productive.”

He touted Virginia’s lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast, its record as the “best state in America for business,” and said the state boasts the “nation’s best public university system.”

On the topic of his budget, McDonnell said the spending plan would not raise taxes, but rather “forces state government to set priorities, live within its means and plan for the future.”

McDonnell asked legislators to put $50 million into a contingency fund that would cover shortfalls from federal spending cuts and to double the state’s cash reserves during the next two years.

He emphasized that the state has created new economic development incentives to promote job creation and said that the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Windsor facility announced in October was a result of that.

“Over 56,000 more jobs have been created in Virginia since our first full month in office,” he said.

He asked lawmakers to funnel $38 million more into programs he believes will spur job creation.

In education, he again repeated his call for repealing the state mandate that school divisions begin the year after Labor Day unless they receive a waiver — something more than half have already done.

McDonnell said he would favor removing tenure status from teachers and principals and providing annual contracts in their place while implementing a new evaluation system that hinges more heavily on student performance.

He also promised to help expand charter schools and ensure that students are more ready for college or a job when they graduate high school.

In transportation, McDonnell toured public/private partnerships that have come about recently such as the Midtown and Downtown tunnel replacements between Norfolk and Portsmouth. He asked the General Assembly to increase transportation funding in the coming session.

“Transportation is a core function of government,” he said. “We must treat it like one.”

McDonnell also pushed his proposal to make the largest-ever employer contribution to the Virginia Retirement System, totaling $2.21 billion for state employees and teachers.

McDonnell also called upon President Barack Obama to end delays to offshore drilling.

“America needs the energy, and Virginians need the jobs,” he said.