Democratic response to McDonnell’s speech

Ward Armstrong
I want to begin by offering my deepest condolences to the victims and the families who were affected by Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona. The thoughts and prayers of millions of Virginians and Americans are with the families of those killed and wounded as they cope with this heinous act.

If any good can come from this tragedy it’s this. We should take this opportunity to examine how we deal with one another in political discussions. Words matter. And while it’s important to have vigorous debate on the issues facing our state and our country, tone is important.

We need to be more civil to one another and avoid harshness. I and my Democratic colleagues pledge to work to avoid the political rancor that has consumed Washington and the country these past few months and bring honor to a capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson and occupied by statesmen like Washington and Henry.

We can’t or won’t censor anyone’s first amendment rights to free speech. But we need to remind ourselves that each of us, elected representatives and individual citizens alike, has a personal responsibility to maintain a level of public discourse that is respectful to people we disagree with and inclusive of different points of view.

The Governor’s speech tonight was filled with a number of priorities -- funding for transportation, higher education and job creation. Those are goals that Virginia Democrats share. Where we have serious differences is how to pay for them.

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. Virginia Democrats heard you loud and clear.

I recall that Governor McDonnell campaigned for dozens of Republicans and Tea Party candidates who were running on that very message. But while he talks a pretty good game about small government and cutting spending, his legislative agenda suggests that he has not gotten the point made in the last election when it comes to deficit spending.

Virginia has a long tradition of responsible financial management. We don’t spend money we don’t have. We don’t run up massive amounts of debt. We balance our budgets fairly and honestly. For eight years Democratic governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine ran this Commonwealth using those principles of responsible fiscal leadership and pay-as-you-go budgeting that earned Virginia a AAA bond-rating and a reputation as one of the best managed states in the country.

The legislative agenda that the Governor outlined tonight is a pretty big departure from those principles. Worse, it’s a real threat to Virginia’s long-term economic health. The governor has a long wish list of expensive items but no sound plan on how to pay for them. For example, he wants to take on over $3 billion in new debt to pay for transportation projects. The end result could be that we wind up stacking more government debt on top of Virginia families at a time when many of them are having trouble paying their own bills.

We can’t afford to let the Governor put it all on the state’s credit card for future generations to pick up the tab.

That is at the heart of the philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans in Virginia. Our party is founded on the principles of economic growth, job creation, good education and expanding opportunity around the Commonwealth. But we also believe in sound financial management.

The Governor and Republicans may be comfortable running up debt to pay for expensive priorities, but I believe I speak for most Virginians when I say we don’t want to run Virginia’s government that way.

This session Democrats are going to continue our fight for legislation that makes life better for Virginia families, without mortgaging the future. Over the next few weeks you’ll hear us talk about bills that will create jobs, keep the cost of important items like electricity and cable service low, improve our public schools and make communities across the state safer.

We are completely focused on the issues that matter to families across this Commonwealth. Which is why we likely won’t support the governor’s plan to sell off the state’s ABC stores. The problem with that plan is the state receives a lot of revenue from our ABC stores. Privatizing them will cost the state money. That means funding cuts to schools and police.

In addition, the governor wants to triple the number of liquor stores in the state. We think most people don’t want more liquor stores in their neighborhood.

I’m proud of the proposals that members of our House and Senate caucuses have put forward. I hope my Republican colleagues, particularly in the House of Delegates, will consider these proposals, not based on the political party of the legislator who introduced them but on the merits of the bills themselves.

Over the next 40 days or so Democrats and Republicans are going to have to work together on a lot of issues that are important to the future of our Commonwealth. Governor McDonnell is my friend. He and I both want Virginians to have good jobs. We both want our kids to have a good education. We want all Virginians to have a great quality of life.

Where we disagree is how to get there.

So what to do. Well we’re taught from our very first days in kindergarten that we have to get along with our neighbors. We have to talk to one another and not just bicker back and forth in the newspaper or on TV.

We have a lot of differences but we also agree on a lot as well. Democrats have some serious concerns about the agenda that the Governor put forward tonight. And while we’ll continue to make those concerns known, that doesn’t mean we aren’t open to working with Bob McDonnell and Republicans to find common ground and get things done.

I really believe we can work together to find solutions to our problems, and do it without saddling taxpayers with too much debt.

So to the Governor and his party I say let’s find that common ground. Work with us because we want to work with you. Let’s create the jobs, improve the schools and build the roads… together. The people of Virginia expect that – no -- they demand it.

God bless the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States of America.
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June 2017
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