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Governor’s address draws mixed reactions

GOP legislators applauded Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plans to borrow money for road construction and other transportation projects, but Democrats said they’re wary about the state taking on more debt.

Lawmakers were responding to McDonnell’s State of the Commonwealth Address. In his speech Wednesday night, the second-year governor urged the General Assembly to issue bonds to pump $4 billion into roads, bridges and rail projects.

“Let me be emphatic about the fiscal prudence of accelerating these bonds now. Interest rates are at near all-time lows, and bids on construction are coming in at the lowest in the modern era,” McDonnell said during the 50-minute speech.

“Building now will produce another benefit for our commonwealth: Road building means job creation. It is estimated that every $100 million spent on construction generates 3,000 new jobs.”

Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester, praised McDonnell’s proposal, noting that transportation is a big concern especially in Northern Virginia.

“If you cannot move goods and services and people in a community, that destroys your quality of life,” Vogel said. “And more importantly, it’s devastating for commerce.”

Vogel represents Senate District, which includes the city of Winchester, Clarke and Frederick counties, and parts of Fauquier and Loudoun counties.

On Thursday, nine more business groups – including the chambers of commerce for Loudoun County, Greater Reston and the Dulles area – announced their support for McDonnell’s transportation funding proposals. That means 36 organizations have endorsed the plan.

But Democratic Sen. Mark Herring of Leesburg criticized McDonnell’s plan.

“The governor campaigned heavily on transportation. And so far, what we’ve seen has fallen way short of the expectations that he set for us and what our needs are,” Herring said. “He’s laid out a short-term borrowing program which could get a lot of projects done, but it puts off to his successor how to address long-term funding needs.”

Herring represents Senate District 33, which includes parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

In the Democratic Party’s official response to McDonnell’s speech, Delegate Ward Armstrong, D-Martinsville, echoed such comments.
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.

In last fall’s elections, he said, voters told government officials to “watch your spending and stop mortgaging our future by spending more money than you are taking in.”

“Virginia Democrats heard you loud and clear,” Armstrong said.

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.

Also in his speech, the governor outlined three other priorities for the legislative session that began Wednesday. He called on lawmakers to:

• “Create new job-creating tools and resources to help start, grow, and recruit new businesses.” McDonnell said it is “unacceptable” that more than 280,000 Virginians are unemployed.

• “Make college more affordable and accessible for our students.” He noted that over the past decade, college tuition has doubled in Virginia.

• “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.

Vogel said she believes the governor’s biggest issue is job creation.

“While some of other spending changes or reductions we have to make are sometimes a challenge and not popular, at the end of the day it’s about spending to increase jobs in Virginia,” Vogel said.
“The fact that we’re third in the country in terms of job growth after Texas and Pennsylvania is something we should be proud of.”

Keeping college affordable is related to jobs, Vogel said. Rising tuition “is preventing lots of young people from staying in Virginia, getting their education here and having a good job.”

Herring questioned McDonnell’s commitment to the state’s public colleges and universities.

“I think the governor expressed a concern I hear from a lot of people about higher tuition, but he and the House Republicans have been cutting university funding,” Herring said.

“So I don’t know how he expects the universities to continue to provide quality education without making it up somewhere.”


Community

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

Equestrian clinic planned July 7-8 in Henrico

Henrico equestrians interested in deepening the bond between themselves and their horses have the opportunity to attend a two day clinic, held at Steppin’ High Stables on July 7-8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The clinic, “Become Partners with your Horse,” will be taught by multiple world champion equestrienne Terry Preiser and will focus on how riders and horses can work together to achieve more. > Read more.

Henrico school bus driver honored

The Henrico-based Hephaestus Society recently awarded its first annual community heroes award (the Hephaestus Award) to Hicham Elgharouch (pictured, center) for what it termed his "selfless acts of caring" in his duties as a Henrico County Public Schools bus driver. Henrico County Director of Pupil Transportation Josh Davis, joined Hephaestus Society President Travis Gardner, in presenting the award and an accompanying $1,500 check to Elgharouch last month.

Elgharouch was selected for his clear and demonstrated patience and for his infectious positive attitude, according to the society. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Don’t party too hard on the Fourth because a whole weekend of fun events await! Enjoy a classy date night without the kids at James River Cellars Winery’s second annual Smoke and Vine Festival. Another date night option is at the Richmond Funny Bone, where comedian April Macie will perform all weekend. The kids have their own options this weekend as well. Choose from storytime at Tuckahoe and Twin Hickory libraries or family-oriented karaoke at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House – I hear they have hits from Disney’s “Frozen.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


This weekend has something for everyone in your family – whether it’s improv comedy with ComedySportz or West End Comedy, or an inspirational concert from the Ezibu Muntu African Dance Company! Families will also enjoy music, games and crafts at Hidden Creek Park or reading to a therapy dog at Glen Allen Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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Ages 10-14 are invited to learn how to make a basic rubber band bracelet at 3 p.m. at Glen Allen Library, 10501 Staples Mill Rd. All materials will be provided.… Full text

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