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.”
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s admission has increased by $1 across all categories. Admission is now $12 for adults; $11 for seniors ages 55 and older; and $8 for children ages 3–12. Admission remains free for children ages 3 and younger and for members.
The last price increase was in 2011, before the Garden consistently hosted Butterflies LIVE! (which is included with admission). > Read more.
The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.
The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.
A finalist in the Bravo television show Top Chef is bringing one of his four restaurant chains to Henrico County.
Bryan Voltaggio, who was the runner-up of the sixth season of Top Chef, (finishing second to his brother, Michael) and his business partner, Hilda Staples, will open their third Family Meal restaurant, at Henrico's Willow Lawn shopping center. The restaurant is expected to open early next year. > Read more.
The United States Army Field Band will present a free public performance at Deep Run Park in Henrico on Sunday, Aug 3 at 3 p.m.
Members of the band are soldiers who also serve as “musical ambassadors of the Army” and perform for schools and communities nationwide.
The Concert Band will be performing along with the Soldiers’ Chorus. > Read more.
Get up and dance – square dance, that is – with the Tuckahoe Square Dance Club tonight! More musical events this weekend include family-friendly karaoke at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House, the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus Concert and the Henrico Teen Theatre Company’s production of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
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