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.”
Former Sandston resident Mildred Taylor celebrated her 106th birthday Aug. 9. Taylor, who now lives in Powhatan, is still a member of Sandston Baptist Church. She was visited the day after her birthday by several members of the church, who played for her a recording of the entire church membership singing happy birthday to her during worship. > Read more.
YMCA officials gathered last week to break ground on the new Tommy J. West Aquatic Center at the Shady Grove Family YMCA on Nuckols Road. The center, which will featured 7,600 square feet of competitive and recreational space, including water slides, play areas for children and warmer water for those with physical limitations, is the fourth phase of a $4 million expansion at the facility. West was president and CEO of Capital Interior Contractors and a founding member of the Central Virginia Region of the Virginia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. > Read more.
The Sandston Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the Sandston YMCA for its Bright Beginnings program, which helps provide children in need with school supplies for the new school year. > Read more.
For our Top 10 calendar events this weekend, click here! > Read more.
Short Pump brewery offers more than just beer
I am still (happily) thinking about my entire experience at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery last week. Knowing nothing about this new brewery out of Denver, I was leery of brew-pub in the heart of Short Pump Town Center – this is not what I’d usually think of as a perfect fit, and yet, it was.
The restaurant and craft brewery opened in early June and features 10 beers made by female brewmaster Becky Hammond (pictured). This is the restaurant’s second location in Virginia; the first is in Arlington. Behind glass walls, customers watched the beer brewing in massive steel barrels. For our up-and-coming beer region, it makes sense that Short Pump would jump on board.
As I walked up to the back of the mall near the comedy club, I was taken aback by what I saw: at the top of the stairs was an overflowing restaurant with outdoor seating, large umbrellas and dangling outdoor lights. > Read more.
The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen is now registering participants for its fall 2014 schedule of classes.
The center will offer more than 100 classes for children and adults, covering topicssuch as culinary arts, fiber arts, visual and performance arts and more. Instruction is structured to appeal to a wide range of abilities, from beginners to experts of all ages. Class sizes are kept small to ensure maximum benefit for participants with generally no more than 15 students. > Read more.
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