"This was the second session of our Administration. As this session finishes, it is clear that we maintain a great ability to work cooperatively with each other to produce solutions to the major challenges facing our Commonwealth.
In 2010, working together, we successfully addressed the difficulties presented by an ongoing economic downturn and two state budget shortfalls totaling over $6 billion. While many were uncertain as to how we would navigate an unprecedented second consecutive year of negative revenue growth, we demonstrated what is possible when we strive to find the solutions to the problems our citizens face at their front doors
As a result of our bipartisan cooperation, we closed our budget shortfalls without raising taxes, reduced state spending to 2006 levels, put Virginia on solid footing to help our private sector business owners create new jobs, and ended the fiscal year with a surplus. At the same time, we also made major strides in providing new positive educational options for Virginia’s children by strengthening our charter school and virtual schools statutes, and creating innovative college laboratory schools. We laid the groundwork for the expansion of our job-creating tourism and wine industries, while also furthering our commitment to making the Commonwealth the “Energy Capital of the East Coast.”
These achievements provided the backdrop for the 2011 session of the General Assembly. As you arrived in January, our Commonwealth was witnessing the ongoing modest signs of economic recovery. Our unemployment rate has fallen from 7.2% last February to 6.7% today. State tax revenues have increased in ten of the last eleven months, with the last three months all posting increases of over 9%. Our collective commitment to fiscally responsible governance during very tough economic times has positioned Virginia well for future economic growth and job creation. The mission for this session was to ensure that economic recovery is consistent and entrenched, and will not dissipate in the years ahead.
We were clear in our objectives for this short session. We proposed four major initiatives. We called for the biggest state commitment to transportation in a generation; a bold effort to ensure that we have the most highly educated workforce in the world by reversing the trend of disinvestment in higher education; new tools and resources to help our existing job-creating businesses expand and grow, and to attract new employers within our borders; and a continued focus on reforming state government to make it leaner and more effective so Virginia taxpayers can be confident that policymakers are making the same tough decisions about spending priorities that they are.
Throughout the 2011 Session of the General Assembly, we addressed these major challenges comprehensively, usually without regard to political party or local parochial interests. It was a clear agenda with a clear purpose: grow Virginia’s economy and ensure more opportunity for every Virginian. Thanks to your cooperation, that agenda has been successful.
This session may be best remembered for the overwhelming bipartisan passage of the biggest investment in transportation in Virginia in a generation. Through our “Get Virginia Moving” initiative, we are establishing the framework to invest $4 billion over just the next three years into road, rail and transit projects from the suburbs of Northern Virginia to the coalfields of southwest Virginia. Citizens will see the results in quicker commutes to work, and a little more time with their families. We are doing this without raising taxes and by taking advantage of low interest rates and construction prices. This is the type of innovation and problem-solving that Virginians expect and we have rightly delivered it to them through the bipartisan leadership of Speaker Bill Howell, Delegate Glen Oder, Chairman Chuck Colgan and Senator William Wampler.
The “Top Jobs for the 21st Century Act” provides a roadmap to truly expand access and affordability for our citizens seeking to attend Virginia’s outstanding institutions of higher education. Additionally, the Act ensures that we are offering education and training in the most high demand employment areas – science, technology, engineering, math, and healthcare. By awarding 100,000 new degrees over the next 15 years and lowering the burden of constant tuition increases on students and parents, we will demonstrate to business leaders around the globe that this is where they should invest and grow their enterprises. More importantly, we will bring the opportunity of a college degree within reach of thousands more Virginia students. Majority Leader Kirk Cox, Delegate Rosalyn Dance, and Senators Edd Houck and Tommy Norment recognized the importance of higher education as an economic development engine for the Commonwealth, and worked tirelessly for the unanimous passage of this seminal legislation.
Our “Opportunity at Work” agenda was a continuation of our work in 2010 to use limited tax dollars wisely to best attract and retain the job-creating private sector businesses crucial to our future economic prosperity and the well-being of our citizens. We advanced a renewed commitment to assist emerging technology based companies expand, provided incentives for more university based research and development, and supported our dynamic and growing wine and tourism industries. Virginia ranks fourth in the nation in net new jobs created since February 2010. Our work is paying off in new jobs for our citizens. We must continue our aggressive efforts to better compete with other states and nations in the battle to attract and expand businesses across all regions of the Commonwealth.
Virginians know we need a “Smaller and Smarter Government”. Just like families make tough decisions everyday about how to live within their means, so must Richmond. Government should focus on its core functions, eliminate waste and inefficiencies, and spend taxpayer dollars wisely and prudently. This session we continued to find ways to make government more effective. We have passed legislation to eliminate outdated and unnecessary boards and commissions and we eliminated certain mandates on localities for the first time in years. Additionally, Virginia will now have a statewide Inspector General with the power to investigate waste, fraud and abuse all across state government.
We held the line on taxes. State spending is back to levels last seen in the earliest years of the Kaine Administration. This commitment to fiscal austerity has required an equal dedication to budget prioritization. With limited dollars come tough choices; we were sent to Richmond to make those tough choices, and that is what we have done. I thank the General Assembly for the significant new funding provided for mental health and developmental disabilities in the Commonwealth. This funding is critically important to the well-being of so many of our fellow Virginians. That was the right choice. I am disappointed, however, in the failure to make additional necessary choices to further reduce the significant shortfall in our pension system which is underfunded by nearly $18 billion dollars. While new state money was pumped into the system, more structural reforms and shared sacrifice are needed. As more state workers and teachers retire in the years ahead the chasm between disbursements made and resources available will only grow wider. We must reform our pension system to ensure its long term solvency and the security in retirement of our valued state employees, and I am committed to getting this done during this Administration.
The 2011 session of the General Assembly will be heralded for our breakthroughs on transportation and higher education. The bills supporting these efforts were the recipients of broad and strong bipartisan support. That is a further demonstration that while political campaigns are what get us to the Capitol, we still retain the ability to leave politics aside once here and govern together in the best interests of the people of this beautiful Commonwealth.
You should be pleased by the many results of this short session. We have invested wisely, planned prudently, and, once again, addressed the issues our citizens are most concerned about. We have provided solutions to challenges, and our Commonwealth will benefit from this. The effort to build a true “Commonwealth of Opportunity” took another step forward this winter in Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol.
I thank you all for the time you sacrificed away from your families, the leadership you demonstrated for your constituents, and the results you achieved for all Virginians.
May God Continue to Bless the Commonwealth of Virginia."