Happy New Year to all of the constituents of Virginia’s 35th Senate district. 2016 is now in the books but there is much on the docket for the Commonwealth in 2017. The General Assembly will convene January 11 for the “short session.” That means we will have about 45 days to balance the budget and get through thousands of new legislative proposals. This year is also an election year for Virginia – with primaries on June 13 and a general election for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and the entire House of Delegates set for November 7.
The 2016 presidential election did not turn out as hoped for by millions of Virginians. In a couple of weeks, our nation will have a new president. It is time to accept that this is how democracy works and move forward for the betterment of the country. While I respect the election results, I think it is important to refute Mr. Trump’s claims of voter fraud. In spite of tweets to the contrary, there were zero reports of voter fraud filed in the Commonwealth. Governor McAuliffe also recently recommended $1 million to help modernize the VERIS system, which supports functions such as voter registration and election results reporting.
Democrats will continue to be the leading voice for education, the workforce, economic development, and plain old common sense in the Commonwealth. We expect to see a social agenda from the Republicans during this election year that is out of touch with mainstream Virginia voters. While Republicans would rather legislate what Virginians do in their personal lives, Governor Terry McAuliffe’s leadership has driven the Commonwealth’s unemployment rate from 5.4 percent to 4.1 percent over the past three years. The state has also created 182,100 net new jobs and attracted more than $14 billion in capital investment. All eyes will be toward Washington to see what the new administration will do with the federal budget. Sequestration continues to loom over Virginia’s economy like a dark storm cloud despite our steady climb back from the recession.
Thousands of high-paying jobs are waiting to be filled – an excellent opportunity for Virginia’s future workforce. The Governor points out that in the cyber security sector alone, Virginia has 36,000 open jobs with an average pay of $88,000. We must foster policies and strategies that are conducive to growing the workforce that will fill these high-paying jobs and others. Incentives for earning industry credentials and restructuring student debt will be prominent in developing a capable workforce and attracting new companies to the Commonwealth. I will lead the fight in Richmond for educational opportunities that put people to work in jobs that are a pathway to economic success. No doubt we will also see efforts to raise the minimum wage that will enable Virginians to support themselves with less government assistance. This should be a no brainer, but I expect the same old arguments against financial independence that we hear every year, particularly in an election year for the statehouse.
I support Governor McAuliffe’s proposals to revamp the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to provide for more accountability and give the organization better tools to help create jobs and opportunities. The changes will come in tandem with further developments at GO Virginia, a program that will help align local government with local businesses. The initiative is still organizing in some regions and should be prepared for the Commonwealth’s financial backing when the new fiscal year begins on July 1.
Closer to home, I am incredibly proud of Inova Health System’s groundbreaking new partnership with the University of Virginia. The partnership will boost important genomics and cancer research and bring a regional campus of UVA’s medical school to Northern Virginia. This partnership comes on the heels of last year’s partnership between Inova and George Mason University for new programs and facilities for the cutting-edge field of personalized medicine. Promoting research and development partnerships between higher education and private sector institutions will continue to be a priority of mine in 2017.
The legislative agenda promises to be full. As the Democratic Leader in the Senate my priority will continue to ensure Virginians have the skillset and educational tools they need to be productive and prosperous in 2017.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]