Happy New Year to you! The chapter on 2017 has been written. We now start 2018 with optimism for continued economic growth and prosperity for all Virginians. The turmoil from Washington continues to put hardworking families at risk of losing their healthcare, paying more for the education they need to enter the workforce and being squeezed by the tax breaks for the 1 percent of Americans with the highest earnings. Through hasty legislation, executive orders and policy tweets, the federal government is forcing each state to step up and do diligence on behalf of its citizens.
As the havoc in Washington continues to play out, our new governor will take the reins of the Commonwealth on Jan. 13. I have served with both Governor-elect Northam as well as Attorney General Herring. Lieutenant Governor-elect Justin Fairfax will keep the Virginia Senate balanced and fair. We have a great team in place to move Virginia ahead.
Gov. McAuliffe has done an outstanding job keeping the Commonwealth’s economy out of harm’s way over the past four years. Facing an unprecedented deficit from the headwinds of Sequestration, he made it his mission to rebuild and diversify Virginia’s economy. The plan is working, as unemployment averages 3.6 percent and $16+ billion has been invested by business in job creation and projects.
The General Assembly will convene on Jan. 10 in Richmond for its 60-day session. It is also a budget year and the outgoing governor traditionally presents the biennial budget proposal in mid-December. This year the revenue forecast has a positive uptick along with carefully crafted stewardship of the people’s money. Before the legislature adjourns in March, there will be an amended version which both Chambers will agree upon for consideration by then-Governor Northam. While we are not out of the woods just yet, it will be necessary to judiciously choose the expenses in order to produce a balanced budget that is structurally sound.
For the better part of the last decade, Virginia has left more than $10 billion in federal money on the table that would have otherwise made it into state coffers if Virginia had expanded Medicaid. Some 400,000 Virginians do not have access to affordable healthcare, and those us of who are insured are paying higher premiums to help defray costs associated with emergency room care the uninsured receive. The doctor is in and there is new energy to do something about this in 2018. It is anticipated some 30,000 new jobs will be generated with Medicaid expansion.
A skilled workforce leads to a better quality of life in all corners of the Commonwealth. Record amounts of investments in our education system have been proposed. Preparing the next generation of workforce is a priority for Virginia starting in K-12 through higher education. We currently have thousands of vacancies in the technology industry. Without the skilled labor to fill these high paying jobs, Virginians are shortchanged in the long run. The success of Virginia’s new economy depends on growing industries that are less reliant on federal decisions.
I will lead the fight for funding workforce development to ensure that necessary skills, degrees, certifications, and credentials are affordable and accessible for all Virginians. We must invest in our colleges and universities if they are to keep tuition and fees down. Additional funds for the New Economy Workforce Credential Program have been earmarked. These and other tuition assistance programs are putting more Virginians to work in sustainable, high-paying jobs while diminishing the student debt loads.
With solid support for improved infrastructure, Virginia is steadily breaking through gridlock. It is imperative that we move people, goods, and services around the region in a timely and efficient manner. A comprehensive transmodal approach takes thousands of cars off the road each day. Metro is transporting 100,000 commuters weekly. Neither the Commonwealth, nor our region, can afford for it to diminish its Northern Virginia services. Much time, money, and tough leadership has been needed to turn the broken system back to state of the art passenger safety and delivery. Combining funds with Maryland and the District is not only a smart endeavor but a very necessary one.
I hope you can join Del. Marcus Simon and me for a town hall in Falls Church on Jan. 20. Sign up for our e-newsletter at dicksaslaw.com.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]