2017 legislative session begins
Gov. McAuliffe touts record, warns against conservative bills
RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe touted his record at growing and diversifying the state’s economy Wednesday while warning lawmakers that the state’s progress could be undermined by socially conservative legislation on abortion or transgender issues.
Speaking to lawmakers at the annual State of the Commonwealth, which kicked off the 2017 legislative session, McAuliffe said Virginia needs to maintain a business-friendly atmosphere by keeping clear of socially divisive new laws.
McAuliffe said Virginia’s more welcoming atmosphere has helped it win business over neighboring North Carolina, where a transgender bathroom law has consumed that state for months and scared off businesses and sporting events.
The governor, a Democrat, has already vowed to veto similar legislation filed by a Republican lawmaker this year,
as well as legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.
“I am 71 and 0 on veto override votes and, folks, I’m ready to keep my streak alive,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe is entering his final year in office — Virginia governors cannot serve consecutive terms — and spent much of Wednesday’s speech going through a laundry list of accomplishments. Under his watch, the governor said, the state had made great gains in reforming how it pays for large highway construction projects, addressing veterans’ homelessness and revamping its public school system, among other things.
But the governor’s main focus was on his record at improving the state’s economy, which has been battered by years of slowing defense spending.
McAuliffe said that, in his three years, he’s helped close 853 new economic development deals, worth a capital investment of $14 billion. The governor said that’s nearly $5 billion more than any other governor has done. McAuliffe has also traveled widely to promote Virginia’s economy, including to 19 countries.
“We took every meeting we could get,” McAuliffe said.
The governor announced during his speech that Navy Federal Credit Union had chosen Virginia over Florida to invest $100 million to expand its support and service operation, a move that will create 1,400 new jobs in Frederick County.
But Virginia’s economy is still struggling to wean itself from federal spending, evidenced by a more than $1 billion budget shortfall that lawmakers will grapple with this session. The shortfall is based largely on lower-than-expected income and sales tax collections.
McAuliffe also used his speech to promote some of his policy proposals for this legislative session. Some, like his plan for additional funding to increase mental health treatment and opioid addiction services, likely face better prospects of passage in a GOP-controlled General Assembly than others. McAuliffe’s push to repeal the state’s voter ID law and enact universal background checks for gun buyers are almost certain to fail.
House Majority Leader Kirk Cox said McAuliffe was being disingenuous by criticizing “hot button” Republican proposals while backing proposals designed solely to fire up the Democratic base.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Cox said.
In this Jan. 13, 2016, file photo, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe waves to the members of a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly as he leaves the House chambers after delivering his State of the Commonwealth Address at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. McAuliffe delivered his last State of the Commonwealth as Virginia’s 2017 legislative session kicked off Wednesday, with lawmakers battling over state budget problems and jockeying for attention in an election year.