2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gins

Gov. McAuliffe touts record, warns against con­ser­va­tive bills

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - Alan Su­d­er­man

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.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS/STEVE HELBER, FILE

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.

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