When I announced my candidacy for the House of Delegates on April 5, 2013 I promised that my highest priority would be advancing policies to ensure the continued economic vitality of the Northern Virginia Region in the face of the ongoing federal budget sequester.
On August 15, 2014, Governor McAuliffe addressed the joint money committees of the Virginia General Assembly and revealed that sluggish economic activity in Virginia has caused a serious decline in state revenues. Current revenue estimates are $2.4 billion less than had been assumed in drafting the biennial budget plan for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016.
During our June Special Session the General Assembly passed a more austere budget than the spending plan we had worked on during the regular session. Based on those actions and the amount of money available to be drawn down from the Commonwealth’s “rainy day fund” we still have about a $346 million shortfall to manage in the current fiscal year, and about a $536 million challenge in fiscal year 2016. That is a total of $881.5 million for the biennium.
For the last several years many economists and elected leaders (and candidates) from Virginia have predicted that federal spending cuts would have a devastating effect on Virginia’s economy. Those projections and predictions are now coming to pass, making it critical that the General Assembly work together with the Governor to find common-sense solutions to help create a stronger and more prosperous Virginia economy.
For the first time ever Virginia’s revenues have declined outside of a national recession. The decrease is driven mainly by changes in federal tax law and sequestration-driven cuts to the defense industry that’s so critical to the local economy, particularly here in Northern Virginia.
• Between 2011 and 2013, sequestration reduced military contracts in Virginia by about 20 percent, or $9 billion.
• A 2013 analysis by Dr. Stephen Fuller of George Mason projected a loss of 154,000 jobs in Virginia, about four percent of the Commonwealth’s labor force, due to sequestration.
Our immediate priority will be to address the shortfall responsibly. We must prioritize our core economic priorities like education, transportation, health care, and public safety.
As we take the difficult steps necessary to address the immediate challenge of the budget shortfall, we must also recognize that the economy of the past, where Virginia could count on massive federal spending, particularly in the defense sector, is over. We must broaden the base of our economy to make it more independent and less vulnerable to the whims of a dysfunctional Congress.
How do we build a new Virginia economy? We can do it by investing in and improving the assets that make Virginia attractive to new business. Our well educated, highly skilled workforce is one such asset. Governor McAuliffe also announced the first steps to reform our workforce development system so that Virginia can train and connect workers with the jobs we have today and prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow.
I believe it is equally important that we embrace progressive social policies that will help us retain that workforce and attract companies that want to be strong community partners. Once Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is ruled unconstitutional, as I am certain it will be, we need to immediately repeal laws that discriminate against same sex couples in housing, estate planning and public employment.
We need to implement policies that make sustainable energy competitive and available to businesses looking to relocate to Virginia. I recently learned of a large west-coast beverage company that considered moving to Virginia but ruled the Commonwealth out because their corporate policy was to construct sustainable facilities, and they couldn’t find a renewable energy source to economically operate their facility. Those are the kinds of companies Virginia should be wooing and enticing. Instead they are being turned away.
And finally, I want to echo Delegate Kory’s comments from her Richmond report in last week’s paper. I too am committed to bringing our federal tax dollars home to expand Medicaid. We can’t afford to play politics with people’s health and lives, and we can’t afford to send our hard earned federal tax money to Washington with asking for our fair share to be spent here in the Commonwealth.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov