Ken Plum: Building a new Virginia economy

kenplum2Candidate Terry McAuliffe campaigned on a platform of building a new Virginia economy.  His theme clearly resonated with voters who elected him and with those who were concerned with Virginia’s sluggish recovery from the Great Recession. Following his campaign closely, I was impressed with his grasp of the issues and his commitment to resolving them. With his usual exuberance, the Candidate and now Governor made clear that he broadly defines the elements of a new economy. If there was any question remaining about what the Governor views as the new economy, those questions were likely answered in his speech to a joint session of the General Assembly last week.

Certainly a new economy is about bringing in new business and diversifying the state’s economic interests, especially in light of federal sequestration. In his first year in office the Governor has brought $5.58 billion in capital investment to the Commonwealth–over twice as much as any previous administration. Sometimes referred to derogatorily during the campaign as a “deal-maker,” his skills are proving invaluable in attracting new and expanded business to the state. He clearly relishes his role as chief salesman for the Commonwealth.

As the Governor made clear in his speech, a new economy needs a world-class workforce to support it. He proposed to the legislature that funding for workforce programs be increased and that the complex and confusing structure of job training programs be streamlined and simplified with more attention to apprenticeship programs and greater transparency and accountability in the system. To ensure that young people are prepared to enter the workforce, the Governor requested that K-12 and colleges and universities be spared from further cuts as the budget is balanced. He also proposed legislation to make daycare safe, to expand preschool education, and to reduce the number of children who go hungry at school. He will give special emphasis to seeing that veterans get jobs.

The Governor describes the new economy as a place where no Virginian would go without access to quality, affordable healthcare. While his definition is supported by policy in about half the states, it is controversial in Virginia where the General Assembly has refused to accept more than two billion dollars in federal funds to expand Medicaid to cover healthcare needs of the working poor.

Other elements of the governor’s vision of a new economy that I support include diversifying the state’s fuel mix through solar, wind and nuclear power; ensuring the public’s safety with commonsense, reasonable laws to reduce gun violence, sexual violence and domestic abuse; and ending discrimination based on race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. He wants women to be paid equally for equal work and to have their rights protected to make their own healthcare decisions.

Many of his proposals may be threatening to the old establishment in Virginia, but that is alright. Virginia in so many regards needs to move into the 21st century and embrace the global new economy.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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