Perspectives on the economy: U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling

Interesting week for me in my often overlapping roles as a business writer and politics writer. On Wednesday, I met with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, after a roundtable in Staunton with local business owners and business leaders who gave Warner quite the earful about the state of business and the state of the economy.

Then on Friday, I’m at a groundbreaking for a $65 million industrial expansion in Waynesboro, complete with a catered lunch and music provided by a small symphony orchestra group in a setting that felt very go-go ’90s, where I was able to get a few minutes with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican and the chief jobs officer in the administration of fellow Republican Bob McDonnell.

As that ceremony got under way, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, was meeting at the White House with reporters to talk up his new economic-recovery plan, against a backdrop of a chorus of critics Democratic and Republican who think that the president has failed to provide adequate leadership on economic issues at the threat of the nascent economic recovery.

One thing that has my attention in the midst of all that is going on around us is the reputation that Virginia has been able to build for itself dating back to the Warner turn in the governor’s mansion in the early 2000s as the best state for business in the United States. Tim Kaine and now McDonnell have been able to keep Virginia on that track. I first posed to Warner on Wednesday the question, What did Virginia do to earn that reputation, and what lessons might Washington be able to learn from the Virginia model?

“One of the things you learned was there’s an appropriate role for government. Government can’t do it all. We had a relatively light regulatory hand. When we saw abuses, we took care of it. We kept that relatively low tax rate, a low regulatory burden,” Warner said.

Now to Bolling – same question.

“There’s a lot going on at the federal level today that is discouraging, not encouraging, economic growth. I’ve probably met with more CEOs across Virginia in the last seven months than anybody in the state, and I can tell you, every CEO that I meet with pretty much says the same thing: they have money, they’re ready to invest, they need workers, they’re ready to hire, but they’re afraid to do so because of the uncertainty and the anti-business nature of the policies coming out of Washington, D.C.,” Bolling said.

Keep in mind that Bolling was speaking at the groundbreaking for the $65 million industrial expansion. PGI, the Charlotte, N.C.,-based company investing the money in the expansion, must have a different view on the policies coming out of Washington, D.C.

But to be fair, the business roundtable hosted by Warner on Wednesday featured around the table similar sentiments as those expressed in Bolling’s statement. The “u” word – uncertainty – was echoed by an industrial executive, a health-insurance salesman and a residential developer as putting curbs on their businesses at the present time.

More from Bolling.

“If I were in charge, and I could say, Here’s what Washington needs to change, we need to be looking at ways to cut taxes, not raise taxes. Particularly I think we cannot allow the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 to expire. They have to be renewed,” Bolling said. “We do need more targeted tax cuts for businesses that create jobs and investment. We have got to lighten the regulatory burden on business, and in the last 18 months we’ve had an Environmental Protection Agency that is out of control, and the regulatory burden that they’ve imposed on American business in the last 18 months is stifling economic growth.

“You’ve got to abandon the anti-business policies – card check, cap and trade, the national health-insurance program with massive employer mandates, fines and penalties, government intrusion into every private-sector aspect of the economy. These are not policies that create jobs. These are policies that kill jobs, and they will drive the economy back into recession if we don’t change them.

“The good news is that I’m convinced that we’re making the right decisions with our choices in Virginia. We’re positioning our state to take advantage of a future economic recovery. What I’m not as convinced of right now is that we’re pursuing policies at the national level that will spur an economic recovery. I think they need to take a very different track,” Bolling said.

Obama, talking with reporters in Washington, was laying out an agenda that doesn’t sound terribly dissimilar from what Bolling was advocating. The president’s plan includes $200 billion in tax cuts for businesses to purchase new equipment and write off 100 percent of the new investments through the end of 2011, $100 billion to extend research and development tax credits to businesses and $50 billion for infrastructure improvements.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, late in the game, has released his own plan to fix the economy that calls for Congress to freeze most government spending for next year at 2008 levels and to enact a two-year freeze on all current tax rates.

How the Boehner plan does anything to quell the uncertainty that is supposedly holding everything up is anybody’s question. A statement released by the Ohio Republican asserted that it would.

“Half-hearted proposals and full-throated political attacks won’t end the uncertainty that is keeping small businesses from creating jobs. Republicans have proposed a two-part plan to boost the economy now by freezing all tax rates for two years and cutting government spending to where it was before all the bailouts, government takeovers, and ‘stimulus’ spending sprees. This is a plan Congress can and should act on this month. If the president is serious about focusing on jobs, he should be willing to sit down with Republicans and discuss this new idea to get the economy moving again,” reads the statement from Boehner released on Friday.

To Warner, Obama’s problem is that he doesn’t speak the language of business, and that thus even good policy ideas in the business and economic arenas can tend to fall flat.

“I feel like at times in business you have to speak the language of business,” said Warner, who founded Nextel before making the transition from the world of big business to the world of politics. “When you’re talking about deleveraging or you’re talking about your balance sheet, there’s terminology that people feel comfortable with, and I sometimes feel that the administration right now – the business community is speaking here, they’re speaking here, they’re not that far apart, but they don’t hear each other,” Warner said.

Bolling doesn’t buy the “speaking the language of business” theory of Warner.

“I think it’s more than just not speaking the language of business. The policies that they’re pursuing aren’t pro-business policies,” Bolling said. “This stuff isn’t rocket science. We know what it takes to get the economy moving again and creating jobs. It means lower taxes, less regulation, and policies that unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of America, as opposed to higher taxes, more regulations, and policies that grow the government.”

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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