Before we begin, I want to welcome all of you to Mr. Jefferson’s capitol. It is good to be back and I look forward to another productive session.
I especially welcome the five new members who are with us today. You and your family and making a unique sacrifice for a unique opportunity. Thank you for your willingness to serve our Commonwealth and its people.
As I have said many times before, it is an honor to serve as Speaker and an honor to serve in this distinguished body with you. This is my 13th session as Speaker and I continue to be humbled by this job each and every day. And like all of you, I continue to be humbled by the tasks we face as a legislature.
It is said quite often – public service is a privilege. None of us are entitled to the seats we hold in this body.
Perhaps now more than any time in recent memory, we must be mindful of the trust that our fellow citizens have placed in us – and the expectations, duties and obligations inherent to the positions we hold. Our fellow citizens demand honor, integrity and civility. I would encourage all of us – Republicans and Democrats alike – to renew our commitment to meet those standards.
As with every session, this year brings its own set of challenges, but I am confident that we will respond with solutions and leadership.
Our economy faces headwinds as a result of changing federal policies. Long-term growth and economic success will require renewed efforts by all of us. Our goal remains to create an environment that inspires entrepreneurs, attracts new businesses and provides hard-working Virginians with good-paying job opportunities.
We must also continue to build on the efforts of previous years to reform, improve and increase access to education across the Commonwealth. Already this year, a number of proposals have been put forward to support our teachers, give local school leaders more flexibility in the accreditation process and better measure student success. These ideas have drawn broad, bipartisan support. Our goal should be to build a foundation on which each student and teacher can succeed in the classroom.
Virginia is fortunate to have some of the best colleges and universities in the world. But too many of our young people are being saddled with student debt. Making college more affordable is critical to the long-term success of our Commonwealth. Legislation has been introduced to reduce student athletic fees, give smaller and mid-sized schools more flexibility and incentivize the creation of affordable degree programs in high-demand fields. These are good ideas on which we can all work together.
We will also work to amend the Commonwealth’s two-year budget. Of course, most of our work was completed when we were here last November – a testament to bipartisanship and the leadership of this body. However, there is more to be done. Our goal is to adopt a conservative, responsible budget that is structurally balanced and funds the core functions of government.
I know that Chairman Jones and Vice Chairman Landes, as well as the entire Appropriations Committee, are committed to making the budget process more transparent for our members and the public. I thank them for this and am confident that we will deliver a budget on time and without delay.
There will be areas of disagreement. There will be frank and candid negotiations over the budget. There have been countless hours of debate on Medicaid expansion – and I expect there will be more. There are a number of other issues that I don’t need to list.
Disagreement can be productive, but it can also be disruptive and degrading to the tone and stature of this body. Our goal is to ensure the former, not the latter. The people of Virginia do not mind that we disagree, but they do expect us to do so in a manner consistent with our state’s proud history and traditions.
I will conclude by again thanking each of you for your service and dedication to this body, the Commonwealth and its people. We do face challenges, but I am confident we will offer solutions and leadership. And I am hopeful that we can do so with honor, integrity and civility.