Transportation funding, teacher raises and restoring rights to non-violent offenders were a few of the topics explored Wednesday night by Gov. Bob McDonnell in his State of the Commonwealth speech at the Capitol in Richmond.
"The Virginia General Assembly has met in this building for 220 years — the Speaker was just a young boy during that first session," the governor said, grinning at Speaker Bill Howell (R-28th) seated behind him.
"I ask that you not conclude this session without approving a long-term transportation funding plan for Virginia," said McDonnell to members of the General Assembly in the House Chamber. "Do not send me a budget that does not include new transportation funding. We are all out of excuses. We must act now."
"We will be the first state in the nation to eliminate the gas tax, which is projected to be in a long term decline." He predicts the plan will generate "$600 million more than our current gas tax revenues from organic economic growth, not tax increases" for transportation projects across the Commonwealth.
McDonnell also asked state lawmakers to support legislation that would restore civil rights to non-violent offenders. The move prompted a standing ovation from House Democrats.
McDonnell also proposed:
- Giving Virginia public school teachers their first state-supported pay raise since 2007. The raise would be given on the condition that the teachers receive positive performance ratings and that probation periods for new teachers are increased from three to five years.
- Starting the Teach for America program in the Commonwealth.
- Placing a reading specialist in each school that scores below 75 percent in the 3rd grade Standard of Learning test.
- Increasing the number of public charter schools in the Commonwealth
- Adding $50 million to the Rainy Day fund
- On mental health, allocating $5 million for specific adult and child crisis services, and an additional $1 million for children's mental health services.
- A $1,000 incentive for up to 1,000 families who adopt foster care children.
- A $200 million water quality improvement bond issue that would provide $100 million for wastewater treatment plant upgrades, and $35 million for urban storm water projects in multiple municipalities.
- Increasing TAG grants from $2,800 to $3,100 per student.
- Recommending an additional $31 million for Virginia's public colleges and universities to continue to add more slots for in-state students.
Del. David Toscano (D-57th), the Democratic leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, responded to McDonnell's speech by objecting to legislation passed in last year's General Assembly session, and also emphasized that Democrats in the House would try to work with Republicans if both parties stayed away from social issues and stuck to improving Virginia's economy:
"...Last year," said Toscano, "Virginia's legislature became known for the fodder we provided to late night talk shows as the Republican majority passed several bills that injected government between a woman and her doctor...
"As the Democratic leader of the House of Delegates, I am hopeful that Virginians can take Governor McDonnell and Republicans at their word that this year's session will be devoted to common sense solutions to our problems. We cannot move forward with crumbling and congested roads, overcrowded and underfunded schools and a system in which too many families are without basic necessities like health insurance."