TO THE MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY:
As is customary, I write to you at the conclusion of the 2016 General Assembly session to express my appreciation for your support on the budgetary and legislative priorities advanced by our administration this year as we make progress in our efforts to build a new Virginia economy.
This year’s legislative session was remarkable for the range and complexity of the issues that confronted us. Faced with these significant challenges, we found common cause in the targeted investments and forward-looking reforms outlined in our budget and legislative agenda.
Midway through my administration’s four-year term, we built on our successes over the past two years and took decisive steps forward on education, workforce development, transportation and public safety with the shared confidence that we are moving the Commonwealth in the right direction.
Our most auspicious achievement this year is the new two-year budget that invests more than $1 billion in additional support for education at all levels. State funding for our public schools deteriorated during the recession, forcing our communities to reduce staff and adopt various austerity measures. With this budget, we send a clear message that state leaders are ready to shoulder our fair share of responsibility for providing Virginia students with a world-class education.
Just as important, this budget recognizes the partnership that exists on education and accommodates the unique needs of each community, providing local schools with the flexibility they need to excel.
We also received bipartisan support for a logical and long-overdue update to Virginia’s approach to high school education, placing a greater emphasis on hands-on learning, internships, early college courses and industry credentials, rather than classroom seat-time.
The education investments in our budget are comprehensive and designed to strengthen our talent pipeline from pre-kindergarten to workforce development. Workforce training represents the final, crucial mile of that pipeline, and we can be proud of the progress we have made together to transform this important component of our New Virginia Economy Strategic Plan. We inherited a system that was disjointed, inefficient and lacking a clear direction. We have worked methodically to untangle the web of redundant programs and transform Virginia’s approach to workforce development so that we more effectively serve the needs of our students, our businesses and our economy.
This year, we took a significant step forward with legislation that establishes Virginia’s first statewide program to provide workforce training for industry certifications that meet the needs of businesses in each region. With this new law, Virginia becomes the first state in the nation to create a pay-for-performance workforce training program.
Some of our most valuable employees in our workforce are our veterans. We worked together to give former medics and corpsmen a new pathway to careers in health care. We fully funded our new veteran care centers for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia and the expansion of the Virginia War Memorial.
As for economic development, we made great strides in broadband, bioscience and cyber security. $350 million was included for terminal expansions at the Port of Virginia, part of our aggressive work to expand international trade and grow our existing businesses by connecting them to global markets. I am also pleased that we were able to work together again this year to provide pay increases for our hard-working state employees, teachers and deputy sheriffs. These raises support continuity and quality in our public sector workforce at the state and local levels, a key objective that contributes to each and every one of our policy goals.
This year we also celebrate two historic agreements that will keep Virginians safer and take a significant step forward to unlock Northern Virginia from the congestion that is preventing this vital region from achieving its full economic potential.
On firearms, we had the courage to set aside many years of heated debate and reach a consensus that protects families from gun violence and increases access to background checks at gun shows while respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens. The resulting state laws will save lives.
On Interstate 66, we demonstrated our determination to put good governance ahead of politics and reached a milestone breakthrough that will relieve congestion in one of the most traffic-choked corridors in the nation’s most traffic-choked region.
This agreement will provide the most significant congestion relief for I-66 commuters in the 30-year history of that road.
While I am pleased at the balance of our work, I must express my deep remorse at the opportunities lost this year to disorder and acrimony.
The firing of a highly qualified Supreme Court Justice and the haphazard process for replacing her was an unprecedented political affront to the independence of our judiciary, the branch of government we depend on to apply calm and deliberative thought to our Commonwealth’s thorniest disputes.
Finally, it is disappointing that Virginia lawmakers have given meager attention to the pressing need to provide their constituents and communities access to high-quality health care. Their failure to act is costing us $6.6 million a day in federal dollars that could be providing much-needed medical services to our families. I understand that change is difficult, but I continue to welcome anyone willing to discuss the alternatives available to us, all of them better than the status quo.
As elected officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we are all accountable to our constituents for our actions and our inaction. While it is clear we did not reach our full potential, I believe our constituents will look at the entirety of our work this year and be pleased at the progress we made.