TO THE MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY:
I am pleased to write to you at the conclusion of the regular session of the 2014 General Assembly. Thank you for your dedication to the people of Virginia and your service to the Commonwealth.
During the first session of my administration, I am pleased that we have found common ground on many issues including economic development, SOL reform, transportation and veterans issues. I have highlighted some of these achievements below. But our work is not done.
We achieved much success with a bipartisan coalition of legislators to enhance Virginia’s economic development tools so that we can create jobs and grow the economy. Growing Virginia businesses and bringing new ones to the Commonwealth from all over the globe is my top priority as Governor, and the tools we enhanced this session will aid me and my team as we work full time on creating more jobs for Virginians. As I promised during my campaign, I strongly supported legislation that increases the cap on research and development tax credits. This legislation enhances Virginia’s business climate and builds on the strong presence of thriving, innovative companies in the Commonwealth. In addition, I worked hard to secure critical increases for the motion picture production tax credit. This increase is critical for the film industry in Virginia as tax credits provide continuity to potential film clients for long range planning. We are well positioned to continue our success for attracting films and television series with this enhanced economic development tool.
Working with a bipartisan team in both chambers, I was pleased to see the quick success of my first introduced bill in the legislature, Senator Puckett’s Senate Bill 673. This bill addresses the dire need of the City of Bristol to remit sales tax for the repayment of revenue bonds permitted by 2012 legislation establishing a retail development area in the region. The legislation is essential to the continued progress of this important project, which the city would be otherwise unable to complete. I am honored to help this project move forward, which represents a significant local investment and has the expectation of 2,000 jobs for a region that needs them the most.
Few issues came up more often in my campaign for Governor than reforming the Standards of Learning (SOL) program. We know that the SOLs are not meeting the needs of our students, parents and teachers. Therefore, SOL reform was a main priority for my administration this General Assembly Session. With the introduction of bipartisan SOL reform bills by Delegates Tag Greason and Rob Krupicka, and others, we were able to work in concert with legislators, stakeholders and education experts to begin making progress on the important work of reforming and strengthening our standardized testing system.
Delegate Greason’s omnibus bill, House Bill 930, will reduce the number of SOL assessments from 22 to 17 for elementary and middle school students. This legislation empowers teachers to utilize class time in a way that promotes innovative knowledge. In addition, this bill creates the Standards of Learning Innovation Committee which will bring together legislators and stakeholders to review current SOL practices and recommend best practices to ensure that Virginia’s testing structure prepares our students to compete globally in the 21st century.
As for transportation, I strongly supported and worked with House and Senate leaders to produce legislation that outlines a transparent, data-driven process for evaluating new transportation projects. House Bill 2 is a landmark piece of legislation that will play a pivotal role in determining how we spend transportation dollars and will ensure that Virginia’s taxpayers are getting the best value for their money. In addition, I look forward to signing Senate Bill 156, which encourages the use of E-Z Pass transponders and eliminates any unnecessary fees on Virginia’s toll roads.
For public safety, I am proud to have already signed both Senate Bill 381 by Senator Reeves and House Bill 730 by Delegate Lingamfelter, legislation that transfers the responsibility for overseeing and coordinating efforts to strengthen homeland security from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security to the Secretary of Public Safety. This reorganization resulted from a 2013 report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s on disaster preparedness planning in Virginia. This important change will ensure the Commonwealth can effectively and efficiently coordinate preparedness efforts.
I am honored to have worked with the General Assembly to move Virginia forward this session in promoting veterans and their families. Senator Locke carried Senate Bill 18 which will improve financial security for military families by providing unemployment compensation to military spouses who leave their job to accompany their active duty spouse to a new military duty assignment in another state. More than half of active duty service members are married and spouse employment is a key income source for many military families. I strongly supported this legislation and look forward to signing it when it gets to my desk.
While we have proven that we are capable of working together for the common good on many issues, I am disappointed that politics have deadlocked budget negotiations this session, and forced Virginia families to continue to wait until we can bring their money back to expand much-needed health coverage across the Commonwealth. Therefore, upon adjournment Sine Die, I will be calling the House and Senate back for a Special Session commencing on March 24, 2014. My intention is for this session to last for three weeks so the House and Senate can resolve outstanding budget issues and reach an agreement on closing the coverage gap. More than 400,000 uninsured Virginians have been waiting too long to access this coverage. The House and Senate need to find common ground on a path forward that funds the priorities most important to Virginia families, including bringing their money home to keep people healthy, creating up to 30,000 jobs and helping net the Commonwealth $1 billion by 2022.
Again, I commend you on your hard work on behalf of the Virginians who sent us here to represent them. While I regret that partisan politics have prevented the passage of a budget that funds the Commonwealth and closes the coverage gap, I have no doubt that members of the General Assembly will come together and find common ground early in the upcoming Special Session. Thank you for all that you do for the people of our great Commonwealth.
Terence R. McAuliffe