By Alyx Duckett and Alice Kemp
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and other Republican leaders want the General Assembly to cut government spending and foster economic development during the legislative session that begins Wednesday.
At a press conference Tuesday, GOP officials outlined seven issues for the 2011 General Assembly. They dubbed their agenda “smaller government, stronger economy.”
“This is a positive, forward-looking agenda that recognizes the need for a smaller, smarter state government but also commits to job-creating efforts in the areas of transportation, economic development and higher education,” McDonnell said.
The Republicans said their joint agenda calls for:
* Fiscal responsibility and restructuring, including spending cuts, a hiring freeze and changes in the Virginia Retirement System
* Job creation and economic development
* Higher education reforms and reinvestment
* More funding for transportation
* Protection of private property rights
* Passage of a constitutional “repeal amendment” allowing states to federal laws for policy reasons
* Protection of Virginia’s right-to-work law by mandating that union elections be conducted by secret ballot
While all those points are important, McDonnell said he believes the economy is “the first and foremost issue facing Virginia with 285,000 Virginians unemployed.”
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said the GOP’s economic initiatives would help attract jobs to Virginia and support employers in bio-sciences, energy technology and communications. He called for legislation to provide $54 million in grants and incentives for job creation.
Bolling also wants the General Assembly to approve a $25 million program to help small technology companies in Virginia.
Another focus is renewable energy. Bolling said the Republicans’ proposed Clean Energy Manufacturing Incentive Grant program would give financial assistance to companies that supply renewable and nuclear energy.
“It’s an important part of our overall effort to achieve the goal of making Virginia the East Coast’s energy leader,” Bolling said.
McDonnell plans on continuing state budget cuts with permanent hiring freezes to save about $25 million. He said he wants to reduce funding for areas that are not government priorities, such as public broadcasting.
The governor also proposed eliminating and reducing various vacant state positions, boards and commissions.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli addressed private property rights of individuals. He said governmental entities should have to meet strict requirements before seizing a person’s property.
House Speaker William Howell of Fredericksburg touted the proposed “repeal amendment” to the U.S. Constitution. It would allow states to overturn a federal law by a two-thirds vote.
“It would have the important effect of deterring further expansion of federal power at the expense of the sovereignty of the people and of the several states. This resolution is timely, practical and non-partisan,” Howell said.
Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, laid out the Republicans’ plans for higher education reform.
Norment, the Senate Republican leader, called for accessibility and affordability to ensure that Virginia students have access to top-tier universities without having to worry about financial restrictions.
The General Assembly convenes at noon Wednesday for a 46-day session. On Wednesday night, McDonnell will deliver his State of the Commonwealth Address to a joint meeting of the House and Senate.
In the speech, McDonnell said he plans to discuss Medicaid reform, energy policy, education and other issues.
Alyx Duckett and Alice Kemp are journalism students in the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.