- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

Fiscal conservatism for Virginia has been a sound course that must be maintained at time when the state is grappling with pockets of double-digit unemployment and the federal debt is ballooning, said Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate told The Washington Times in an interview that Virginia’s attitude toward business and the requirement to keep the budget balanced have put the state in a comparatively good position. At the same time, he said, he sees improving education and transportation infrastructure and not job creation as the state’s primary role in helping fuel prosperity.

“I think it’s paid off for us to be fiscally conservative and frugal, a relatively low-service state. It is part of the reason why we continue to be named the best state for business in the country,” Mr. Deeds said Saturday while driving between campaign stops in Bedford and Roanoke.

The candidate, his son Gus and staffers contended with steady rain as they tried to make the most of abbreviated campaign stops spread across the state. After the Bedford Centerfest was canceled, the candidate met with about 40 supporters at the local Democratic club. There, he spoke passionately about the needs of the state and the surprise of being a local guy from a “dirt farm” in Bath County who has the opportunity to run for governor.

Later, he told The Washington Times that he sees concern in Virginia about the national economy.

“People are upset about mounting federal debt. They’re upset because in large pockets of the economy we haven’t seen the recovery yet that people would’ve hoped for,” he said.

Despite that, he said, his job as a candidate is to get Virginians to focus on what the governor can do, which is to propose a budget and look for ways to lure businesses to the commonwealth.

“My task is to refocus Virginians on what the governor’s office is about. What I can do as governor to restore confidence in the economy to create jobs and opportunity in every corner of the commonwealth,” he said.

When the next governor comes to office, he will be required to balance the budget without the benefit of federal stimulus money, which has acted as a buffer against declining revenues in the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

The state is battling a massive budget shortfall of about $1.5 billion. Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, has ordered that state agencies trim their budgets and announced that several hundred state employees will be laid off.

Mr. Deeds and his Republican opponent Robert F. McDonnell have pledged tax incentives for business.

After the Henry Street Festival in Roanoke was rained out, Mr. Deeds improvised. He and his campaign staff stopped at various small businesses at the city’s historic farmers market. Shaking hands and chatting with people, Mr. Deeds paused often to watch Virginia Tech’s football victory over Miami. He also swung by the Weiner Stand, a stop that’s a political tradition and a place where he’s been coming since he was a teenager.

Mr. Deeds says every business that creates a job gets a tax credit and that the state has a greater role in providing the infrastructure to enable businesses to thrive.

“State government really doesn’t create jobs. State government creates the environment that is conducive to the creation of jobs,” Mr. Deeds said. “State government is primarily in the infrastructure business. If you make the right investments in the infrastructure of the economy that is primarily transportation and education, you allow the private sector to prosper and create all the jobs and the wealth and the revenue you need.”

Mr. Deeds said the largest impediment to continued prosperity is the state’s transportation system, which he has pledged to make a priority if elected governor.

He has said that he will not rule out new taxes if they are part of a bipartisan bill that contained a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation.

Those areas with the worst transportation problems have been the most protected against the economic downturn.

“Transportation needs must be met in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, but overall the economies of the two areas are insulated against the recession because of defense contracting and military spending.

“You don’t have those buffers in the Southwest and Southside.” Some counties and cities there have double-digit unemployment, he said. “People are really hurting.”

Danville and Martinsville, had respectively 14.6 percent and 22.1 percent unemployment in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The only way those areas of the state will recover and move forward, Mr. Deeds said, is creativity.

“You have to think of economic development from a multifaceted approach. Yes, manufacturing is still going to be part of our economy but it’s like [Democratic Sen.] Mark Warner used to say: ‘Low-skilled, low-wage jobs are always going to go where the wages are lowest.’ We’ve got to develop the smartest work force in the world so we can attract the smartest jobs in the world to Virginia. That’s why we’ve got to invest in education. Gone are the days of low-skilled manufacturing jobs. We need the high-wage manufacturing jobs - the high-skilled employees,” he said.

Mr. Deeds’ plan to fix the economy includes doubling the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, which helps provide incentives to businesses coming to the state; increasing state contracts for small, woman-and minority-owned businesses; and bringing nurses to underserved areas of the state. But his biggest focus is on educating the work force. He wants to add $10 million in job training so workers can handle whatever jobs come to the state.

For cities like Danville and Martinsville that need to be rejuvenated, he said, “you have to be about keeping what’s special about the place but looking for new ways for people to survive there - survive and thrive.”

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