RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell laid out a sweeping vision for the final two years of his tenure Wednesday evening, asking the General Assembly to help him create jobs, invest in education and transportation, and shore up the state's depleted retirement system.
Mr. McDonnell welcomed the legislature back to Richmond with a spring in his step and a bolstered Republican majority to help back it up - but he nevertheless issued words of caution to both parties in his annual State of the Commonwealth address.
"To the members in the majority, I say: Don't be arrogant. Don't overreach," he said. "To the members in the minority: Don't be angry. Don't obstruct. To all of us: Let's be civil and productive."
Mr. McDonnell highlighted some of his noteworthy accomplishments thus far, such as the $4 billion transportation package he helped shepherd through the 2011 General Assembly, his efforts toward getting 100,000 more college degrees awarded over the next 15 years, and the businesses the state has been able to attract - including Acentia and Bechtel poached from rival Maryland.
Though Virginia has weathered the national economic recession better than other states, now is not time for victory laps, he cautioned.
"Our global economy is still very uncertain," he said. "The actions of the federal government are still very unpredictable. The unemployment rate is still unacceptable. This is not a status-quo period in the life of Virginians and Americans, and so I suggest to you this should not be a status quo session for the Virginia General Assembly."
He pushed the legislature to help him fund five key areas: job creation, pension reform, K-12 and higher education, and transportation.
Mr. McDonnell also said that state employees would be asked to accept some unspecified "plan adjustments" to their retirement plans that he would lay out in the coming days. In addition to the adjustments, he is proposing to infuse $2.2 billion into the state's $20 billion underfunded pension system.
"This new state cash infusion will not, by itself, fix the system," he said. "I will not pass this problem on to another governor. You cannot pass this problem on to another General Assembly."
In the Democratic response, delivered by Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin, Richmond Democrat, and Sen. George Barker, Fairfax Democrat, Mr. Barker highlighted the assembly's bipartisan cooperation in closing a $6 billion shortfall and helping weather the economic storm.
However, Mr. Barker criticized Mr. McDonnell's proposal to cut funding for social programs, such as teen pregnancy prevention and centers for child-abuse victims. Mr. McEachin hit the governor over his funding plan for pre-K and K-12 education, his proposal to shift $110 million from the general fund to use for transportation maintenance, and a voucher-like program that would give tax credits to corporations that provide scholarships for poor children.
"We will work with the governor and with senators and delegates of both parties toward putting Virginia on the right track to economic growth, but we will not agree to short-changing our children and our future," Mr. McEachin said.
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