As the presidential election of 2012 draws near, the polls in Virginia are very close. Virginia's 13 electoral votes may determine who will be our new president. Mitt Romney seems to have a slight lead, but clearly, the messages of the two major candidates in the last week of the campaign will determine the winner.
For President Obama to win Virginia, he must have a large turnout and high margins in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. I think those two communities will be especially focused on the financial crisis that will be upon us right after the election and the impact that will have on their lives. Virginians will vote for the candidate they think will bring the prospect of a better economy, more job security and a brighter future for our children.
The Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads communities are deeply affected by defense spending. Those communities are very concerned about the automatic federal budget reductions coming after Jan. 1. Without a new budget deal, which will be fought out after the election, there will be automatic cuts in the defense budget of 20 percent, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs in the defense industries that are so key to the families in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Lockheed Martin was about to issue layoff notices until the federal government insisted that it not do so, at least until after the election.
This fiscal crisis has arisen from the budget impasse of August 2011. To avoid a shutdown of the federal government, Republicans in Congress agreed to raise the debt limit of the U.S. government to allow more borrowing to meet our federal spending. Addressing how federal spending was increasing our debt was deferred. The trade-off for Republican support was an agreement for a "supercommittee" to be formed to reduce federal spending to help balance the budget. The supercommittee was empaneled but failed to agree on a solution. That was because some Democrats insisted on raising taxes. Republicans understood that raising taxes reduces investment and job creation, and they refused to go along with tax increases.
Now we are headed for the "fiscal cliff" right after the election. If nothing changes, tax rates will increase, taxes on investment income will increase, and the payroll tax will go up. Payroll tax increases place added burdens on employers, especially small businesses. Anyone paying his own payroll tax, as many do in Northern Virginia, will take a hit. New Medicare taxes will be imposed, and more Virginians will be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax. A "sequestration" of federal funds will mean an automatic reduction of 20 percent of the defense budget without allocation to the most important part of our defense readiness. Giant reductions in the defense budgets will mean the loss of thousands of jobs in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. This crisis is here now. The outcome of this election will determine what happens next.
This situation should be of special concern for the prominent black and Hispanic communities of Virginia. A weak economy hits those communities harder than anyone else. While unemployment is a very unacceptable 7.8 percent in the United States, unemployment in the black community in September was 13.4 percent. In the Hispanic community, unemployment was 11.5 percent. No one should think the families and children in the black and Hispanic communities are less important to the future of our country than any other families. We must be concerned about the black and Hispanic fathers and mothers struggling every day to make a living and working to send their children to school and college. Yet during the past four years, the president has offered no plan or leadership to resolve this impending financial disaster.
As I've noted previously, Mr. Obama's smooth, cool manner is no substitute for seriousness of purpose. That coolness of the president was on full display in his first debate, to the point of his appearing detached from the concerns of families across America. In fact, the president literally has jeered at the idea of cutting taxes as an incentive for investment and growth. The truth is that some in the president's party will be served best by doing nothing and allowing our economy to go over the fiscal cliff. They automatically will get what they want: increased taxes and reduction in defense spending to pay for other programs. The president's campaign continues to insist that the solution is tax increases, blind to the fact that tax increases will cost jobs.
Standing pat is not an option. We must have an affirmative program to avoid the fiscal cliff and enact pro-growth legislation. For this reason, the Senate race in Virginia is crucial. George Allen will support Mr. Romney's action agenda. Tim Kaine will oppose it. Virginians are ready to vote for a better vision of America's future. This is especially true in the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads communities so deeply affected by the president's policies.
Virginians know -- for their children's future -- it is time for a change. Virginia will vote for Mitt Romney on Nov. 6.
James S. Gilmore III served as governor of Virginia from 1998-2002.