Virginia Democrats raised questions about Gov. Bob McDonnell’s approach to the state spending plan, during a taped response to his first address to a joint session of the legislature.
After the jump, you can find the full text of the response, delivered by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and state Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton).
“Good evening, I am Dick Saslaw, Virginia State Senate Majority Leader
“And I am Mamie Locke, Virginia State Senator from Hampton.
“Thank you for your time this evening, and for the opportunity to tell you how Democrats view the state of our Commonwealth. We would first like to join all Virginians in commemorating today as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Dr. King dedicated his life to delivering the “more perfect union” our founders promised, and his words and deeds still inspire today.
“Earlier you heard from our new Governor, Bob McDonnell. We congratulate Governor McDonnell on his election and look forward to working with him to address the challenges facing Virginia. We will work with the Governor to increase employment opportunities, ensure the best education possible for our children, and find solutions to our transportation crisis. We also pledge to stand firm when we believe the best interests of the state are being compromised. We will, at all times, conduct ourselves in a manner that makes Virginians proud.
“Our two previous Democratic Governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, worked to position the Commonwealth for sustained success. Our combined efforts have earned Virginia the title of “Best State for Business”; our investments in early childhood education made Virginia the state where a child is most likely to have a successful life and our adherence to Virginia’s traditionally sound budgeting and fiscal principles earned us the title of “Best Managed State.” We are extremely proud to have contributed to these tremendous achievements.
CHALLENGES“We cannot rest on our laurels when so many Virginia families and businesses are struggling. Our transportation program remains grossly underfunded. Without adequate state funding for our K-12 schools and our world class colleges and universities, higher education gets further out of reach for all Virginians. This limits our ability to compete in the global economy. We also face new challenges brought on by the worldwide economic slowdown that began nearly three years ago. An unacceptable number of Virginians are out of work which is why creating and retaining jobs in all parts of the Commonwealth remains our top priority.
“Virginia has certainly felt the effects of the current recession. Since 2007 we have cut $7 billion in spending from the state’s budget without increasing taxes. Unlike the Federal government we must balance our budget annually. Strategic cuts have been made to minimize the impact on critical state services. Now we have reached the point where additional cuts can and will cause the loss of both jobs and services.
“One month ago, Governor Kaine proposed a balanced budget that includes significant budget cuts. Governor McDonnell has declared the entire plan dead on arrival. Please understand what that declaration means. By rejecting Kaine’s plan, Governor McDonnell is forcing an additional $2 billion in cuts. Cuts will now total $4.3 billion instead of $2.3 billion. McDonnell’s cuts will mean the elimination of more critical services and thousands of layoffs to public employees, including our teachers and public safety professionals. We await Governor McDonnell’s detailed plan on how he would make his additional $2 billion in cuts.“And now, I’d like to introduce again, Senator Mamie Locke.
“Thank you Senator Saslaw. I’d like to tell you a little more about the priorities of the Virginia Democrats, as well as what you can expect from us, and what we expect from our new Governor.
“We have done all we can to protect funding for K-12 education, but it is no longer possible to place any portion of the budget off limits. Public education remains a top priority for Democrats. We also know that education means jobs. The previously proposed cuts to education will have a significant impact, but Governor McDonnell’s course of action will double the pain. Estimates indicate the level of cuts chosen by the Governor could result in 23,000 layoffs in public education across the state. We intend to maintain Virginia’s leadership status in public education. We ask Governor McDonnell to join us in opposing permanent cuts to our public schools and far reaching job losses that will follow.
“Virginia must find a way to ensure an adequate and sustainable transportation program. Two of our most economically vibrant regions, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, are in danger of being choked off by crippling congestion. We are at a competitive disadvantage by pitching a sub-par transportation network to potential employers. There are also serious public safety concerns. Hampton Roads lacks the capacity to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people if threatened by a hurricane, and nearly 2,000 bridges across the Commonwealth are in need of repair or replacement.
“The Senate has shown that we are serious about fixing our transportation problems. One thing we will not do is build roads on the backs of school children. We look forward to working with Governor McDonnell as he leads his fellow Republicans to address this problem that should have been fixed long ago.
“Finally, ensuring public safety is an irrefutable responsibility of government and we have the utmost respect for the men and women that put themselves in harm’s way every day to maintain our safety and security. Recognizing again that all portions of the budget will bear some burden, we will work to prevent disproportional and potentially crippling cuts to public safety programs. Our public safety officials, including sheriffs, sheriff’s deputies, local and state law enforcement officers, deserve more than our respect, they deserve our support.
“Governor McDonnell chose as his inauguration theme, “A Commonwealth of Opportunity,” and we will work with him, as well as our Republican and Democratic colleagues to make sure that Virginia is a place of limitless opportunity. We ask Governor McDonnell to join us as we create a Commonwealth of Prosperity that remains the best state for business and a magnet for economic development. We ask him to join us as we create a Commonwealth of Innovation where our limited resources are used in creative ways that deliver results for all Virginians. And we ask him to make ours a Commonwealth of Compassion where, even in challenging times, we care for the most vulnerable among us— the young, the old, and the ill.
“We all know Virginia faces significant challenges, but in our 400 year history we have faced worse and come out stronger. As we work through this challenging legislative session, we will never forget what it means to be a Virginia Democrat. A Virginia Democrat focuses on results, not process, places pragmatism above partisanship, and values reality above ideology.
“We are not in Richmond for personal achievement, nor to embark on ideological crusades, nor go to battle against perceived foes. You have sent us here with an expectation that we will maintain the progress made in recent years, and continue to move the Commonwealth forward even in difficult times, and that is what we will do.
“Thank you again for letting us share our perspective with you. Good night.”