I don't pretend to have all the answers, or a monopoly on good ideas. But I have a set of policy and legislative priorities that I will champion in the House of Delegates:
Among government's top responsibilities is to be a good steward of the people's money and to focus public investment on sectors that yield the most benefit for the most people. Government shouldn't try to run people's lives or solve every conceivable problem. Instead we should focus our finite resources on things (like the issue areas below) that will generate real benefit and help to unleash the vast creative talent and economic potential of our people, our businesses and our academic and scientific-technical communities. I believe that families know how to invest and spend their money better than government does, so we should limit the growth of government spending and instead put more money back in the hands of people, and the businesses that create new and better jobs and grow our economy for the benefit of all Virginians.
I think it speaks volumes that, when it became clear that inaction by the General Assembly relative to conformity of the state's tax code with the recently revised federal tax laws would result in a multibillion-dollar revenue windfall -- effectively a massive tax increase on Virginia's families -- the first impulse of the Northam administration and the Democratic caucus in the General Assembly was to spend it all. Instead, I proposed that any such revenue windfall be returned to the taxpayers who paid that money in the first place -- allowing them to save, invest or spend it in whatever combination makes the most sense for each of them. We should be looking for more ways to promote economic growth, investment and job creation by taxing less, not spending more. Happily, the Republican majority passed tax relief this session, and I'm committed to fighting any future attempts to impose new taxes on Virginia's families and businesses.
Economic growth in Virginia hasn't neared peak potential for some time. We've slipped or fluctuated in annual rankings of the most business-friendly states and -- make no mistake -- we compete directly with other states for business investment, job creation, and the most innovative new companies and brightest human minds. We need to remove excessive red tape and regulations that are stifling the creation of vibrant new businesses and inhibiting the growth of established enterprises. Eliminating excessive business fees, lowering taxes, and creating incentives for businesses of all kinds -- including agricultural as well as industrial and high-tech -- to set up in Virginia and stay in Virginia will expand job creation and give all Virginians more opportunities to find well-paying jobs with attractive benefits. Rather than fearing global economic interrelationships, Virginia should be at the forefront of exploiting them, and continually expanding both its export markets and its ability to attract foreign investment. I'll work with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Virginia Department of Commerce and Trade, and the US Department of Commerce to implement new ideas and new programs to put the Commonwealth at the forefront of US export-driven business growth.
Too often, we underestimate the effects of chronic transportation congestion on our economy, our environment and our quality of life. We waste fuel, we pollute our air, and we compromise our quality of life: We lose valuable time behind the wheel or stuck in traffic even on mass transit systems -- time in which we otherwise could be productively engaged or with our families. We have some of the worst traffic in the country. Our mass transit options are expensive, offer few attractive "feeder routes" from outlying areas like our district, and frequently deliver poor customer comfort (Some of the busiest Metro stations on the Red Line repeatedly go through summers with air conditioning systems that are essentially inoperative). We can and must do better.
Virginia should be an innovator in this area. Yes, we need additional and wider roads, and better maintained roads, in our region. But pavement alone is not the answer. We should be exploring new ideas like public-private partnerships for creating accessible telework centers, and for additional Express Lanes. In a global economy linked by modern telecommunications, many businesses should be able to accommodate, and indeed benefit from, innovative staffing solutions and workforce management techniques. Rather than expanding very expensive "heavy" rail systems that require a dedicated right-of-way, we should develop new and efficient bus rapid transit systems. We should invest in promising technologies, bringing to bear the talent of Virginia's universities and high-tech sector, so that perhaps we can put emission-free electric buses and other transit vehicles on existing roadways, while offering superior comfort and convenience (Wi-Fi access, reliable climate control, platform loading, and more). Virginia is blessed with abundant technical, engineering and business expertise. Let's put that talent to work for the good of all Virginians, and not be afraid to dream big.
By now I think everyone knows that my opponent was the chief patron of a bill that would have legalized abortions up to the moment of birth; would have eliminated both informed consent and parental consent; would have eliminated the requirement for the concurrence of two (or even one) additional physicians; and would have made such late-term and partial-birth abortions permissible simply because the continued pregnancy "likely...would impair the mental health" of the woman. Our governor and other officials subsequently appeared to say that any infant that survived such a procedure could be "kept comfortable" while the mother and physician (who both has just tried to terminate the pregnancy) engaged in a "discussion" of what to do with it.
I'm no zealot, but by any objective standard, this sort of extreme, Orwellian social and political policy is appalling and has no place in Virginia. We routinely and appropriately charge those who murder a woman who is late in her pregnancy with an additional count of infanticide. Why should it be legal to do the same thing in a clinical setting, and solely on the grounds of "mental health impairment"? As you Delegate in Richmond, I steadfastly will oppose any and all such extremist legislation.
Virginia can't do things like be an innovation leader in transportation, or information technology, or advanced telecommunications, or other sectors in the vanguard of economic growth if we do not develop and attract, and then maintain, a highly skilled and dynamic workforce. We cannot expect our children to thrive in the 21st century economy if we do not provide them all with an array of quality educational offerings.
While many decisions concerning education are made at the local level by elected school boards, state government has an important role to play. Virginia needs a sound education strategy and a uniform commitment to focusing effort and resources on the classroom and the skills that children need to have. We should create mechanisms that make it easier for teachers, parents and communities to work together to achieve desired outcomes. We can do more to harness the power and creativity of the business community and our premier universities to help fix failing schools and afford the opportunity for a high-quality education to all of Virginia's children. Too often I hear from primary and early education teachers that we aren't doing enough for special education students, or those who would benefit from an educational "track" that would prepare them for working in a worthwhile trade.
While I believe that standardized tests serve a useful purpose -- giving us common yardsticks with which to measure proficiency in reading, writing, mathematics and so on state-wide -- we don't need to make them an end in themselves. We should give teachers more flexibility in how they teach, while ensuring that our curricula provide more attention to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) without giving short shrift to our great country's (and the world's) history and literature or to foreign languages, the arts, or vocational and technical training.
Given our state's vast potential and talent, and the resources we invest in education, we can and must expect better. In the General Assembly, I'll work across party lines to develop and implement results-focused, common-sense solutions that will give our children the kind of education they need and deserve, one that will help ensure that Virginia remains both a leader in workforce development and the kind of place which dynamic businesses and talented people will want to call home.
It goes without saying that health care is a major concern of people all across our country. It also should go without saying that people of good conscience want for their fellow citizens to have access to affordable, quality health care. But having government directly involved in the process only distorts market forces and soon becomes counterproductive.
No one wins if the entire (artificial) structure collapses. Rather than involving itself directly in the process -- and in so doing making it unsustainable for insurers to stay in business, while using taxpayer funds to subsidize ever-higher premiums -- government should create incentives for a truly functional market that gives consumers more choice while fostering competition to control premiums. I think that common-sense standards like allowing college-age children to remain on their parents' policies while they're just starting out in professional life, or providing for maternity care, are just that -- common sense. But we also should be exploring the creation of larger risk pools by allowing companies to sell insurance across state lines; allowing small businesses and even groups of individuals to band together to form larger risk pools of their own and thus negotiate more attractive premiums for insurance plans whose benefits more closely match their particular coverage needs; and more.
But insurance is only part of the equation. We must tackle the costs of health care as well. A report by The Economist showed that while GDP per person has increased three-fold since 1960, over the same period health spending per person has grown to more than eight times as much. We must find ways to bring costs (especially for pharmaceuticals) under control, give consumers more choices with respect to obtaining primary health care, and restructure and reform "safety net" programs so that we can provide care for those who need the most help and do so in a cost-effective way.
As I've said before, "We're all in this together." If we put aside partisan rancor and instead focus on our people and their needs, we can develop and implement bold new solutions for delivering the standard of care that has made our country the envy of the world, without busting our budgets and thereby destroying the very foundations of the system of care that we are trying to save.
While I'm a strong proponent of fiscal discipline, one issue area to which Virginia needs to devote greater effort and resources is that of combating the interrelated scourges of substance abuse/addiction and mental illness. You've no doubt read about our country's growing problem with opiate addiction, and the associated resurgence of addiction to (cheaper) heroin. Yet the scope of the problem right here in Virginia is appalling. Drug overdoses surpassed both motor-vehicle related fatalities and gun-related fatalities as the number one cause of unnatural death in 2013.
I've seen these problems manifest themselves in my own neighborhood, and have seen the effects they have had on some of my friends' and neighbors' families. These are all the more heart-rending when we see our young people caught in a downward spiral around the mutually reinforcing ills of addiction and mental illness. In the case of many adults, mental illness has been a root cause of violent crime, including domestic violence. Put plainly, our mental/behavioral health care and addiction treatment systems are letting down our fellow Virginians most in need. When we continually fail them, we also expose our broader communities to greater risk.
This has to stop. As a legislator, I will be committed to overhauling and improving our health care system so that those most in need can reliably get the help they deserve. We must adopt a holistic approach, one that addresses all facets of these problems, including education, prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery. We must focus more law enforcement attention and action on those who prey upon the most vulnerable in our society, most especially our children, and put those people out of business and behind bars. My vision is for a task force comprised of lawmakers, medical and mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, and a cross-section of citizens (including parents) to look at best practices around the country and then to develop practical recommendations that the state and our civic institutions can put into law and practice to provide meaningful and measurable improvement in this area. We owe it to our fellow Virginians, and to our children, to make this a priority.
Please check back often for new and updated information on these and other issues.
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Steve will bring a proven record of problem-solving and innovative leadership to the General Assembly in Richmond. Open-minded and non-parochial, he'll be an active listener and will solicit ideas and input from citizens, the business community, professional organizations, labor groups, and technical specialists. He's the kind of leader we need to represent us in the House of Delegates.