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Local representatives praise McDonnell's speech

Thursday, January 10, 2013

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

Three area legislators gave Gov. Bob McDonnell high marks for his State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday, calling the address bold and the governor visionary.

Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County, noted that McDonnell gave a positive, upbeat look back at his past three years in office and look ahead to his last year in the Governor’s Mansion.

“You can’t help but admire the accomplishments of the commonwealth considering what we’ve been through economically” during McDonnell’s time in office, Merricks said. “You have to admire him and his staff for thinking outside the box. They come up with solutions” and have been successful. “It’s hard to argue with results.”

Del. Charles Poindexter and Sen. Bill Stanley, both Glade Hill Republicans, and Merricks all praised McDonnell’s proposals to improve K-12 education and seek a solution to the long-standing problem of transportation funding, among other issues.

One thing McDonnell did not mention was the expected battle over lifting the ban on mining uranium in Virginia. The mining is proposed for the Coles Hill site in Merricks’ home county, and he opposes it.

“On the way out, he (McDonnell) asked Danny (Marshall, R-Danville) in jest where he stands on uranium mining,” Merricks said. Marshall also opposes lifting the ban.

Area legislators are trying to meet with the governor to talk about uranium mining, Merricks said. The governor has not taken a stand on lifting the ban, and Merricks said it is “hard to say where he will come down” on the issue.

Stanley said he was surprised McDonnell did not mention the uranium mining issue. Stanley has said he opposes lifting the ban.

“By the same token, it’s an issue that’s probably better for the General Assembly to debate rather than the governor,” Stanley said Wednesday night.

He added that he does not know if McDonnell will take a position on the question.

“I think he trusts the legislature to make the decision. I think he’s leaving it to us,” Stanley said.

Poindexter said he is awaiting a socio-economic report on the issue next week and the proposed legislation to develop regulations for mining before he takes a stand on lifting the ban. He said Wednesday he was not surprised that McDonnell didn’t mention the issue, and he does not know if the governor will take a position on it.

“The governor is providing leadership, as he should,” Poindexter said of Wednesday’s speech. “The general thrust is about jobs, economic development, education and efficient government. That is the real overarching message.”

Poindexter was especially pleased that McDonnell proposed innovative solutions to finding transportation funds.

“There are things in the package that people are going to like and things in the package they are not going to like. It’s always that way,” he said. But, Poindexter added, the governor has “put at least a midterm solution to transportation on the table. It is time for legislators on both sides of the aisle to step forward and move on the package.”

Merricks also mentioned McDonnell’s proposed teacher raises; restoring felons’ rights; and increasing funds for mental health as well as transportation.

“They are all great things. It takes a visionary to do that,” Merricks said after the speech. He added that McDonnell has allocated funds to cover his plans but “whether it will be enough, I don’t know.”

Merricks said he supports efforts to improve charter schools in the state, but he stopped short of saying he supported McDonnell’s proposal for a constitutional amendment that would allow the state Board of Education to authorize charter school applicants.

Currently, local boards must authorize the applicants, Poindexter said, adding, “we have to move past that.”

The governor said Virginia has the weakest public charter schools laws in the nation, so it cannot attract the best charter school operators.

“Other states have shown it (charter schools) is a viable option. In Virginia, it takes people two hours to watch ‘60 Minutes,’” Merricks said. “It takes them a while to come on board.”

Stanley said McDonnell’s speech showed the governor’s hands-on approach, his “keen knowledge of the issues Virginia faces,” and his determination to offer solutions.

“Instead of resting on his laurels, he’s given us serious” proposals to consider, Stanley said.

He called McDonnell’s education initiatives bold, and said if approved, they will help return Virginia schools to preeminence nationwide. He also praised his proposals on charter schools, teacher pay raises and a new statewide Opportunity Educational Institution.

According to the governor, that institution would be a statewide school division that would step in to help schools that failed consistently.

Stanley also commended McDonnell’s effort to develop plans for security in the schools in light of the Connecticut elementary school shootings last month. “Nothing should be spared to ensure” the safety of Virginia students, Stanley added.

He predicted that McDonnell’s plan to expedite restoration of rights to convicted felons will be “hotly debated.” Poindexter said improvements are needed in that area, but “we need to go slowly on that and make common-sense decisions on how to bring folks released from prison back into life. We need to do it but in a methodical, somewhat cautious and open-minded way.”

Stanley also said he will work to see that Southern Virginia is included in transportation discussions as McDonnell’s proposals are considered. “I will make sure construction of I-73 and (continued work on) U.S. 58 are front and center,” he added.

Funds are needed to maintain and improve the state’s transportation system, Stanley said. “At the same time, we can’t put the burden on Virginia taxpayers, especially during tough economic times,” he said.

“Comprehensive tax reform probably is needed here,” he said, including an examination of how the state generates money.

Both Poindexter and Stanley said they expect much of McDonnell’s package to be approved by the General Assembly.

“He’s a very popular governor” who is providing leadership and works well with people of both political parties, Poindexter added.

Marshall could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.


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