Governor Ralph Northam touted the General Assembly’s controversial redirecting of regional transportation funding to Metrorail at a lunch with the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce today.
Referring to the General Assembly’s extended 2018 session, he pointed to major infrastructure investments in the Port of Virginia and Metrorail.
“One of the things that I am so proud, in a bipartisan way, your legislators came together this year and put a dedicated source of revenue for Metro, $154 million that will continue year after year,” Northam said, “and Metro transportation infrastructure is vitally important, not only to Northern Virginia, but to all of Virginia.”
The General Assembly’s Metro funding legislation was not universally well received in Northern Virginia, including by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. The state put little new money into Metro; most of that funding was stripped from regional transportation projects by redirecting money from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. That drew strong criticism from local elected officials, businesses, and regional transportation and business groups for trying to solve Metro’s problem by further hobbling efforts to catch up on other transportation needs in Northern Virginia.
In March, Chamber President and CEO Tony Howard likened it to “pulling your fingers out of one hole in the dike and putting it into another. You haven’t really made progress.”
Every Loudoun state senator and delegate except Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33) voted to protect Northern Virginia Transportation Authority funding, instead supporting draft language from Northam’s office that would have instead raised taxes on real estate transactions and stays in guest lodging like hotels to raise that funding.
Northam also celebrated Virginia’s investments in education and health care in the state’s budget, which was passed after a fraught process delayed by a divide between the two chambers of the General Assembly over whether to expand Medicare in Virginia. He said “it wasn’t that long ago that Virginia was the number one state in this great country of ours in which to do business.”
“If I have anything to do with it, I want to bring Virginia back to being the number one state in which to do business,” Northam said. Ultimately the state legislature did expand Medicare in Virginia, extending health coverage to hundreds of thousands of people, along with putting a half billion dollars in reserve to protect the state’s triple-A credit rating. The state also put millions into both public schools and higher education.
He told the business community gathered at the lunch that his administration is working to expand broadband and reduce business regulations in the state.
“In 2018, if you don’t have access to broadband, to the internet, then your hands are tied,” Northam said. “And think about children who we’re trying to educate who are working on computers at school, and then go home and have an assignment and don’t have access to the internet.” He said his administration “will make sure that everybody in Virginia has access to broadband.”
And going forward, he said areas like Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads need to diversify their economies “with some urgency” away from federal contracting and the military.
In his remarks he also frequently referenced his predecessor in the executive mansion, Terry McAuliffe. He recounted the pranks McAuliffe left behind for him in the bedroom of the executive mansion—including, he said, pillows with McAuliffe’s face on them that read “you can sleep when you’re dead” and alarm clocks hidden around the room that began going off at 3 a.m.