RTD Op-Ed by Speaker Howell

HouseGOP2013 General Assembly Session, Budget, Education, Issues, Jobs & Economy

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Virginia General Assembly convenes for the 2013 legislative session on Wednesday. This year presents a unique opportunity for leaders in Richmond to build on our success in recent years and make real progress for the commonwealth.

In the House of Delegates, we are committed to a core set of priorities — the issues most important to Virginians. Our members, as part-time legislators, have spent the past year at home in their districts, living and working in the communities they represent. The overwhelming consensus we have gathered from Virginians is that jobs, education, a balanced budget and a well-run state government are their top priorities. We share this view.

Virginia has weathered the national economic downturn better than most states. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Bob McDonnell and the policies set by the legislature, our state has a 5.6 percent unemployment rate — the second-lowest rate east of the Mississippi. But there is more work to be done.

We must continue to incentivize job creators by keeping taxes low, ensuring reasonable regulatory policies and developing a stronger, more vibrant workforce.

A pro-growth tax policy can encourage job creation. Governor McDonnell has proposed, and we support, continuing to eliminate the accelerated sales tax for businesses. Our plan will mean the elimination of the accelerated sales tax for 98 percent of the businesses originally affected.

Also, we are proposing a tort reform plan that will cut down on costly and unnecessary lawsuits. We will also continue to look for regulations that burden business owners. A group of legislators and business owners has formed the Business Development Caucus. They have traveled the state seeking input from small-business owners on what we can do to encourage job creation. Every step we take, no matter how big or small, toward making Virginia a better place for jobs is important.

Workforce development and training is another way to attract good jobs to Virginia. We need to continue to explore ways to train and retrain our workforce. One way to do this is by promoting workforce development awareness among high school students. For students who aren’t ready or don’t want to attend college, we need to make sure they are trained and prepared for a career after high school.

These are just a few of our many jobs-focused initiatives.

And just as much as we are focused on the jobs of today, we are focused on the jobs of tomorrow. Educating our young people is an investment in the future of our commonwealth.

Our philosophy on education is simple: A good education doesn’t come from Richmond. It’s developed in classrooms and around kitchen tables by teachers and parents. We believe by encouraging flexibility, promoting accountability and stressing local control over our schools, we can better prepare our children for the future.

This year, Governor McDonnell has proposed, and we strongly support, a pay raise for Virginia teachers. Working with the governor, we also support a plan to evaluate, train and improve professional standards for teachers. That plan includes giving local leaders the opportunity to reward good teachers with extra compensation based on locally established criteria.

These measures match our philosophy on education. They encourage local control and flexibility, while emphasizing accountability. By doing this, we can give our children the education they deserve.

One of the most important tasks for the General Assembly every year is adopting and updating the state’s two-year budget.

The budget is one of the areas where it’s very easy to see the difference between the federal government and Virginia’s government. In Washington, there hasn’t been a budget in over three years. In Richmond, we always balance our budget and have had three straight budget surpluses.

This year, we will update the state budget to account for increased growth in state revenue and to meet other areas of need. We are committed to building on our core priorities — job creation, education and improving the way government operates and provides its services. By balancing our budget and keeping our state on a strong financial foundation, Virginia will remain attractive for businesses.

Over the past several years, working as partners with Governor McDonnell, the legislature has improved Virginia’s business environment and kept our state financially strong. We have maintained our Triple-A bond rating and Forbes.com recently said Virginia had the best state regulatory environment in the country.

In 2013, we are looking to build on this successful track record. Virginians can count on us to lead and to make the right decisions for our commonwealth. Republicans understand what issues are most important and share the priorities of Virginians. We are committed to growing the state’s economy, bettering our education system and keeping Virginia financially sound because that is what is best for our people, our state and our future.

William J. Howell has been the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates since 2003 and represents the 28th House district, which includes parts of Fredericksburg and Stafford County.