Full Text: State of the Commonwealth Address

Mr.
Speaker.  Mr. President.

Justices
of the Supreme Court and Judges of the State Corporation Commission,

Ladies
and Gentlemen of the General Assembly, now in your 395th year,

My
fellow Virginians,

It
is my privilege to address you, one last time, as Governor, on the State of the
Commonwealth.

I
must note that because it's my last speech the Speaker promised me all the time
I wanted… so get comfortable.

For
22 years I have served with you.  First, in this chamber as a
Delegate.  Then as Attorney general.  Now, as Governor.

While
this public chapter of my life draws to a close, I'm not the only one saying
farewell.

Tonight,
a grateful Commonwealth salutes the public service of:

Lieutenant
Governor Bill Bolling, who has redefined the role of his office as a jobs
creator,

policy
leader, and Cabinet member, and presided over the Senate with grace. 
Thank you Bill for over 20 years of outstanding service.

And,
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Thank you for solid legal advice, strong
conservative leadership, and care for the disenfranchised.

I
also want to welcome the 16 newly sworn in members of the legislature and
implore you to never forget the thrill and privilege of this day. 

Governor
Mills Godwin rightly said there is no “higher honor” than serving as Governor
of Virginia.  Serving with you for the last four years has been the
greatest professional opportunity of my nearly 60 years of life. 

Tonight,
I give profound thanks to the people of Virginia for your confidence when you
elected me to this high office; an average middle class kid from Fairfax County
occupying the same seat once held by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. 
I have tried my very best, with spectacular teamwork, to serve you well.

We
have achieved many good things together for the eight million people of our
beloved Commonwealth.

Where
some may have hoped for conflict, we instead forged consensus.

Where
some might have preferred sound bites to solutions, we chose results over
rhetoric. 

I'm
a conservative.  I believe strongly that these principles are right for
America. Some of you are moderates. Some are progressives.  You believe
just as deeply that your ideas are correct.  But before any philosophical
allegiance, there is one identity that comes first, and matters most: we are
all Virginians.

We
were sent here, to Mr. Jefferson's Capitol, to be servant leaders of the
people.  To use the unique talents God has given each of us to expand
access to the American Dream, because all are created in the image and likeness
of God, and all deserve an equal opportunity to pursue happiness and succeed.

With
that in mind, I believe the measure of our success is fairly simple.

Did
we help create jobs and opportunity, and make Virginia a better place to live,
worship, work, and raise a family?

Did
we support a single mother in Roanoke trying to raise her little girls while
working two jobs?

Did
we make dreams more attainable for a small businessman in Woodbridge focused on
helping his customers, and growing his business?

Did
we lift up the man in Danville who made a mistake, served his time, and now
wants to restart his life?

I
can say, without hesitation, we have.  And the credit belongs to the 140
leaders in this body, our remarkable can-do Cabinet, and to the citizens of
Virginia.

In
this Capitol, we debated passionately and civilly, we worked together, we
shared the credit.  We adhered to the “Virginia Way”, and our democracy is
better for it.

In
the waning hours of an administration, many like to talk of individual
legacies. So I'll perhaps disappoint you tonight by saying that I'd rather
focus on our joint achievements.

I
think we've done what the Boy Scouts tell us to do: we've left the campground a
little better than we found it.  The gains we made took patience and
leadership, and the mettle to demand change when the status quo did not deliver
excellence. 

Leadership
is how, when we finally addressed Virginia's pressing need for new
transportation infrastructure after 27 years, the Speaker of the House, my dear
friend Bill Howell, put his own name on the bill…. I figured carrying one bill
every three years wouldn't kill him!  And when that bill came to the floor
Del. Onzlee Ware stood up to give a strong final speech in favor of its
passage……Onzlee got his train… and then promptly retired!

It's
about how, when we took office in January 2010, with unemployment at 7.4%, we
laid out a comprehensive set of proposals to get Virginians back to work, and
it was Senators Chuck Colgan and William Wampler, and Delegate Lacey Putney and
others who said “Governor, we'll carry those bills.”

It's
about how, when we passed the Opportunity Educational Institution bill and said
we will not tolerate a single failing school, it was Delegate Algie Howell who
captured the moment when he said, “The next great civil rights battle is in
educational opportunity, and today I challenge leaders across the Commonwealth
to join me in this fight.”

Time
and again, we have rejected the twin ideological poles and navigated toward
common ground to make the nation's best state even better.  Looking at the
last four years, something important has happened:  Virginia's state
government has worked.

When
I campaigned for this office, I got the message down to a bumper sticker: 
“Bob's for Jobs.”  What can I say, I have a good name for politics! 

It
wasn't just a slogan; it's why I ran.  That's why our chief priority has
been simple:  to put in place the policies necessary to help the great
free enterprise system create good jobs and opportunities for our people…. and
then get the heck out of the way!

While
there is so much that government should not do, there are those limited but
important areas where government must act to help individuals prosper and the
free market grow.  The wisdom of the Founders and of history define the
correct rules.

An
efficient government has an obligation to ensure our businesses and families
have the modern transportation infrastructure necessary to get goods to market,
mom and dad to work, and everyone to the soccer game on time.

A
responsive government provides our young people greater access and
affordability at our top flight colleges and universities, so they can receive
the skills necessary to land the in-demand jobs of the 21st Century.

A
responsible government keeps its communities and citizens safe and secure.

The
wise and frugal government envisioned by Jefferson manages and funds its core
functions well, and leaves the rest to individuals, the family, faith-based and
benevolent institutions, and the private sector.

It's
a balance, and by most empirical measures, we've struck the right one in
Virginia.

Since
we took office in January 2010, the unemployment rate has fallen from 7.4% to
5.4%.

We
have the third-lowest unemployment rate east of the Mississippi, and the lowest
in the Southeast…. and for those keeping up with the neighbors, like I do, our
rate is a full point lower than Maryland, and two full points lower than North
Carolina.

Over
177,000 net new jobs have been added; more than 160,000 in the private sector.

You
provided nearly $120 million in new economic development tools, and the result
has been 76,000 jobs and $13.6 billion in capital investment from projects
announced over the last four years that were either assisted by the state or
are receiving state incentives.

One
of those projects was Bassett Furniture, a self-described “100-Year-Old
Virginia Start-up,” and an integral part of the economy of Southern
Virginia.  Last month we were able to utilize the Governor's Opportunity
Fund to help the company expand its manufacturing plant in Henry County adding
25 jobs and spending $1.5 million in capital investment.  They invested in
Virginia, and we invested in them. With us tonight is Vice President Eddie
White. Eddie- thanks for believing in Henry County and Virginia!

Bassett
is in the right state for growing a business. Forbes recognized that a few
months ago when they returned us to #1 and named Virginia America's “Best State
for Business.”  Thanks to Bill Bolling, Jim Cheng, Jim Duffey, and Todd
Haymore and many of you for strong economic development leadership.

Much
of our recent growth has come from making agriculture and forestry, Virginia's
largest industry, a key component of our business development strategy.

With
our top quality local products and our expanding world class port, we are
successfully selling Virginia to the world.

In
the past few years, I've completed 9 international trade missions, and we've
opened agricultural trade offices in India, China, Great Britain, Russia,
Mexico, and Costa Rica.  Last year agricultural and forest products
exports reached a record high of $2.6 billion.

In
Beijing they're drinking Virginia wine; in Moscow they're eating Virginia beef;
and in Tokyo all the talk is Virginia soybeans.  It all means more jobs
here at home. 

While
Virginia's economy has grown, we have kept the size and scope of government
properly in check.

We
came into office facing record budget shortfalls totaling $6 billion. 
Now, we leave office having posted four straight budget surpluses totaling a
Virginia record $2 billion.

We
have budgeted wisely and held the line on growth in general fund spending.

In
the 9 years from Fiscal Year 2007 to Fiscal Year 2016, general fund spending
will have grown by an average of only 1.2% a year, far less than the rate of
growth in population and inflation.  We have reduced the number of
non-higher education state employees by approximately 2000, and eliminated or
consolidated 36 boards and commissions and 9 agencies.  Government is
doing more with less!

We've
dramatically increased our financial reserves by growing the Rainy Day Fund
from $295 million to just over $1 billion by the end of Fiscal Year 2016; the
fourth-largest balance in history.

The
budget I introduced uses debt conservatively, to stay within our capacity
limits, while targeting important safety, environmental, and maintenance
needs.  It eliminates the accelerated sales tax gimmick for over 99% of
businesses, beefs up a depleted Literary Fund to build schools, and leaves the
largest un-appropriated balance since 1991 when the Rainy Day Fund began. 
Happy New Year!

We
have been good stewards of our taxpayer's dollars, and spent wisely on
government's core functions.

Nowhere
was our commitment to core services more evident than in the work last session
to pass Virginia's first sustainable transportation funding plan since 1986….
the year Delegate Yost was born.

In
an uncommon demonstration of election year bipartisan cooperation, something we
rarely witness nationally, we did it.  The transportation bill passed with
the votes of 44 Republicans and 43 Democrats.  Virginia families and
businesses finally got the infrastructure funding that should sustain us for
generations.

Before
we passed that bill we audited VDOT and located every single efficiency and
every available dollar.  We used debt capacity to jumpstart 900 projects
in 2011 for a short term fix. We expanded the use of PPTA's to lead the nation.
But it wasn't enough.

The
simple fact was this:  the gas tax was only raising 46% of what it had in
1986, while the cost of asphalt was up over 350%.  Not complicated: 
We had a math problem.

Traffic
in Northern Virginia had become the worst in the country.  Hampton Roads
was the 20th worst, and Richmond was 60th. Virginians were wasting gas, late
for work, and hitting potholes.  

Now,
thanks to our work, our transportation system will receive over $6 billion in
new funding over the next 6 years alone, with an estimated annual economic
impact of $9.5 billion and the creation of over 13,000 new jobs.

Already,
we've seen what this new funding means.

This
past year we advertised a Virginia record $2.5 billion in road construction
projects.

We
finally have the resources to begin widening I-64 from Newport News to
Richmond. 

We
have reached a crucial milestone with long-awaited plans to modernize I-66 in
Northern Virginia.

Construction
on the critical I-95 Express Lanes from the Mixing Bowl to the Speaker's
district will be completed in early 2015.

We
have begun the second phase of Route 460 construction in Buchanan County, and
will start the new Route 460 from Hampton Roads to Petersburg soon.

Phase
II of Rail to Dulles, the Silver Line, is now funded and will provide needed
congestion relief for Northern Virginia.

Amtrak
service has returned to Roanoke for the first time in 34 years, and Norfolk for
the first time in 35.

All
this because you worked, across regional and partisan divides long deemed
unbridgeable, and provided a modern, safe and well-funded transportation system
for our people.  Thanks to the Speaker, Delegates Jones, Albo, and
O'Bannon; Senators Howell, Stosch, Watkins, Wagner and Norment for your
leadership.

I
thank all of you who voted for this bill…. and the rest of you can still take
credit for the projects back home.

We
also took bold actions to improve our public education system.  Like my
dad said, to get a good job, you need a good education.  We're helping
more children gain that access.  Every child, regardless of her zip code
or social status, deserves the opportunity of a world-class education with a
great teacher in a great school.

We
increased the percentage of our education dollars going into the classroom,
where our children learn, from 61 percent to 64 percent.

We've
given parents an honest view of the performance of their child's school with a
transparent A-F school grading system.

We
rewarded dedicated teachers with their first pay-raise in five years and
established an innovative performance pay system.

We
ended irresponsible social promotion of third-graders who aren't reading at
grade level, and invested significant new resources in remedial reading
programs.

We
effectively eliminated teacher tenure, raised the standards for graduation,
authorized Teach for America, implemented tuition scholarship tax credits, and
reduced bureaucratic red tape and local unfunded mandates.  We expanded
charter and virtual schools, created a Teacher's Cabinet, nearly tripled the
number of STEM Academies from 8 to 22. And this year's budget funds the
Standards of Quality with over $500 million in new money.

The
results:  Graduation rates are up 8% since 2008, the dropout rate is down
6% since 2012, and reading scores for 4th graders are 10% higher than the
national average.

We
have taken a tough love, zero tolerance approach to chronically underperforming
schools, by creating the “Opportunity Educational Institution,” allowing the
state to turnaround and manage failing schools.  This is the civil rights
issue of our day.  In the 8th most prosperous state in the nation, how can
we tolerate a single failing school for our kids?  As I leave office, I
implore you to let OEI demonstrate that it will help those schools in
Petersburg, Alexandria, and Norfolk that have been underperforming for
years.  Knowing some children aren't getting the same education as other
kids just one school district away is just not right.  The time for
excuses is over.  It's time for excellence for all. 

When
young people complete their K-12 education, they must be either career ready or
college bound.  If they are not, you and I and they have failed.  In
the globally competitive economy, employers demand more people that are
well-educated and well-trained for diverse but very specialized missions.

We've
made Virginia's colleges and universities much more affordable and accessible
the past few years.

With
my budget recommendations, we will have reinvested nearly $600 million in new
funding in our colleges over 5 years.  My budget provides the highest TAG
grant awards in history at $3300 per student annually.  The past two years
have produced the lowest average yearly tuition increases in over a decade, but
our students still have too much debt.

The
Top Jobs Higher Education Act of 2011 created the blueprint for the future and
put us on track to award an additional 100,000 degrees over 15 years, with a
focus on STEM disciplines. Already 14,000 new slots for Virginia students have
been added.  We also have required universities to be more accountable in
spending by reallocating resources to top priorities.  My budget contains
a new funding formula that rewards performance and compliance with our
legislative goals.  Please enact it and make it work. 

Every
new acceptance letter that hits a mailbox in Virginia Beach, Tazewell, or
Arlington is a testament to the progress we've made and a passport to the
American Dream for that student.  I'm very grateful to Secretary Fornash,
Secretary Siddiqi, Secretary Dyke, Senator Norment, and Delegates Cox and Dance
for leading the way.

I
learned as a Virginia Beach prosecutor that public safety is the foremost duty
of government, because it secures one's inalienable rights. 

Our
crime rates continue to decrease, and Virginia now has the nation's 4th lowest
violent crime rate and the 8th lowest property crime rate.  This is a
testament to the years of tough sentencing and no parole laws we've put in
place.  The major reforms you passed at my request toughen laws for
prosecuting gang members, child predators, and repeat drug dealers. 

However,
justice is not fully served if we're only tough on the front end, but give no
help to those who have paid their debts and want to be a part of their
community again.  For the 95% of individuals who are eventually released,
we want them to be good citizens; not future prisoners.  Therefore, the
smart approach is to combine tough sentences with targeted assistance to help
them fellow Virginians successfully re-enter society.

That's
why we demanded dramatic improvement in Virginia's prisoner re-entry
system. 

The
success of these efforts is clear:  Virginia now has the second-lowest
recidivism rate in the country.

But
statistics don't tell the full story.  People do.

Tonight,
we're joined in the gallery by Tamio Holmes.

Tamio
spent part of his teenage years on the street, dealing drugs, a road that twice
led him to prison.

But
it was in prison that he found a way out of that sad cycle. During his
nine-year term, he successfully completed a work training program where he
earned certification in the Groom Elite program in Virginia's horse industry. 
After being released, Mr. Holmes used that training to open his own successful
business.  Even better, he has reunited with his family and serves as a
positive role model to his daughters, helping them make good life choices.

Today,
Mr. Holmes regularly returns to the prison to teach other offenders the skills
and life lessons he learned. Tamio, we thank you for your character and for the
positive example you are setting.

In
America, we believe deeply in second chances and redemption, so I was pleased
to join many of you this summer to sign an executive order for the automatic
restoration of civil rights for non-violent offenders. 

The
sacred right to vote, which our men and women in uniform have died to secure,
has been restored to 8,013 people during our four years; almost double the
amount of any previous Administration. But civil rights restoration should not
be subject to the arbitrary judgment of a governor; it should be made a
permanent part of our laws.  Therefore, in the coming years, I ask you
again to take an important step for justice and pass a constitutional amendment
to permit the automatic restoration of civil rights. 

And
we must not forget that men and women in uniform are still defending that right
to vote today.

This
summer, in a most special privilege of being governor, I got to meet with brave
Virginia warriors at Walter Reed and Ramstein Germany hospitals, in the sands
of Kuwait, and at bases in Kabul and Kandahar.  We have one of the top
National Guard Units in America, and as we gather in safety for this speech,
the soldiers of the 1710th Transportation Company in Emporia, who I met with,
remain deployed in the dangerous fields of Afghanistan. 

Tonight,
we are joined by Tabitha Rhodes, wife of Company Commander Rodney Rhodes, and
Sarah Talbert, wife of Master Sergeant Albert Talbert, who is on his third
deployment. Tabitha and Sarah, the people of Virginia thank you for your
sacrifice, commend the leadership of your husbands and all who serve with them,
and pray for their safe return next month.

We've
made great progress making Virginia the most veteran-friendly state in the
country. We expanded the Wall of Honor at the Virginia War Memorial, provided
in-state tuition for veterans, and created a job placement program for our
veterans. We have shown our love and appreciation for the brave few that
protect our way of life.

I
am also pleased to report that our joint progress extends to the protection of
Virginia's natural beauty.

Over
the last four years we've conserved 232,000 acres of open space. 

Virginians
are enjoying cleaner air and water too.  America possesses few treasures
like the Chesapeake Bay, and each generation must exercise good
stewardship.  We put $460 million into clean water efforts, including the
$221 million bond package you approved last year.  We also invested $5 million
in oyster restoration and last year's oyster harvest was the biggest since
1987, and we have the largest blue crab population since 1993.  Please,
keep this progress up, it tastes great. As they say, save the crabs…then eat
them.

I
also want to thank our great state employees, the lynchpin of Virginia's
success.  Over 100,000 work tirelessly every day from Chincoteague to the
Cumberland Gap to serve others.

We
have tried to reward that service.  We provided the first pay-raise for
state workers in six years and two 3% performance bonuses at Christmas in 2010
and 2012, with a third included in my proposed budget.  We helped secure
your retirement by making the largest deposit into our pension system in
history: $2.2 billion in 2012.  We also fixed the untenable cash position
of VRS with major reforms to reduce future unfunded liabilities by $9 billion
over 25 years.  I have included $315 million in the budget to fully fund
the payback of previous deferrals, and the graduated implementation of the new
7% rate of return.

On
a personal note, I want to applaud First Sergeant Marc Wiley and the members of
the State Police Executive Protection Unit.  You serve around the clock,
travel constantly, and do it all with professionalism and character. 
You've become family to my family, and we're going to miss you greatly.

We've
also improved customer service in government operations, especially in
healthcare.

We
are launching Commonwealth Coordinated Care to better facilitate care for those
eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare.  We've saved taxpayer dollars by
expanding managed care for Medicaid statewide.  Our Medicaid reforms are
saving hundreds of millions annually.

We
made the largest investments ever in Virginia's system of intellectual and
developmental services stemming from last year's settlement with the Department
of Justice. As a result of this settlement agreement Virginia will provide 750
new Medicaid waiver slots, and expand community based services for individuals
with developmental disabilities, in addition to providing transition funding
for the closure of the state's training centers.  In this biennial budget
I'm also recommending an additional $38 million for critical services like
crisis prevention and intervention, community based mental health programs, and
bed space capacity.

Mental
health issues affect so many Virginia families. We must continue to do all we
can to provide immediate help to those in need, and comfort to those who
hurt. 

We've
also helped bring a lot of joy into a lot of lives this past year with one of
the most heartwarming, and successful, government efforts I've ever
witnessed. 

The
“Virginia Adopts Campaign,” led by Secretaries Kelly, Hazel, and soon-to-be
Secretary Holton, had a goal of matching 1,000 foster children with permanent
loving families over the past year. We exceeded that goal and tonight, here in
the gallery, we are joined by the 1000th adoptive family.

The
Blanchard's have been foster parents to over 20 children, and now they are
welcoming Michael to the family!  Michael – I know you're thinking about a
professional basketball career, but hey, maybe try your hand at politics too;
trust me, they could use you down here! Thank you Blanchard family for making
Virginia a more loving place to call home.

Adoption
is working, It's creating families; it's saving taxpayer dollars.  That's
why I've recommended $10.3 million in the upcoming budget to expand foster care
and adoption support to age 21, and I hope you'll approve that change.

We've
supported families in other ways as well, and tonight I'm pleased to report
that both the teen pregnancy and abortion rate have significantly declined over
the last four years.

Virginia
has the greatest concentration of technology workers in the country.  We
continued to grow our “Silicon Dominion” with targeted legislation like a
capital gains exemption for technology businesses, creation of an angel
investor tax credit, and a tax credit to attract data centers.

We
also dramatically reformed and improved the Virginia Information Technology
Agency, expanded modeling and simulation opportunities and launched MACH37, the
nation's first cyber-security accelerator.  

Looking
forward, there are many important structural reforms left to address in state
government….which I would have done myself if you had just approved a two-term
governor!

We
need to reform the tax code for the modern Virginia economy, re-examine state
and municipal authority and service responsibility, fight for a balanced
federal budget and the restoration of federalism and maybe one day finally end
the outdated and nonsensical state bourbon & vodka monopoly. I'd say you
can still knock all of that out this session if you move real fast.

We
have made much progress.  But not everything has proceeded as I had wished
or hoped.

I
am not perfect.  But I have always worked tirelessly to do my very best
for Virginia.  I've set very high standards for myself.  But, as a
flawed human being, I've sometimes fallen short of my own expectations.

Choices
I made were legal, and as several reviews have shown, no person or company
received any special benefits during our Administration. 

However,
I understand the adverse public impression some of my decisions have
left.  I have prayed fervently that the collective good we have done over
the past four years will not be obscured by this ordeal. 

Tonight,
I say to you, and to all Virginians, that I am deeply sorry for the problems
and pain I've caused this past year. 

The
last four years have been good in making this a true “Commonwealth of
Opportunity” for all Virginians.

Unemployment
down two full points and over 177,000 new jobs created.

Tuition
increases down; on our way to 100,000 more slots for Virginia students.

A
transformative transportation infrastructure bill.

Major
innovative reforms of our public education system.

Record
budget surpluses.

A
healthier Chesapeake Bay.

A
stronger pension system.

And
don't forget, we reopened 19 rest stops and increased the highway speed limit
to 70mph!

We've
done a lot; accomplished much. But, in the years ahead, when I think back over
our term in office, it won't be the top line bullet points of our success that
come first to mind.

Rather,
I'll remember we tried to follow the words of Jesus in the Scriptures to love
your neighbor as yourself, and to care for the poor, the hungry, the homeless,
the prisoners, the little children, the mentally ill.

I'll
remember eight Virginia universities playing in the Governor's Holiday Hoops
Classic and raising nearly half a million pounds for our Food Banks; and all
the Virginia businesses that participated in the Governor's Bowl Food and Fund
Drive and raised another 1.1 million pounds. 

I'll
remember the emotion of walking the Richmond Slave Trail and seeing the
remnants of horror at Lumpkins Jail, and I ask you to approve the $11 million
in the budget for the national slavery and heritage site.

I'll
remember the vision of Bob Sledd, working for free, and Pam Kestner who created
our first statewide housing plan and found new resources for the effort,
leading to a 16% reduction in homelessness last year.

I'll
remember visiting the brave people of Glade Spring and Pulaski after the
devastating tornados that struck those communities; and I'll remember the
outpouring of support from Virginians who donated over $1 million in just one
month to the Disaster Relief Fund we created.

In
short, I'll remember the caring, generous, and good-hearted people of Virginia.

We
are all very fortunate to call Virginia home.  We live in the place where
America was born.  Now, you have the opportunity to play a pivotal role in
where our nation goes from here. As you do, remember the image of George
Washington on his knees at Valley Forge, and the words of the great Virginian
in his first Inaugural Address:  “The propitious smiles of Heaven can
never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and
right that Heaven itself has ordained.” 

Tonight,
I also ask you to embrace the new Administration.

Work
closely with Governor Terry McAuliffe, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, and
Attorney General Mark Herring to continue to make Virginia a “Commonwealth of
Opportunity” for all our people. 

I
thank you for your warm friendship, strong partnership, and can-do results
oriented leadership, and as I now step aside from the pinnacle of my life of
public service, I thank God, once again, for making me a Virginian!

Thank
you, and may God in His mercy and wisdom continue to bless the great people of
the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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