Gov. McAuliffe Trumpets Economic Development Initiatives In State of the Commonwealth Address

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is taking a victory lap for his economic development efforts after one year in office.

McAuliffe declared in his annual State of the Commonwealth address to the legislature Wednesday evening that Virginia has closed 267 deals resulting in $5.6 billion in capital investment since he took office last year. He said that’s more than twice what any previous administration has accomplished in its first year.

McAuliffe added that Virginia’s agriculture and forestry exports exceeded $3 billion last year for the first time.

To sustain the momentum he urged lawmakers to continue investing in economic development incentive programs such as the Governor’s Opportunity Fund. He says nearly all the money in that fund is obligated to future projects.

McAuliffe said that a sluggish economy has blown a big hole in the state budget, almost all of it attributable to federal cutbacks.

Automatic federal budget cuts reduced military contracts in Virginia by $9.8 billion between 2011 and 2013, he said, threatening 154,000 jobs in Virginia – 4 percent of the state’s workforce.

McAuliffe said Virginia must compensate by diversifying its economy. He proposed a bipartisan workforce development initiative that he said would increase state funding for workforce programs and put more emphasis on apprenticeships and training in critical areas.

The governor also proposed that Virginia develop a unified sexual misconduct policy for all the state’s public colleges and universities by July 31. McAuliffe said that state colleges should begin placing a notation on students’ academic transcripts when they are removed from school for violating the institution’s sexual misconduct policy, code of conduct or honor code.

The governor’s proposals come in the wake of a controversial report in Rolling Stone magazine about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. The magazine’s reporting has been called into question, but it nevertheless raised public awareness of sex abuse on campus.

McAuliffe wants tighter ethics laws governing state officials’ conduct as well.

The governor urged the adoption of a $100 cap on all gifts received by public officials and creation of an independent ethics review commission with investigative and enforcement powers.

He also proposes prohibiting campaign fundraising during all legislative sessions, not just regular sessions. Under current law, lawmakers can raise money during special sessions. McAuliffe also wants to prohibit members of state boards and commissions from voting on matters that benefit them, their family members or business partners.

Ethics reform has been a major focus in the Commonwealth since McAuliffe’s Republican predecessor Bob McDonnell’s conviction on public corruption charges. McDonnell was sentenced last week to two years in prison.

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