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Gov. McDonnell Tours Roanoke

Governor McDonnell shakes hands with Dennis Cronk as Charkes Hunter (left)and City Manager Chris Morrill (right) look on.

Governor Bob McDonnell arrived at Steel Dynamics at noon on Wednesday and was greeted by Steel Dynamics General Manager Joe Crawford, Charles Hunter Chair of the Roanoke Economic Development Authority and Dennis Cronk, CEO of Poe & Cronk Real Estate Group.

Vice-Mayor David Trinkle introduced Governor McDonnell and touted Roanoke’s two existing Enterprise Zones. Trinkle said, “as a small business owner myself I was able to take advantage of a grant.” Roanoke was the first city to create Enterprise Zones. In recent years it has been converted from a tax incentive program to a cash grant program.

McDonnell started his address by saying, “I have three priorities: jobs, jobs, jobs.” He remarked that though the state “has a little bit of a budget surplus, we have a ways to go … the commercial real estate industry being largely flat, we need creative ways to identify new and innovative ways to cut cost and find new markets.”

McDonnell said he wants to, “cut down on the tax burden and strengthen right-to-work laws, and reduce government bureaucracy.” He also stressed the need for government to be more helpful and friendly by partnering with the private sector. He thanked Delegate Onzlee Ware for his help in the General Assembly in that regard.

With $75 million more dollars in the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, the governor plans to use it to entice businesses to Virginia with tax credits. He plans on opening up trade offices in several countries he recently visited including Holland, Germany and the U.K. He expects some good announcements in the next few months on business relocations to Virginia. In April McDonnell will be going to India and China. “You’ve got to be where the customers are to find these new markets,” said McDonnell.

Crawford reiterated McDonnell’s remarks about expanding markets in China and India. “It’s getting more difficult to compete … we need to sell more steel,” said Crawford.

Several Roanokers remarked that they were pleased to be able to speak directly with the governor and McDonnell made it clear that the feeling was mutual. “It’s your government, and we want to know how we can make it work better for you,” he said.

“One of our ideas is to make government smaller and simpler while providing an immediate infusion of new revenue for transportation by privatizing Virginia’s state-run ABC stores,” said McDonnell. His philosophy is that state government must be focused on core priorities instead of services that should rightly be provided by the private sector offering Virginians more choice and convenience.

Besides using the expected $400 million plus proceeds for critical transportation needs, he expects to keep the state’s general fund coffers full with the state’s share of instore liquor sales.

Dennis Cronk expects privatization of the ABC stores to meet resistance by lawmakers and doesn’t necessarily think, “it is a done deal.”

The interim report of the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring will be issued by September 15th.

Governor Holds Town Hall Meeting Weds Night

McDonnell is launching the ‘Virginia Speaks’ statewide town hall tour as a tool to garner input. Wednesday night’s town hall meeting at the Roanoke County’s Administration building on Bernard Drive was standing room only as expected.

The capacity for the room was inked in a new policy adopted by the Board of Supervisors on July 27. Accordingly only 105 citizens were allowed in, but there may have been a few extras. Months of wrangling with political party chairs led to less severe penalties for breaking the new rule. It remains to be seen if the governor will have to pay a $70 deposit or get a pass by the Board of Supervisor — three of which are Republicans.

Thomas Ryder a Roanoke County teacher was one of the many that attended the meeting. “We have seen state per-pupil support drop from $5277 (a level that ranked us 36th amount the states) to the current $4548,” said Ryder. Supporters for revising the number higher insist that the 16% cut in state support for public education has the highest impact on poor rural and urban divisions, undercutting workforce development, and ensuring that the existing patterns of poverty and unemployment persist.

Prior to the meeting Ryder said he was hopeful that other teachers would also attend to press McDonnell. “The Governor shares our goal of a high quality teacher in every classroom; however, unlike state workers, Virginia’s teachers are seeing no bonus, and many are facing pay cuts or loss of employment. When we compare the salary of the average teacher to that of the average wage earner, Virginia ranks 48th. This [low] level of investment in the teaching profession will not ensure that our children have great teachers.”

McDonnell has made sweeping cuts in the state budget, but his education proposals for Virginia have included moving $480 million per year from school administration and putting it directly into the classroom, establishing more specialized high schools to support high-demand industries and increasing online learning through virtual schools. McDonnell also has frequently expressed his support for President Barack Obama’s ideas on increasing parental choice through charter schools.

By Valerie Garner
[email protected]

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