As the Delegate for Buena Vista, Lexington, and portions of Rockbridge, Amherst, and Augusta Counties, one of my primary goals has been to help working families in our part of Virginia by encouraging economic growth and job creation. By enacting pro-growth policies in Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia has been ranked by Forbes magazine and others in recent years as the #1 state to locate a business. These policies include maintaining low levels of taxation and regulation, protecting our "Right-to-Work" status that gives workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union, and keeping the "Dillon Rule" that streamlines state policy and prevents a burdensome patchwork of tax and regulatory systems from spreading across the Commonwealth.
In addition, Virginia invests heavily in creating and supporting a well-qualified workforce. We maintain the best education system in the world, whether it is providing a strong foundation at the K-12 level, providing advanced job training at our community colleges, or encouraging innovative new research at our public colleges and universities. We have also built one of the most comprehensive transportation infrastructure networks in the nation by investing in our system of roads, rail, airports, and seaports to encourage economic development and attract large employers to our region.
Closer to home, I have been working to attract jobs to our region by improving our local job training programs and by improving our regional transportation infrastructure. I have worked with our local officials and our community colleges to locate new satellite branches of CVCC and Dabney Lancaster in Amherst and Buena Vista. I also have worked to enact legislation to provide scholarships for community college students who want to continue their studies at four-year colleges. Securing a top-quality education for our students will ensure a highly-trained workforce for local employers, and it will help keep our young people from having to leave this area to find work.
To improve our regional infrastructure and attract jobs, I have worked to address congestion on I-81 by constructing third lanes for trucks from Lexington to Fairfield and at the Buffalo Creek crossing. I helped improve safety by putting more troopers on I-81 and by establishing a special VDOT task force on I-81 safety. I also have worked to reduce the truck traffic on I-81 by encouraging more intermodal freight rail transport along I-81 and Route 29. Keeping this vital economic corridor flowing safely and efficiently will help our part of Virginia attract employers and improve the quality of life for local residents.
But for families struggling in the current economy to make ends meet, these national rankings for our pro-business policies don't provide much comfort. The costs of food, fuel, electricity, college tuition, and health insurance are all continuing to rise, and as employers freeze their workers' wages and cut their hours, families in our part of Virginia are feeling the squeeze. That's why, in addition to voting for policies that help businesses create jobs, I have been working in Richmond to find solutions that will address the rising costs of energy, food, and health care that are affecting Virginia families.
To bring down energy costs, I have opposed efforts by local electric utilities to raise their rates on homes and businesses. I have also opposed efforts to raise the state gas tax, which would unfairly hurt rural areas where businesses and families have to travel greater distances to work, shop, or go to school. Instead, I support additional energy exploration in Virginia that will lower energy costs by increasing supplies of coal, oil, and natural gas. I also support tax incentives for the development of alternative fuels, including solar, wind, and bio-fuels. By lowering energy costs for families and businesses, we can help attract employers who will create new jobs.
To bring down health care costs, I have supported legislation that will lower costs for small businesses providing health care by increasing competition among health insurance providers. In 2009, a bill I supported to remove certain mandates on health insurers offering new policies to employers with fewer than 50 employees will provide coverage to an estimated 170,000 additional Virginians. Also, as a member of the Joint Commission on Health Care, I helped pass legislation to expand Health Savings Accounts in Virginia. These accounts give workers more control over their health care dollars and how they are spent. By helping to address rising health care costs for families and businesses, we can help workers stay healthy and businesses to create new jobs.
Another way I have supported economic development and job creation has been to sponsor several new laws to improve public safety in Virginia. When families are safe, kids can focus more on school, parents can focus more on work, and neighborhoods and communities can thrive. I have worked with our former Attorney General Bob McDonnell to sponsor bills to fight gang violence, elder abuse, and ID theft, among others. As an assistant prosecutor, I see on a daily basis the impact that our police, sheriffs' deputies, and fire and rescue companies have on our economy and on the ability of our businesses and individuals to succeed. Safe communities mean productive communities, and productive communities mean better jobs.
All of these areas are interconnected, so while I have been working to implement successful policies for education, transportation, energy, health care, and public safety, I have also been working to help improve our economy and create jobs. That's why I am so proud to have received the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). By making sure that Virginia families are learning, living, and traveling safely, we ensure a stronger economy and a healthy and productive workforce that is the best in the world.
As I continue to travel around the 24th District talking to folks about the issues that are important to them, bringing employers and good jobs to our area remains the top issue. As your Delegate, I will continue to make jobs and economic growth my top priority in Richmond, and I will continue working hard to make Virginia the best place to live, work and raise a family.