As the 2013 General Assembly session draws to a close, the overwhelming majority of Governor Bob McDonnell's 2013 legislative agenda passed with strong bipartisan support, leading to the passage of the first sustainable and long-term transportation funding and reform package in 27 years, and sweeping K-12 education reforms. Today, the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia approved 88 percent of the amended bills the governor sent down.
Speaking about the General Assembly's actions, Governor McDonnell said, "It is a poignant moment for me today as I finish my last day of work with the General Assembly after 22 years in office. In our fourth legislative session in the executive office, we finished much of what we have been building toward in the past three years. Last week I sent down amendments to 85 pieces of legislation and the budget, and today the House and Senate upheld over 88 percent of those amendments. This follows their earlier support of over 88 percent of my 2013 legislative agenda. I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the General Assembly for coming together to support, in a broad bipartisan manner, our legislative agenda which focused on core services of government, and for their partnership to make this session, and the last three a productive and substantive.
"Starting July 1, with the support of the Virginia Education Association and other key Virginia education leadership groups, we will effectively end teacher tenure in Virginia's public schools, holding teachers to higher standards, while also rewarding our great teachers with a 2 percent pay raise and additional performance pay incentives. As of July 1, nearly $400 million in new resources will have been allocated toward higher education under my administration, making college more affordable and accessible and incentivizing our great state universities to operate more efficiently. As a result, tuition increases this year were the lowest in a decade. Starting July 1, we will have made it simpler for the private sector to create jobs, and given Virginians a broader path to get training in the skills necessary for those jobs. As of July 1, we will have allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to preserving the national treasure that is the Chesapeake Bay for future generations. This year, we will begin implementing the Opportunity Educational Institution to turn around chronically failing schools in Virginia. Starting today, businesses in Virginia, and those we are recruiting around in the United States and around the world, will know that we have addressed for the long-term the funding needs of our road and rail network after 27 years of gridlock.
"We set out to make Virginia government do more with less, and after this session the Commonwealth will be on sounder financial footing. Over the past four sessions of the General Assembly, we eliminated many of the past budget gimmicks, reformed our pension system, and appropriated sufficient funds to more than double Virginia's rainy day fund from $295 million to nearly $800 million. We have accumulated $1.4 billion in budget surpluses the past 3 years through sound management by the legislative and executive branch. Moody's rated our transportation funding legislation this session 'credit positive' toward maintaining our AAA bond rating. Our unemployment rate has fallen from 7.3 percent at the start of the administration to 5.6 percent, the lowest in four years and the second lowest East of the Mississippi, with 147,000 more Virginians back to work and able to support their families.
"We have gotten results with bi-partisan support in the General Assembly and with good advice and support from Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. As in past sessions, I was pleased by the significant, thoughtful input, advocacy, critique and engagement of Virginians, which played a significant role in the final shape of much of the legislation that will have an impact on their daily lives. For public servants in Richmond to be responsive to the needs of citizens, we must hear directly from them.
"While my fourth and last full legislative session is now complete, my work as governor will continue in the months ahead. We will continue to recruit businesses and tell the Virginia story around the country and around the world. We will continue to look at regulations that can be streamlined or eliminated and ways to make state agencies conduct the people's business more efficiently and effectively. In this short session, we have accomplished a great deal. We have made the Commonwealth a better place to work, live, learn and raise a family, and our significant education and transportation reforms will help ensure that Virginians have more opportunities in the future."
Eighty-eight percent of Governor McDonnell's initiatives passed in the General Assembly this year and will become law July 1. Highlights include:
"Virginia's Road to the Future" transportation funding and reform measures that provide an additional $3.5 billion in new statewide funding by 2018 for new road and bridge construction, mass transit, rail and other needs, and continue the administration's efforts to ensure greater accountability in Virginia's transportation entities. This year, Governor McDonnell pledged to take on the issue by introducing a funding bill at the beginning of the General Assembly session to fix our transportation system. That effort has led to the first long-term transportation funding solution in Virginia in 27 years. This plan will generate thousands of jobs, create millions in economic activity, and provide the Commonwealth with the transportation infrastructure necessary to grow and prosper in the decades ahead. As a result of this plan, hundreds of construction and maintenance projects around the state will be funded, from widening I-64 between Newport News and Williamsburg, widening Route 28 in Northern Virginia, bringing down tolls on the Dulles Toll Road and advancing the Silver Line, bringing Amtrak service to Roanoke, and helping to build the Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia. It will also eliminate the current unsustainable practice of taking money meant for new construction devoted to maintenance to fund paving and pothole patching, and establishing a constitutional amendment to protect transportation funding. Most importantly, this reform will improve the quality of life and ability to create jobs and opportunities for Virginians, and give people more time with family and less time in traffic.
The game-changing "All Students" K-12 education reform agenda generated numerous successful bills focusing on increasing teacher pay - the first state-supported pay increase in 5 years-effectively eliminating teacher tenure in Virginia, improving the ability to reward good teachers and increasing accountability for the small number of poor performing ones, creating a turnaround entity to dramatically improve Virginia's failing schools and provide a first rate education for all students, creating transparent school report cards to provide parents and educators with clear A-F grades, reducing red tape for local school divisions, supporting teacher innovation and staffing, guaranteeing long-term support for students to achieve key learning milestones in reading and mathematics to strengthen their education, establishing the Virginia Center for Excellence in Teaching, and bringing Teach for America to the Commonwealth for hard to staff schools. This session moves us closer to our goal of ensuring that every young person has the opportunity to learn from a great teacher in a great school, regardless of zip code.
Continued major higher education reforms and investment to prepare Virginians for top jobs, boost job-creating research and innovation, make college degrees more affordable for students, and advance the governor's goal (now in statute) of having 100,000 more Virginians earn degrees over 15 years, and investing an additional $48.5 million in higher education, in addition to the $350 million in new money proposed by the governor over the last 3 years, to make college more affordable.
The Governor's Taskforce on School and Campus Safety met with a sense of urgency during the 2013 legislative session to discuss recommendations to improve the security of Virginia's schools and college campuses. After reviewing the taskforce's recommendations, Governor McDonnell sent down several legislative initiatives that were well received by the General Assembly. The General Assembly passed legislation to create threat assessment teams in schools, require lockdown drills in schools, improve the school safety audit process, and increase the penalty for those who perform "straw purchases" of firearms.
Building on our achievements over the last three years to make government more efficient and effective, we enacted several measures to make government leaner, eliminate red tape and relieve mandates on localities. This session, we passed legislation to merge agencies in order to deliver better services to our citizens and small businesses, eliminate and merge boards and commissions, and cleared the way to repeal unnecessary regulations.
The Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Workforce Development agenda focused on ensuring Virginia remains the best place in the United States in which to start and run a business. This legislation will make it easier for the private sector to create jobs, and easier for Virginians to get training in the skills necessary for those jobs. By improving the online Business One Stop system, making the Commonwealth friendlier to entrepreneurs, and making sure that students graduate from our K-12 and college systems career-ready, we will continue to expand jobs and opportunity. Perhaps most importantly, we have a community of entrepreneurial individuals who, in spite of the very real risk of failure, put their energy and sweat and savings into creating opportunities for themselves and others. Virginia is an incubator for good ideas and we have the right tax, regulatory and business climate for entrepreneurs to turn those ideas into job-creating businesses.