By Nicole Fisher
VCU Capital News Service
RICHMOND, Va. – Tim Kaine was still smiling. In his final State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, he said he was smiling because there is no higher honor than to serve as governor of Virginia.
In his farewell speech, Kaine listed achievements ranging from education to business.
“The Virginia economy today is one of the nation’s most vibrant. We are in the top 10 states in median income and have one of the 10 lowest unemployment rates in the country,” he said.
Even though the nation was suffering the longest recession since the 1930s, Kaine said Virginia landed more than $13 billion in new investment during his four-year term – and recruited five Fortune 500 companies to move their headquarters here from other states.
The Democratic governor, who will be succeeded Saturday by Republican Bob McDonnell, also cited Virginia’s investment in early childhood education. He said such programs have dramatically increased the reading scores of third-graders.
And Kaine applauded the state’s colleges and universities.
“Even in a tough time, our higher education system is clearly one of the two or three best in the nation, and our capacity to serve more students has been enhanced through the passage in 2008 of the largest bond package for higher education construction in state history.”
Kaine took a moment to applaud the newly named president of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan.
“What a wonderful thing to see – a woman president at a university that did not even allow women as students when she began her own college education,” Kaine said.
He also discussed the challenges Virginia faces, such as traffic congestion in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Kaine said that as governor, he had hoped to solve the transportation issue, but he couldn’t convince the General Assembly to spend more money on roads.
Another challenge, Kaine said, is to keep higher education affordable. Colleges and universities have been raising their tuition to offset cuts in state funding.
“Virginia college tuition is now higher than national averages, effectively reducing access to many students who are most in need of educational advancement,” Kaine said.
Kaine wrapped up the 23-minute address with a smile.
“I’m smiling because, as I finish my time as chief executive, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished and satisfied to place the reins of a successful state in the hands of a friend, Bob McDonnell,” Kaine said.
During his four-year term as Virginia’s 70th governor, Kaine had to deal with shrinking tax revenues that forced him to trim billions of dollars from the state budget. Last month, he recommended a budget for the next two years that calls for more service cuts and some tax increases.
In his speech, he bemoaned “the philosophy, espoused by some, that it is always wrong to raise taxes or fees.”
“Thank goodness that previous state leaders did not hold that view,” Kaine said.
“If they had, we would have no community college system, dirtier rivers, a lackluster school system and even fewer roads. Virginia is a state with a very favorable tax burden, and we should do all we can to keep it that way. But, no state or nation can maintain its economic edge with a declining infrastructure.”
After the speech, Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, said Kaine had highlighted what the governor saw as accomplishments. But Marshall said Kaine had left the General Assembly with a budget crisis.
“He wanted to increase taxes, and that’s not going to work,” Marshall said. “He gave us an unbalanced budget” – knowing that legislators would reject Kaine’s proposed tax hikes.
Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, said Kaine delivered a gracious State of the Commonwealth address.
“I was glad that he touched on the fact that we are such a low tax state, but I wish he would not have suggested that we should raise taxes to solve our budgetary problems,” Miller said.
“It is a shame that he suggested that, because we are a great state to do business, we should have room to raise taxes. It is my hope that we will be able to overcome our budget deficit without raising taxes on our citizens or our businesses.”
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith of Salem and Sen. Jeffrey L. McWaters of Virginia Beach offered the official Republican response to Kaine’s speech.
“Gov. Kaine has highlighted the spending cuts to government programs he has proposed in his budget. But regrettably, he has downplayed the lynchpin of his budget: dramatic increases in fees and taxes – including a substantial increase in the income tax,” Griffith said.
“Since the General Assembly has not agreed to the latest tax increases advocated by Gov. Kaine, the budget he has proposed is effectively unbalanced. As a result, this governor has ceded the task of fulfilling the constitutional responsibility of producing a balanced budget to legislators and our new governor, Bob McDonnell.”
McWaters said Virginia must “truly stimulate the economy by returning to our founding economic principles – capitalism, less government, lower taxes and plain old hard work.”