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Bolling Signals GOP ‘Aggressive Stance’

Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling signaled a GOP emphasis on economic development, workforce training and higher education during a roundtable discussion with community leaders yesterday at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

IDA Executive Director Mike Sexton told Bolling that “our leadership is making significant investments” but that without the partnership at the state level, “we do not have outreach.”

Sexton named several programs he thought the administration should focus on in economic development, specifically “funding our enterprise zone fully - it is underfunded, funding the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and helping the EDP (Virginia Economic Development Partnership) restore its budget so they can do more outreach.

Sexton described Halifax County as putting money into investment, getting ready, but (state) outreach taken out.

“We hope you can help with enterprise funding,” added the IDA director, noting the Governor’s Opportunity Fund had been slashed.

The lt. gov.’s reply was quick. “We promised to double this in the campaign,” he said, emphasizing the priority for incentive funding that is also “more flexible.” Of the money available, he said about 70 percent of the funds were actually going to projects in rural Virginia. However, he noted, “There are too many strings and not enough money.”

Bolling said the administration’s “aggressive plan” to help Virginia includes tax incentives to cultivate business and jobs. Improving the regulatory environment for business is another goal in the GOP effort to reprioritize programs.

The lt. gov. charged economic development programs had been neglected, and that Virginia had fallen behind neighboring states in the competition for business and tourism. “We’re not competitive with North Carolina, Mississippi” and others, he told the crowd.

He noted there are too many strings and not enough money.

The IDA executive director is particularly pleased with  Bolling’s focus on economic development. “I am glad we have another teammate,” said Sexton, noting this is the first time he could recall a lt. gov. engaged in economic development at this level.

“What you’ve been saying is music to my ears.” William Fitzgerald, chairman Halifax County Board of Supervisors responded, as Bolling proposed administration economic development goals.

Bolling pulled no punches in describing the state’s budget. This is going to be a tough budget cycle,” emphasized Bolling, noting “a $4 billion hole” in the budget, unemployment hovering a little over 6 percent statewide, with some areas hitting double digits in the tough economic cycle, and the lack of federal stimulus monies available last year. 

Bolling said this is the first time the state has faced two years of negative tax collection in the state, but he also said “we are determined to get the economy going again” with legislative and budget initiatives helping Virginia accomplish that goal.

Dr. Betty Adams, Southern Virginia Higher Education Ccnter executive director, sought a funding formula to help pay the way as the center responds to exploding growth and loss of funding. “We stand to lose one-third staff,” she emphasized, in a center that provides educational programs ranging from GED to a PhD as well as non-credit programs.  “We need operating money to continue,” she continued.

Bolling told the crowd that in his view higher education has taken a disproportionate cut in prior budgets, with tuitions soaring and both institutions and students under stress.

“There are no short-term answers,” he added. But, again when the economy gets under way, he called for a reprioritization of higher education.

Debra Crowder, executive director of the South Central Workforce Investment Board, sought “consolidation of workforce programs” and elimination of duplicate services as well as state focus.