Gov. Bob McDonnell on Wednesday outlined several initiatives totaling nearly $37 million in additional funding in his proposed two-year state budget aimed at spurring economic development and creating jobs in Virginia.
McDonnell's legislative agenda for the upcoming General Assembly session includes tax credits for small businesses and increased coordination between state departments that work in economic development in hopes of attracting new businesses and growing existing ones.
"Jobs is still job one for our administration,'' McDonnell said during a news conference in Richmond. "We believe the more people we have working, and contributing and innovating and taking care of their families through the private sector, the less cost and expense and burden there is on the taxpayer. ... The more that we can do at the state level to advocate the support of free enterprise and economic development, the better off Virginia is going to be.''
McDonnell said the legislative and budget initiatives build on previous programs aimed at economic development, including opening international trade offices, business tax incentives and funding to promote Virginia industries. Since taking office, the state's unemployment rate has dropped from 7.2 percent to 6.2 percent.
The governor's top proposals for his biennial spending blueprint include $10 million for life sciences initiatives to develop Virginia's biotechnology industry by partnering public education with the private sector, as well as $4 million for improvements at the Wallops Island launch site on the Eastern Shore to support the growing commercial space industry. There's also additional funding of $2 million for workforce training programs at community colleges.
"This is Virginia's future -- investing in those things where we tie university and academic research with the commercialization process and the job creating process,'' McDonnell said.
Additional allocations also are being proposed for growing advanced manufacturing, tourism, film, agriculture, technology and offshore wind energy.
None of the recommendations specifically targets economically depressed areas like southwest or Southside Virginia. But McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said many of the proposals -- including grants for agriculture and forestry, as well as $4 million in additional funding for advanced manufacturing workforce and site development -- were developed with those regions in mind.
Economic development officials also have reached out to major companies to establish offices or call centers in Virginia's rural areas, McDonnell said.
McDonnell's proposed budget takes millions largely from inflation adjustments for health care and school support programs; guts the prekindergarten program established by McDonnell's predecessor; and reassigns money to Virginia's underfunded public pension plan, higher education and economic development.
The spending blueprint for the 24 months beginning July 1 prescribes no tax increases. It totals nearly $85 billion in combined appropriations, up from about $80.7 billion for the biennium that ends June 30.