By Kathy Hieatt and Patrick Wilson
In a 5,500-word State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday night that was bullish on Virginia and absent partisan criticism, Gov. Terry McAuliffe urged the Republican-controlled General Assembly to work with him on bolstering the economy and creating jobs.
"This is a moment for history, and I am honored to share it with you," said the Democratic governor.
McAuliffe also called for a stricter limits on gifts to elected state officials -- a measure many legislators say is needed. But he pressed for gun control measures and expansion of Medicaid -- proposals that were soundly rejected by legislators in the past.
He highlighted several proposals and accomplishments that he has talked about in recent tours around the state and at news conferences including: licensing of unregulated day care centers, assistance for veterans, restoring rights of felons and promotion of research for a "new Virginia economy."
Twelve months into his four-year term, McAuliffe's propensity for promoting all things Virginia was in full bloom.
"Folks, just one year ago, I stood at this very desk and shared my vision for a stronger, more independent Virginia economy," he said. "One year later, I am proud to say that optimism was well-founded."
He noted the state's 267 economic development deals resulting in $5.8 billion in capital investment in his first year in office.
But he warned that mandatory federal budget cuts known as sequestration could come back.
"The days when Virginia could simply rely on federal spending to buoy our economy, in good times and bad, are over," he said. "If we are going to preserve Virginia's position as a global economic leader, we must open new avenues for growth that are not dependent on federal spending."
McAuliffe praised lawmakers from both parties for their work on balancing the budget and examining the mental health system and Standards of Learning tests.
The legislators' partisanship surfaced during some passages, including when he pressed for expanding Medicaid by accepting federal money as part of the Affordable Care Act.
"With one vote this session, we can get health care for 400,000 of our fellow Virginians, create up to 30,000 new jobs and save our current budget $105 million dollars," he said. "We can show the world, as we always have, that Virginia is a place where public good comes ahead of partisan politics."
Democrats on one side of the chamber stood, cheered and pounded their desks. Republicans on the other side sat in silence, some frowning.
But he drew most legislators in the chamber to their feet when he singled out New York state as their common foe when he pressed for $4.2 million to help Jefferson Lab in Newport News compete for an electron ion collider. The project would bring millions in investment to Virginia, he said.
"We simply cannot let those New Yorkers come down to Virginia and take our projects from us," he roared as legislators cheered.
"I knew I'd get you going here, folks," McAuliffe said, beaming and nodding his head at the reaction. "In full disclosure, I came up with that one myself, believe it or not."
Relating to Hampton Roads, McAuliffe praised the direction at the Port of Virginia under leadership he appointed saying that after losing millions, the port is "finally on track to become the profitable economic asset this commonwealth needs."
Two Republicans, Sen. Jeff McWaters of Virginia Beach and Del. Margaret Ransone of Westmoreland delivered a formal response that criticized McAuliffe for being too partisan.
"Last year's session, Gov. McAuliffe's first, was unnecessarily characterized by partisanship and stalemate," Ransone said. "Many of those divisive issues remained in the agenda Gov. McAuliffe detailed tonight. He is even promoting the same issue -- the expansion of Obamacare -- that led to last year's four-month budget stalemate."
The Republicans promised a balanced budget that would not raise taxes.
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, called McAuliffe "an absolute masterful marketeer" and gave him high marks as a cheerleader for Virginia and for his promotion of economic development.
On issues like gun control and Medicaid, though, the governor is simply preparing for this year's legislative elections, Norment said.
"Medicaid expansion is not taking place," Norment said.
(c)2015 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)