While politicians in Washington continue to hammer out an agreement on the federal debt ceiling, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said the economic climate in the commonwealth is relatively healthy, stable and well-run.
McDonnell, speaking to the at its annual Awards for Chamber Excellence (ACE) at the Westin Washington Dulles on Tuesday, told chamber members if they ran their own businesses the way the federal government does, they probably would be out of business.
"We have a state where we are running things on a fiscally safe basis," said McDonnell. "With the federal debt ceiling, what is going to happen in the next seven or eight days will hopefully offer a resolution in the near future. There is no way you could survive if you ran your business the way the federal government runs its business. It has overspent and overpromised, an now those debts are due.
"In Virginia, we found ways to navigate a $6 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes," McDonnell said. "Now we have a [$311 million] surplus. Compared to what is going on in Washington, we are talking savings and surplus here."
Challenges remain for the commonwealth, though. Among them: a stream of unfunded mandates and a retirement system that is underfunded by $18 billion, said McDonnell.
The governor outlined many of Virginia's recent highlights. Among them:
* Unemployment at 6 percent - the third-lowest state east of the Mississippi - and the recent selection by CNBC as the No. 1 business-friendly state.
"Our right-to-work laws are strong," Gov. McDonnell said. "Our taxes are low. We provide a good base of services. The rest is up to you in the business community. ... But we have a long way to go before we are out of the woods. There are still 200,000+ Virginians out of a job."
* Improvements to the transportation infrastructure that will have a positive impact on Northern Virginia business.
"Metropolitan areas are clearly the economic engines of the state," he said. "Without transportation, they are not going to grow and expand."
McDonnell said he approved of Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority's recent reversal on the Silver Line's "cost-innefective underground station."
"I was delighted that MWAA has put in place a structure to get us back to the original estimate of $2.5 billion," he said.
However, the governor said it that project labor agreements - which have been called out by some for adding to the Rail to Dulles construction costs - cannot violate Virginia's Right to Work laws, and that he would like to see Northern Virginia with greater representation on MWAA board (which is weighted heavily with federal, Maryland and D.C. reps).
Looking toward the future, the governor talked about education and energy.
On education, he reiterated his often-made promise to expand access for residents to Virginia's state universities and award more degrees, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas.
"We'ge got to focus on STEM areas, offer more distance learning and run universities like a business," he said. "This, and improvements in K-12 education is going to be key for workforce development."
On energy, the governor's goal is to "find ways to promote all kids of energy development and keep it at a low cost."