Ready Today for Tomorrow’s Challenges
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of politicians who talk an awful big game about tackling the biggest issues of the day… and then immediately punt responsibility of solving those problems as far down the road as they can.
Look, I get it- taking the kind of bold action that provides for the future of the Commonwealth doesn’t always make for great press releases, clever soundbytes, or engaging political mailers. Thinking beyond winning the next election is inconceivable, never mind planning for the next five, ten, or fifty years.
But that’s exactly what we need right now. The challenges we’re facing today- the decisions that will be made in the next few years- will chart the course the Commonwealth will take forward for the next fifty to a hundred years. And the generations of politicians that came before us used up the time we had to dither about. The can got kicked down the road- and landed right here. We can’t kick it any farther without jeopardizing the future our children and grandchildren will inherit.
Given the opportunity to lead, follow, or get out of the way, Virginia should always- always- be ready to lead. The people of the Commonwealth deserve nothing less.
Automation and Sustainable Jobs
The next employment crisis isn't on the horizon- it's here already. Automation is coming, and nothing will stop it… but we can be ready for it.
There are about 50,000 truck and bus drivers in Virginia, making a mean hourly wage of $20/hour, disproportionately employed in the most economically disadvantaged parts of Virginia- and that number doesn't even include everything from delivery drivers to taxi/Uber/Lyft operators. What happens when these jobs disappear in the next ten years? And, behind them, the twenty thousand call center jobs in Virginia. Thirty thousand accountants. 250,000 cashiers, clerks, and retail workers. Over ten percent of the entire job market in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Small and underserved communities will be hit first, as they lose vital revenue streams, which will exacerbate a "brain drain" that's already devastated once robust parts of the Commonwealth, and will trigger a migration of people into cities with already strained job and housing markets.
We can't afford to "punt this football" any longer. We need to be proactive and ensure every Virginian, regardless of their zip code, has access to the 21st Century economy. This means pursuing a higher minimum wage. It means pursuing the best healthcare system we can provide. It means sustainable, long-lasting, well-paying jobs that will proactively build and protect these vulnerable communities, and increase the freedom and resiliency of Virginia families from the mountains to the sea.
Resilient Communities and a Stable Economy
I believe firmly one of the most important jobs any government has is providing stability for its citizens. They want to be able to go about their business, live their lives, with as little interruption as possible. Which is completely fair and understandable- and means that it’s our job to make sure every community is empowered to make that a reality.
Providing for resilient communities and a stable economy can take many forms. It can be anything from emphasizing distributed power generation to reducing red tape for farm-to-table restaurants; it can be things like eliminating unfunded mandates that localities struggle to fund, to a tax credit for everyday Virginians who want to grow a “quarter acre farm” in their backyard.
But one of the most concrete things we can do is repeal or amend the Dillon Rule, which means that the General Assembly in Richmond has almost unimpeachable power to tell cities and counties across the Commonwealth what they can and cannot do. One rural county board of supervisor explained it this way to me, and I quote: “We can't even scratch our own (expletive) without a (expletive) committee in Richmond's say so.”
Colorful, but she was sadly accurate. Seems like the most common gift that Richmond sends to localities are unfunded mandates. Makes perfect sense; they get to go back and brag every election season they passed all these great laws and didn't even raise your taxes any! Instead, local elected officials get stuck with the bill and the responsibility. Way better to let them deal with the blowback instead.
If we want to enable stable yet flexible local governments, and ensure that people and communities in every corner of the Commonwealth can survive and thrive no matter the circumstance, Richmond needs to work with localities, and allow them to find solutions that work in their communities. The legislature stepping in to make decisions for them needs to be the exception instead of the rule.
The Climate Crisis
In 2018, Virginia suffered through the most extreme weather in recorded history. From a record number of days above 90 degrees, to tornadoes and floods, one thing is certain- climate change is here, now, and it's already affecting Virginia.
But it could have been much worse. Virginia was lucky to have missed the brunt of Hurricanes Alberto, Florence, Helene, and Michael. Some places in North Carolina got over sixty inches of rain in a single storm. Lives were lost. Billions of dollars in damage was done.
And it could have been us.
The US military pumps billions of dollars into the Virginia economy. But Langley Air Force Base and Oceana Naval Air Station already flood dozens- if not hundreds- of days a year. So what happens when another round of BRAC convinces the military, for national security reasons, to consolidate and move those bases inland?
But it's not just the military. Agriculture-related industries generated $70 billion in total output in 2015, accounting for more than 334,000 jobs and $36.2 billion in value added to the state’s economy– about 7.5 percent of Virginia gross domestic product. Here in central Virginia, agritourism alone generated over a billion dollars for the local GDP. But the weather this year was the worst ever for the wine industry, with a projected loss into the tens of millions of dollars in revenue. The vast majority of Virginia vineyards are small, family-owned operations, the sort-of small businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy, that can’t afford to compete while taking an economic hit of that magnitude.
And it's not just wine and grapes; what happens when a heat wave kills hundreds of thousands of chickens? Shrivels corn and soy beans in their fields, or other cash crops? Dries up the wells that feed the Shenandoah Valley? What happens when extreme weather events put people out of power for days, if not weeks? What happens when 50,000 climate refugees show up overnight in Waynesboro? Or Fauquier. Lynchburg. Henrico. And one night turns into five. Ten. Twenty. Or forever.
These are real problems that require real solutions before the worst occurs. The people of the Commonwealth cannot afford the shrugs of politicians who bleat plaintively about "acts of God" when disaster strikes, who offer "thoughts and prayers" instead of action. We can- we must- work to prepare our people and economy to address it preemptively, to ensure Virginia families have the interrupted stability and prosperity that they deserve.