Powering success in every zip code.
If you want to give every Virginian a chance at success, then let’s make it easy for them to get from their home to work. Make sure they can access high-quality healthcare in their community. Give them the tools to pursue their entrepreneurial dream, go back to school, keep their small business going in a 21st Century economy, and help ensure their stability for when disaster or misfortune strikes.
Improving our Commonwealth's infrastructure should be one of our top priorities. Whether it's our aging electrical grid or our often snarled transportation system, when we fix and improve our Commonwealth's infrastructure, we improve things for everyone. If you want to "level the playing field" then there are few better ways to accomplish it.
But we also need to empower our local communities across the Commonwealth to find solutions that work for them. Stable local governments are the bedrock of providing for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the state legislature needs to aid them rather then run roughshod over them. If we’re truly interested in powering success in every zip code, we need to start there.
Powering the Commonwealth
Electricity is the bedrock of our civilization; I don’t think you need me to elaborate on that. So we have a responsibility to make sure every person in Virginia has stable access to power. Which means we need to make sure we’re upgrading our electrical grid, to make it more decentralized and able to withstand disruptions. It means we need to be ready today for distributed electrical generation, and empower more people to work with solar power at their homes and businesses. It means we need to be a national leader in transitioning to a carbon-free, clean energy economy, which will create thousands of jobs and ensure Virginia is held accountable to its own citizens, and never again to the whims of foreign countries who fund terrorism and attack our democracy.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has pointed out that Virginia will need $6.1 billion in critical water infrastructure spending in the next 20 years to maintain current levels of infrastructure and preserve drinking water quality.
We have to work with localities and the General Assembly to fund clean water infrastructure and expand statewide water quality testing for drinking water sources and Virginia’s natural waterways. We need to ensure Coastal Virginia is up-to-date on the with their stormwater management systems, so Virginia Beach doesn't turn into Houston, and put Virginia taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars in damages. Meanwhile, during the last drought, dozens of family farms in the Shenandoah Valley had their wells run dry.
We have to ensure that our communities are able to access water as the climate changes here in Virginia, going from monsoon to drought and back again, so everyday Virginians are able to provide for their families, and businesses are able to operate. Whether it’s a reservoir in Greene County, or storm drains in Hampton, we’ve gotta be proactive to make sure that Virginia can keep moving ever forward, regardless of the circumstances.
Return power to localities
Virginia is what's known as a Dillon Rule state, 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; these legislators 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 when things go south.
If we want to enable stable yet flexible local governments, then 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. Let’s give Charlottesville the ability to find a Charlottesville solution to a Charlottesville problem. Or Fredericksburg. Lynchburg. Petersburg.
Keeping Virginia Moving
We have an obligation to the working families of Virginia to alleviate road congestion that keeps them on the highways and away from their homes. But the solution is not constructing an outer beltway or more tunnels financed through tolls that wreak havoc on small communities and working folks. We should support reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions by providing a high-quality public transit system that entices commuters out of their cars and into our rail, bus and bike networks, combined with long-term smart growth policies.
We should support a comprehensive approach to jobs and infrastructure along the lines of the 2015 Rebuild America Act introduced by Senator Sanders, or the Pennsylvania Rapid Bridge Replacement Program. There are 650 bridges in Virginia- with over 3.4 million daily crossings between them- that have been rated structurally deficient.
But while critically important, infrastructure programs should invest not just in big-ticket items like dams and bridges, but also in small, local businesses, rural schools, libraries, and health clinics, as well as in high-speed broadband.
We also need to secure the Federal funding, with commensurate state assistance, to expand the Amtrak corridor from Roanoke to Washington, DC, to at least Christiansburg, to help alleviate the congestion along the most dangerous parts of I-81, and in other high-use corridors as well based on ridership and local need. An average decrease in $15 per fare on the Virginia Amtrak corridor is projected to take over 50,000 cars off our already clogged roads.
Universal Broadband Access
In the 21st century, we need to think about the Internet as a utility, just like electricity, water, and natural gas. Because viewed under that lense, there are far too many people in the Commonwealth are in danger of being left behind.
Entrepreneurs with ideas for new businesses need fast, reliable Internet access. So do high school students applying to college. And so do all kinds of people: folks who are trying to pay their taxes, make travel plans, utilize telemedicine services, stay at home with their kids while trying to earn their degree, or just keep in touch with family and friends.
In many places in urban and suburban Virginia, gigabit internet is available. But just ten or fifteen miles away, in Scottsville, Troy, or Elkton, the best available option is satellite Internet — which is expensive, unreliable, and slow as all get-out.
I know those "last mile" connections are tough- but we can't afford to leave any of our neighbors behind. We need to use subsidies or tax credits to encourage broadband companies to invest in building the necessary infrastructure. And we need to empower local communities and small businesses to find their own solutions whenever the private sector falls short.