The weeks leading up to an election are often filled with determined candidates promising to shorten our commutes, improve our schools and bring our hard-earned dollars back from Richmond.
Inevitably, however, those grand October plans turn into empty February excuses. Healthy discussions about taking cars off our roads or better preparing students for a tech-savvy world somehow dissolve into finger-pointing sessions with legislators from other parts of the state.
Given the enormous challenges facing Virginia, that formula needs to change in 2014. Playing the partisan blame game is no longer an option.
After all, the 250,000 cars crawling around the Beltway on Monday morning didn’t have an “R” or a “D” on their license plates. The long line of Fairfax County schools in dire need of a new roof or HVAC system isn’t connected to a political party, either. Nor are the many towering office buildings along the Dulles Corridor with “For Lease” signs hanging down from the 18th floor.
The hope here is that those who were elected Tuesday night start putting their energy into solving problems, rather than creating or avoiding them.
The last thing Fairfax residents need is for the negative tone set during the campaign trail to carry over to the General Assembly session in January.
Nobody will be watched more closely than governor-elect Terry McAuliffe, who won by a razor-thin margin Tuesday despite outspending his opponent 3-to-1 in the campaign’s final month. He touts himself as a business-friendly executive who’s adept at working across party lines, but he has some major fence-mending to do after waging one of the most expensive and nasty campaigns in Virginia’s history.
We’ve heard enough about what Ken Cuccinelli can’t do. Let’s hear a little more about what Terry McAuliffe will do.
Virginians know McAuliffe is a high-energy guy who is adept at raising money and making friends. Now they’re eager to find out if he can lead a state with a laundry list of challenges ahead.
Few regions in the country are more vulnerable to federal- and defense-related cuts than Northern Virginia. Although opinions vary on how hard Fairfax and neighboring counties will be hit by a military downsizing in the coming years, all agree that diversifying our economic base is no longer optional.
Star Scientific-related scandals aside, outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell gets high marks for building on Virginia’s pro-business reputation and winning several major corporate recruiting wars during his term.
McAuliffe’s legacy will be directly tied to keeping that trend alive. Does he have the skills to parlay a diverse, highly skilled workforce in Northern Virginia into high-paying jobs? Can our proximity to Washington, D.C., and McAuliffe’s deep list of national contacts secure two or three more Fortune 500 companies for Virginia?
To be successful on the corporate recruiting front, he’ll have to first get his arms around our traffic. In 2011, a study by Texas Transportation Institute found that drivers in the Washington area — which includes parts of Northern Virginia and Maryland as well as the nation’s capital — spent an average of 74 hours a year in traffic jams, the most in the country in 2010. Most area commuters would say the situation has only gotten worse in the last three years. Upgrades in infrastructure are absolutely critical, as is a dramatic cultural shift that rewards new, out-of-the-box ways of tackling old problems.
McAuliffe and every other elected official in the state will also have to grapple with mounting issues related to the economy, education (preschool, K-12 and college), and health care. Virginia’s economy is changing at warp speed, fueling high demand for those with the requisite job skills and ensuring unemployment for those without them.
Virginia’s education system, once lauded for both its quality and affordability, has fallen several pegs when compared to other states and nations. Some point to rapid growth and a highly diverse student body, but those factors could be turned into positives if priorities are established and finite resources allocated properly.
With the first wave of baby boomers approaching retirement age, the incoming administration will have the unenviable task of addressing an aging population’s health care needs with inadequate fiscal resources. It’s not a job for the faint of heart.
Some of the “fixes” will involve technology and tax incentives. Others may require public-private partnerships and streamlining operations.
They also require a sense of urgency from our newly elected officials.
Fairfax County’s 1.1 million residents simply can’t afford to see another group of “well-intentioned” legislators go down to Richmond and return home empty-handed.