Virginia landed five corporate headquarters during the worst economic slide in 70 years but failed to fix its gridlocked highways, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine said in his final speech as governor.
In a short, valedictory State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday, the outgoing governor challenged the General Assembly to find the billions of dollars necessary to fix the state's outmoded highways, a task he twice called them into fruitless special sessions to do.
"The largest obstacle to solving our transportation needs is a philosophy, espoused by some, that it is always wrong to raise taxes or fees," Kaine said. "Thank goodness that previous state leaders did not hold that view — if they had, we would have no community college system, dirtier rivers, a lackluster school system and even fewer roads."
Kaine cautioned legislators that no state can maintain its economic edge with a declining infrastructure — jammed roads that trap commuters in Washington, D.C.'s Virginia suburbs for hours each day, substandard bridges, rural roads that impede economic development and insufficient ability to evacuate the Hampton Roads region in an emergency.
One of the only accomplishments Virginia can claim in road funding during the last four years, Kaine said: "We eagerly took infrastructure money contained in President Obama's recovery package."
"Eventually, we need leadership in this collective body to find a path toward responsible advances in road investments," he said.
Sen. Thomas K. Norment, R-James City, said Kaine had a challenging four years marked by an unfortunate downturn in the economy and "some partisan politics that certainly precluded him from accomplishing some of his goals," but he stands by his party's decision not to raise taxes to fund transportation.
"The fact that we didn't enact massive tax increases to undertake a transportation initiative, if he considers that a failure then I just have to disagree with my dear friend in that regard," Norment said.
Kaine also called for more investments in higher education, even though the budget he submitted last month cut state support to public colleges and universities by 26 percent.
He said Virginia is above the national average with about 40 percent of its residents attaining baccalaureate degrees, but he lamented that the figure had remained static.
"While still good by American standards, we need to realize that the leading nations in the world are educating nearly 60 percent of their population with higher education degrees today," Kaine said.
Kaine spoke proudly of the five Fortune 500 corporations that had moved their headquarters to Virginia since he took office in Williamsburg four years ago. Two came in the past year, a time of unemployment increases and ebbing state revenue collections.
"During my brief time as governor, we have achieved the unparalleled honor of being recognized eight times as the best state for business in America by business organizations like Forbes.com and CNBC," Kaine said.
House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said Kaine "speaks often of the many accolades Virginia has earned ... but it's been done under the stewardship of governors and legislators representing both parties."
Griffith decried Kaine for balancing his budget on a proposed income tax increase that had no chance of passing, saying Kaine left legislators and the incoming governor to make the difficult choices.
Republican Bob McDonnell is inaugurated as Virginia's 71st governor at noon Saturday.
Kaine already has cut $7 billion from the state's spending plan since 2008. Legislators began a 60-day session Wednesday in which they must reconcile another $4 billion budget gap.
"He didn't stand up there and say I changed the course of Western civilization. He spelled out that he did the best he could with the limited resources that he had," said Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw. "I can't remember a governor ever being dealt this kind of hand."
Republican Sen. Jeff McWaters, who took the oath of office earlier in the day, accused Kaine of using the federal stimulus money to "bail-out and paper over our problems and delaying the inevitable by one more year."
Kaine also touched on current breaking news, thanking members of Fairfax County's rescue team on their way to Haiti to help find survivors trapped beneath the rubble of Tuesday's powerful earthquake. The rescue team has responded to disasters worldwide.
"The last years have been tough on you, but I see your optimism and concern everywhere I travel, and I want to tell you how proud I am of you," he said to 100,000-plus state employees.
Kaine's speech was the first of two State of the Commonwealth speeches within five days. McDonnell delivers his first address to a joint session of the Virginia House and Senate on Monday night, a speech that will serve as a roadmap to the policy priorities of his administration.
Associated Press Writer Dena Potter contributed to this report.
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