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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Lawmakers: Stimulus saved Virginia jobs

Monday, March 30, 2009

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

Federal stimulus funds saved an estimated 90,000 jobs in Virginia, according to state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds.

"Thank goodness for the stimulus package," Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, told about 60 people at the Piedmont Democratic Women's Club's legislative breakfast Saturday at Forest Park Country Club.

Both Reynolds and Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, said the $1 billion in stimulus funds the commonwealth received prevented the budget shortfall from being worse than it was. The money was in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama last month.

While Reynolds said the funds saved 90,000 jobs throughout the state, Armstrong said they prevented the layoffs of 7,000 state employees.

"The stimulus money was a breath of fresh air" that helped legislators get through a difficult General Assembly session, Armstrong added.

The state faced an estimated $3 billion budget shortfall at the start of the session in January, and declining revenues cost the state another $1 billion before the session ended in February, he said.

The shortfall forced cuts in core services such as primary and secondary education, Armstrong added. But, Reynolds said, without the stimulus funds, jobs would have been lost in every school district and every constitutional office, as well as for vital services such as Medicaid and mental health.

He noted that the economic problems did not result from decisions made in Virginia. The commonwealth, he said, is rated the best state to do business and the best run.

He also observed that Virginia has a AAA bond rating, has two universities rated in the top 10 of the nation by U.S. News and World Report, and its schools compare well to other states. He also said the state's traffic fatalities fell more than 20 percent in 2008 and its crime rate is the lowest since figures started being tracked in 1971, especially compared with neighboring states.

"We must be doing something right," Reynolds added.

But the state faces challenges if the national economy does not improve soon, he said.

"Some say there will be no turnaround in the foreseeable future. I hope they're wrong" or else the stimulus funds will have just delayed cuts the state will be forced to make, Reynolds said.

Both legislators expect heated debates on unemployment-related matters in the April 7 veto override session.

Armstrong said the state can receive more than $100 million in additional stimulus funds for unemployment benefits if it picks two of four changes. He predicted Gov. Tim Kaine will select changes in benefits for part-time workers and those in job training.

There is no cost to the state for two years, Armstrong said, and then the employer tax on each worker will rise from $3 to $4.

"Already partisan lines are being drawn in the sand," he said, with Republicans "champing at the bit" to vote against stimulus money.

But, he said, such funds help sustain people and communities during hard times.

Reynolds also said the assembly will take up a proposed change affecting people who work two part-time jobs. Now, if someone is laid off from one part-time job, he can make up to $50 at another job before his unemployment benefits are reduced dollar for dollar.

Some people want that threshold increased, but business interests oppose that, he said. Yet with stimulus funds, the move can be temporary, reverting to the earlier threshold when funds expire, he said.

Looking to the fall elections, Armstrong noted that the Democrats will pick a gubernatorial candidate in a June 9 primary. On Nov. 3, Virginians will elect a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, as well as all members of the House of Delegates, he said.

Democrats need to pick up five seats to have a majority, and they have recruited 63 candidates to run this fall, Armstrong said, adding that he expects that number to reach 70.

"You can't win if you don't run candidates," said Armstrong who, as House minority leader, is heavily involved in increasing the party's ranks in the House.

"Why is it important?" he asked. "The House has been dysfunctional" for several years, which he said dooms the chances for funding a transportation package, the proposed Interstate 73 and the New College Institute.

He called the Republican leadership "ultra conservative" and said until it changes, the local initiatives will not be funded.

"How we do it (gain a majority) is important, but why is more important," Armstrong added.

Also at the breakfast, club president Kathy Rice announced that the Mary Sue Terry Scholarship was awarded to Juelyan Randall Via, a senior at Martinsville High School who plans to attend Virginia Tech. He is the son of Randall Via and grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Via of Martinsville, who attended the breakfast.

Juelyan Via was not at the meeting because he was in Las Vegas receiving the Golden Torch Award from the National Society of Black Engineers. He also is a member of the National Honor Society, marching band (section leader) and jazz band, and is a Gifted and Talented Advisory Board representative.

Via also worked for the campaigns for now-President Barack Obama and 5th District U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Albemarle County; is on the Usher Board at St. Paul High Street Baptist Church; and tutors elementary school students through Friends of the Court (Focus).


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