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House hopefuls field questions
Attending Wednesday morning’s breakfast forum at the Dutch Inn in Collinsville were (from left)
Amanda Witt, Chamber president; 14th District incumbent Danny Marshall; 16th District candidate Les Adams; 14th District candidates Mary Martin and Gary Miller; 16th District candidate Elizabeth Jones; and moderator Glenn Wood. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Thursday, October 31, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Candidates for the area’s two contested seats in the House of Delegates answered questions Wednesday on topics including economic development incentives and advancing construction of Interstate 73.
The five candidates spoke at a breakfast forum in Collinsville sponsored by the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce. Questions from chamber members were posed by Glenn Wood, vice chairman of government affairs on the chamber board. About 75 people attended the forum.
Candidates in Tuesday’s election were asked about priorities other than economic development and education, which all have said are top issues.
Republican Les Adams, who is seeking the 16th District seat, said economic development, education and job creation are interconnected with a variety of other issues in the district, including workforce development, which is essential to attract companies and businesses.
Adams’ opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Jones, said “uranium mining has no place in Virginia. The current moratorium ... (on it) has protected us for 30 years.” She added that if elected she would propose an amendment to Virginia’s constitution that would permanently ban uranium mining.
Incumbent 14th District Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said “everything else feeds jobs,” from education and workforce training to incentives. He said he has sought appointments on commissions, boards and other groups through which he can work on economic development.
Gary Miller, a Danville cardiologist and the Democrat opposing Marshall, said “the number one priority is keeping youth in the area and preventing our youth drain.” That, he said, is only possible if jobs are created.
Independent Mary Martin, a native of Henry County and former member of the county school board who also is seeking to oust Marshall, said retaining existing businesses and supporting expansions, increasing incentives from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and the tobacco commission, and continued support for the New College Institute (NCI), Patrick Henry and Danville community colleges and other education/training programs are imperative.
Candidates responded to questions on other issues, including:
• What are your favored alternatives if Virginia does not move forward to expand Medicaid?
Jones said she is an optimist because she thinks the state will move forward with the expansion. That would be “smart business and smart for business” because the expansion would create 33,000 jobs, many of them in Southside, she said.
Adams said he would support medical projects that created branch facilities in communities and look for other ways to cut treatment costs as fewer people went to emergency rooms. “Medicaid is a program that needs reform,” he said.
As a self-described realist, Marshall said there is an estimated $65 million of fraud and abuse in the Medicaid system, and fewer doctors are accepting it. Expanding the program would mean a $1 billion cost to taxpayers and/or spending cuts, he said.
“Where do we cut,” Marshall asked rhetorically. “If we can cut the fraud and abuse, that is a lot of money” to use for those needing care.
Martin said Virginia taxpayers cannot afford the expansion, and that currently, 21 percent of the state’s general fund budget goes to Medicaid. While the federal government has said it would provide funds to expand the program, Martin said, “I do not feel comfortable with the federal government’s word.”
Rather, she said adding low-cost health clinics to the community — such as Bassett Family Practice — would offer cost effective ways to treat those in need. She also would support existing clinics.
Miller said the federal government has pledged $2 billion to help expand Medicaid, and if the state doesn’t accept it, those funds will go to another state.. “Other states are thinking of accepting the money and using it” at their discretion to provide care to the poor, he said. Virginia could do something similar.
• What is your position on Governor’s Opportunity Fund (GOF) and other economic development incentive programs that would be useful to recruit, retain and otherwise impact retail?
Adams said companies consider more than just incentives, with business-friendly policies an example. Keeping taxes low and providing incentives are key to making sure Virginia is attractive to businesses, he said.
“Now I feel like being a little cynical,” said Jones. “Martinsville has the highest unemployment rate in the state. Someone better get to Richmond and tell them that Southside is here, and we are open for business,” she said.
In the interim, the workforce needs to be trained, and officials must cultivate among all students — even those in middle school — the need to focus on “life after high school,” Jones said. She also said the corporate income tax should be lower.
“I think we need to expand” the GOF and have more input into how those funds are spent, Miller said.
Marshall said he has experience in helping create jobs and providing support for those who lost jobs, in part through legislation he sponsored at the request of former governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both Democrats).
In addition, Marshall said his membership on the tobacco commission and other boards, and his willingness to partner with organizations such as the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), demonstrate his commitment to job creation and economic development.
Martin suggested spending some GOF and other incentive funds to provide facelifts to properties that might attract retail. “We’ve got to get rid of the blight. Pave the parking lots,” maintain the buildings to make them look nice, she said. “The key to retail is (that) we have buildings that are attractive and well maintained,” she said.
Also, “we’ve got to stop increasing taxes,” Martin said. She also would check into partnering with utility boards, etc., to give businesses breaks on their water bills for a set amount of time, such as six months.
• How do the candidates plan to advocate for construction of Interstate 73, which is included on a list of projects for a public-private partnership?
“I-73 is critical,” as is continuing work on U.S. 58, Marshall said, but its construction mainly will be funded by the federal government. Inclusion in the partnership allows private companies to look at innovative ways to build it, he said.
Martin said she would concentrate on getting the I-73 project added to the state’s transportation plan. “Sadly with the transportation bill,” approved by legislators during the last session, “I didn’t see any money allocated” to I-73. “If we’re going to build it, we need to put it in the plan,” she said.
“I’m going to let I-73 go forward,” Jones said, and added the new interstate “is just one of the things I have to put in the transportation package.” She did not elaborate. However, with the start of I-73, Jones said she envisions jobs, a decrease in the unemployment rate and “the quality of life going up.”
Adams said he would support a Tri State Commission bill, which would involve partnering with other states, such as North Carolina, on the high cost of the project.
Miller said U.S. 220 is “an abysmal road” to travel, and that I-73 is needed. Teamwork must be cultivated with legislators in Northern Virginia to get their support of the project by saying “you’re digging a new port. It’s to your advantage” to have a way to move shipments from there, he said.