Outgoing Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) offered a mixed assessment of his four years, saying the state has largely endured the recession but still faces huge challenges in transportation and higher education.
Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was replaced by Republican Robert McDonnell on Jan. 16. Alone among the states, Virginia's governor in their first term cannot seek re-election.
Virginia's economy, Kaine said, is vibrant compared to other states, citing its high income and low unemployment. The state has recruited five Fortune 500 companies to move their corporate headquarters to Virginia in the last four years, he added. With assets such as the Port of Virginia and Dulles International Airport, and an abundance of technology workers, "there is no reason why we cannot hold onto the position of economic dominance for many years to come," Kaine said.
No state can keep that economic edge, the former mayor of Richmond said, with a declining infrastructure. "The biggest challenge facing us is the decades-old gridlock in transportation investments," he said.
Kaine had pushed for a new, dedicated source of transportation money but House Republicans blocked a statewide tax increase, fearing retaliation from voters. The governor and Legislature did agree on a compromise plan in 2007 to spend about $1 billion a year on roads, bridges and mass transit mostly through borrowing but also raising a variety of fees. Still, the plan fell short of meeting the state's backlogged needs.
"The largest obstacle to solving our transportation needs is a philosophy, espoused by some, that it is always wrong to raise taxes or fees. 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 said.
Kaine also warned of the need to preserve Virginia's higher education system, which has slashed budgets and raised tuition. The state has a $4.2 billion budget shortfall.
Under Kaine's watch, the state enacted a smoking ban in most bars and restaurants, preserved more than 400,000 acres of open space and dedicated millions of dollars to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
But Kaine may be remembered best for his comforting words after the April, 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student gunman killed 32 students and teachers before shooting himself. The incident led to a series of reforms in mental health.
"I rejoiced on the great days and prayed for strength on the hard days, humbled and honored to play my small role in the grand sweep of Virginia history," Kaine concluded.