Strength in numbers is more than just a catchphrase, and speakers at a post-legislative breakfast held at The Prizery on Tuesday morning said key legislation initiatives this past General Assembly session would not have passed muster without an active chamber of commerce and grassroots community support.
Del. James Edmunds, Sen. Frank Ruff and Barry DuVal, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said a united front produces results.
The passage of House Bill 1634 approving a referendum for a sales tax increase earmarked for school capital improvements was a direct result of community advocacy, according to Edmunds.
Similar legislation had not met with success before, and Edmunds explained the laborious journey of the bill as it traveled through subcommittee and committee hearings before finally getting a hearing and passing muster in both the House and Senate.
Edmunds said the hurdles remain in passage of the referendum, once it is on the ballot, indicating this opportunity may not come this way again.
It took a community effort to get House Bill 1634 passed, and it’s going to take a community effort moving forward in determining what the money would be used for, if Halifax County voters approve the referendum, Edmunds said later.
A group of community leaders, parents and children appearing at the General Assembly for face-to-face meetings with legislators turned the tide, said Edmunds.
“I’ve been there long enough to know that when you see folks from home lobbying for a cause, it always has an impact on legislators, and even those who weren’t going to support it supported it,” said Edmunds. “Never underestimate the power of one voice.”
Ruff pointed to his legislation in the General Assembly supporting transportation and education, in addition to the Senate version of House Bill 1634.
Also during the Tuesday morning breakfast, Ruff reminded the group of a case before the Supreme Court, with a ruling coming within two weeks on whether to allow uranium mining at a property in Pittsylvania County.
It would take only one accident to negatively affect residents of an entire region for generations to come, one chance in a hundred, Ruff said.
The Supreme Court will make a decision on whether it is legal for the Commonwealth of Virginia to restrict the property rights of a landowner for health and safety issues.
“It’s our responsibility to protect the citizens we represent,” he said.
In the General Assembly, Ruff said he continues to support legislation advocating and supporting continuing education and employment initiatives beyond high school.
“We’re allowing universities to continue letting people who don’t know where they’re going get degrees in majors that won’t take them anywhere,” said Ruff, asking, “How do we change that mentality?”
DuVal termed the recent legislative session as a “pro business” session.
“You have representatives from this region who understand the importance of investment in education and transportation,” said DuVal. “You see that in the bills they sponsored.
“Economic growth in Northern Virginia will help this region,” said DuVal, referring to the recent announcement of Amazon coming to Northern Virginia. “We are a commonwealth, and the revenues will help public education and transportation in this region.”
DuVal pointed to efforts of the Charlotte business community in helping the expansion of Charlotte Douglas International Airport as an example of why the voice of the business community is important for economic development.
DuVal said in his more than 30 years of public service, he has learned the voice of the business community is important for a community’s future.
“Virginia has to compete in the global economy, and we have to have pro business legislators representing us,” DuVal said, referring to Edmunds and Ruff.
Both legislators earned an “A” from the state chamber for their support of business initiatives in the last session of the General Assembly.
DuVal noted the Virginia Chamber had a 95 percent success rate in its lobbying efforts in the last General Assembly session.
Included in those efforts were its opposition to Senate Bill 1200, a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Virginia, in its view harmful to small businesses, making it harder for workers to find entry level work and risk future economic development.
Virginia also faces the challenge of a drop in major business climate rankings, reasons being business costs (tax burden on new investments); a slowdown in growth due to federal sequestration and Virginia’s reliance on federal spending; and a decline in CEO perceptions of Virginia’s business climate after 2009.