By Del. Kaye Kory
As the Aug. 23 primary nears, campaign signs are cropping up across Northern Virginia, candidates are knocking on doors, and shiny direct mail pieces are showing up in mailboxes. Please check to see if there are contested races in your districts and remember to vote. Though national and international economic events are dominating the news, these forces are already impacting Virginia, and it is important that individuals who reflect your views represent you in Richmond.
The economy and, in particular, “jobs” will be at the top of the legislative agenda in 2012. Unfortunately, I think we will see from both sides of the aisle attempts to link jobs to any number of partisan positions. For example, we’ve already heard Republicans celebrating the 2011 budget surplus of over $300 million. From the House Republican caucus:
“The House has worked together with and supported the governor on budgetary issues as well as economic development. The governor's effort to bring more jobs to Virginia was one key factor in stimulating vitality and improving revenue flow throughout the commonwealth.”
This spin on jobs doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny. A recent report from the nonpartisan Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis found that:
“Virginia has made no real progress in job creation since the end of the recession all the way back in June 2009. At that time, Virginia’s total employment was 3.6 million and it remains at 3.6 million today.”
The impact on jobs will be among the arguments Republicans will use next year for reducing, eliminating, and/or ignoring EPA regulations. Similarly, the promised creation of more than 300 jobs in Southside Virginia will be a key factor in efforts to eliminate the ban on uranium mining that has been in force in Virginia since 1982.
My point here is that it is very important to evaluate the underlying facts when considering legislative or policy initiatives that proponents argue will impact jobs.
Despite these objections, I want to underscore my belief in the importance of developing commonwealth initiatives that will have significant and lasting impact on job creation.
Along these lines, I think it is useful to review an important new source of job data recently created by the Brookings Institute. The Brookings Clean Economy database is a wonderful interactive web tool that provides a wealth of information on “green jobs.” It offers access to information on the type, number and location of these jobs for states and the top 100 U.S. metropolitan areas.
The commonwealth is ranked 15th in the nation on this list, with 66,772 jobs. Among metropolitan areas, the Washington, D.C./Virginia/Maryland region with 70,828 jobs, is currently ranked fourth, behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Richmond is 49th with 10,630 jobs and Norfolk-Virginia Beach is 56th, with 9,594 jobs.
Virginia is ranked 17th among the states in terms of the rate of growth of green jobs between 2003 and 2010. North Carolina, New York, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Florida are all growing green jobs faster than the commonwealth.
I try not to be a “glass is half empty” critic, but given the jobs rhetoric emanating both from Northern Virginia and Richmond, I do not think these figures reflect where we want to be. There is no doubt in my mind that competition among the states for green jobs will be fierce. I am also confident that the overwhelming majority of members of the General Assembly agree that improving Virginia’s performance in this emerging industry is a shared goal.
To be effective in achieving this goal will require commitment, creativity, and significant investment. During last year’s session, I offered legislation to create a tax credit to support renewable energy development. Unfortunately, the legislation was simply ignored, a common partisan tactic. Again this year I will be working with my colleagues and the administration on ideas for fostering growth in green jobs. I will be reporting on these efforts later this year.