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April 10, 2009

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Friday, April 10, 2009

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Gov. Tim Kaine on Thursday vowed to put federal stimulus money to work for Henry County and Martinsville.

According to a state Web site, Virginia is to receive about $4.8 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Speaking during the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce's Annual Legislative Lunch on Thursday, Kaine said he expects to have some discretion over how about $2.5 billion of that money is spent.

Kaine told about 175 people attending the luncheon at the Virginia Museum of Natural History that state officials will consider economic hardships when deciding where and how to spend stimulus funds.

"You've got my promise," Kaine said, "... that we're going to use dollars in this area."

But before he can figure out how stimulus funds can be spent to the area's benefit, he must find out all of the federal government's rules on how the money can be used, he said.

Kaine "cares deeply for this area," said Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville and House minority leader. He said that through working closely with Kaine, he knows the governor is committed to helping Henry County and Martinsville overcome economic problems.

Virginia also is facing "a challenging time" due to the economy, Kaine said. The state expects revenues to drop about 7 percent this year because "our citizens and businesses are making less (money), so they are tightening their belts," he said.

But some states are seeing revenue declines of 20 percent to 30 percent, and he "feels fortunate" to be Virginia's governor and not the governor of one of those states, he said.

Also, Virginia's statewide unemployment rate has doubled during the past year, said Kaine.

The "state rate can be deceiving," he said, because unemployment in some localities is much higher. He mentioned that the Martinsville jobless rate of 20.2 percent in February was nearly triple the statewide average of 7 percent.

Kaine, a Democrat, expressed his anger over Wednesday's House of Delegates' rejection of a proposed expansion of unemployment benefits - as well as $125 million in stimulus funds to pay for it - mostly due to Republican opposition.

Opposing lawmakers voted against the needs of people in their communities "who are suffering," he said.

And, "when I feel that people are being treated unfairly, I get mad," Kaine said. He emphasized that jobless benefits are mainly for people who had no control over losing their jobs.

Expanding jobless benefits would have cost employers no more than about one cent per day per employee, said Kaine. Despite what Republicans think, he thinks most businesses would be willing to shoulder that burden because "they care about employees who lose jobs through no fault of their own."

Kaine predicted that the economy will improve. He encouraged Henry County-Martinsville business leaders to be ready to take advantage of opportunities that come along once it does improve.

"I applaud the spirit" of area residents who are working together to try to improve the local economy, he said.

One of those efforts, which was backed by state officials, was establishing the New College Institute (NCI), which opened in 2006. The state-supported school in uptown Martinsville enables area residents to take classes locally to earn bachelor's and master's degrees conferred by colleges and universities throughout Virginia.

The State Council for Higher Education in Virginia is expected to decide in 2012 whether NCI should evolve into a four-year institution.

While he was lieutenant governor, Kaine in 2004 first presented the idea of starting a public institution of higher education in Southside during a speech in Danville, recalled state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway.

Kaine, along with members of his senior staff, visited the area on Thursday as part of his first Cabinet Community Day of 2009. He mentioned that this visit was the second time he has brought his Cabinet to Henry County and Martinsville during his term as governor.

Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County, reminded the state officials to "keep an ear close to the people" they serve.

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