Important legislative session

Published 7:52 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Both the Franklin-Southampton Area and Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor chambers of commerce will preview the 2010 General Assembly regular session with breakfast gatherings next week.

Interest in the legislative session should be especially high in Western Tidewater, which could use a hand from state government as it begins recovering from the loss of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill.

Two issues strike us as critically important: funding of transportation improvements, which are vital to economic development, and adequate funding of the state’s community colleges, including Paul D. Camp Community College, which primary responsibility for workforce training in the region.

Virginia lawmakers have dropped the ball for several years running on a comprehensive transportation solution. Existing infrastructure is crumbling, and new projects haven’t gotten off the ground, thanks to legislative inaction.

Three highway projects are critical to Western Tidewater’s ability to attract new industrial jobs: the widening of U.S. 58 in western Suffolk; a new limited-access Route 460 through Southampton and Isle of Wight counties; and a new U.S. 58 interchange at Courtland. All are contingent on a comprehensive highway funding solution by lawmakers in Richmond. Perhaps new Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has proposed new funding mechanisms, including tolls on Interstates 95 and 85, will be able to work through the logjam that has killed previous transportation initiatives.

PDCCC, which has been hamstrung by budget cuts in recent years, desperately needs additional state funding if it is to adequately prepare the region’s workforce for the skilled, good-paying jobs that economic developers are working hard to attract.

Next week’s Chamber forums are a good opportunity to ask lawmakers about their intentions on these important issues.

The Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce will meet at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Franklin Baptist Church fellowship hall. The Isle of Wight Chamber will gather at 8 the next morning in the Smithfield Center.

Good turnouts will ensure that the business community’s voice is heard before lawmakers head to Richmond.