McAuliffe talks roads, Medicaid

Published 10:24 am Friday, April 4, 2014

Tracy Agnew/Suffolk News-Herald

Special to The Tidewater News

SUFFOLK—Gov. Terry McAuliffe addressed topics ranging from transportation to Medicaid expansion during an appearance at the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce’s Norfolk headquarters on Tuesday.

“(Medicaid) is probably as important an issue as we’ve faced in a long time,” McAuliffe told the gathering of about 75 business leaders. “Unfortunately, politically ideological politicians have gotten into it.”

McAuliffe blamed House Republicans for being unwilling to compromise on the legislation, which he said would bring health coverage to 400,000 Virginians and create up to 30,000 new jobs.

“I come at this from a business perspective,” he said, adding the state will send $26 billion to the federal government in the next eight years thanks to Obamacare. “My argument is, this is our money, and as a businessman, I want that money back.”

If the state doesn’t expand Medicaid, at least under a two-year trial McAuliffe has proposed, hospitals would close and the money would go to its economic competition in neighboring states, the governor said.

“This is not a political argument, this is a business argument,” he said. “This is morally, socially, the right thing to do. This makes some economic sense.”

McAuliffe also addressed the region’s three big economic drivers — defense spending, the Port of Virginia and tourism, tied together by the common thread of transportation.

The average visitor to Hampton Roads is “not going to tolerate traffic,” McAuliffe said, making the region’s perpetual gridlock a liability to the tourism industry.

“Traffic’s the biggest driver,” he said. “You’ve got the assets, the beach and everything.”

And it’s just as important, if not more so, to defense and the port.

“Transportation is very important,” McAuliffe said. He said he’ll make improvements to the entire length of U.S. Route 58 a priority, because it’s a main artery to and from the port. Widening of Suffolk’s portion is sorely needed, but city leaders have been unable to fully fund the project.

He saved some of his strongest words of the hour-long talk for the Route 460 project, which his administration recently announced would be suspended until permits are in place.

“I’m not happy about 460, the idea we spent $300 million of taxpayer money and not a shovel is in the ground.” From now on, he added, “We’re not spending a dime on a road unless we know it is permitted.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has balked at issuing a permit for the new toll road, because it would disturb about 474 acres of wetlands.

The governor reassured folks worried about a round of Base Realignment and Closure, saying he does not believe it would happen before the midterm elections and possibly not until the next president is elected.

“I would find it hard to believe that’s going to happen immediately,” he said. “We actually fared pretty well in the last round of BRAC.”

When BRAC does come, McAuliffe said, the state’s congressional delegation will work together to mitigate the impacts.

“If Hampton Roads works together as a region, there’s nobody who can beat you on the globe,” McAuliffe said.

He also was critical of financial losses at the port, which he said have totaled $120 million in the last five years, even though it has seen growth in the amount of cargo it moves.

“I am not pleased with the performance of our port,” he said. “Don’t tell me how much our cargo is up if we’re losing money on each piece of cargo.”

McAuliffe also briefly touched on education, saying he wants to help keep tuition down at the state’s higher education institutions and better fund pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade education.

He also said he won’t support repealing the state’s King’s Dominion law, which prohibits public schools from starting until after Labor Day, because it helps buoy the tourism industry. But, he said he would support it as an option for failing schools that could demonstrate year-around schooling could be beneficial for them.