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Posted at 12:24 PM ET, 01/26/2011

Senate Democrats propose worker retraining, preference for Virginia contractors

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

Democrats, who hold a majority in the state senate, said Wednesday that they are still examining Gov. Bob McDonnell's $54 million economic development package of tourism grants and tax incentives. But they said a similar package from the governor which they approved last year was weighted toward big businesses, and they highlighted a package of eight bills filed by Democrats this year that they said would help small businesses in the still-soft economy.

All of the bills were filed by individual members by the General Assembly's filing deadline last week. But Senate Democrats highlighted them jointly at a news conference Wednesday, as they work to show that they have a unified vision for addressing what they acknowledged every poll shows is Virginian's top priority--creating jobs.

Senate Democratic caucus chairman Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington) called the package a group of "practical, everyday kinds of things we can to to create and retain jobs."

"Major corporations are good," Whipple said. "We love having Northrop Grumman's headquarters here. But we also think we have to encourage our small businesses because so much job creation occurs there.

The package includes a bill that would require state government to give preference to Virginia-based businesses in contracting, provided the bid price from a Virginia business is not more than 15 percent higher than the lowest non-Virginia bidder.

Another proposal would allow unemployed people receiving unemployment benefits to continue receiving benefits while employed in retraining programs. Another would create a program in which businesses could reduce hours of their employees instead of laying them off and have them access partial unemployment benefits to supplement their income.

And the Democrats say they endorse an amendment to the two-year state budget proposed by McDonnell which would raise state funding for loan guarantees to small businesses from $1 million to $5 million.

"People need jobs and they need them now," said Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

Meanwhile, Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) is asking for the legislature's audit branch to study how effective economic development incentives approved in previous years have been at actually creating jobs.

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | January 26, 2011; 12:24 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate  
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