Tim Kaine says a larger naval fleet presents an ‘enormous’ opportunity for Virginia
U. S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told a group of legislative and business leaders Monday that there will be a great business opportunity for Virginia as the country gradually ramps up the number of Naval aircraft carriers and ships to 355 during the next 15 years.
“We’re in the high 270s now,” he said, describing the size of the Naval fleet. “So much of that work will be done in Virginia. The commitment was in the defense bill that we just got done and that the president signed. But building up isn’t going to be easy or immediate,” Kaine added during a keynote speech for the annual meeting of the Virginia Foundation for Research and Economic Education (VAFREE), held at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.
Nearly 350 people turned out for the meeting and luncheon. Kaine was referring to President Donald Trump’s action on Dec. 12, when he signed a $700 billion defense budget into law, known as the National Defense Authorization Act. It requires special legislative action to fund new priorities, including $26.2 billion for 14 new ships, $5.9 billion for Virginia-class submarines and $4.4 billion for aircraft carriers.
Huntington Ingalls Industries, based in Newport News, is the country’s largest military shipbuilding company. While HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding subsidiary — which builds both Virginia-class submarines and nuclear aircraft carriers — obviously would benefit from more work, Kaine noted that many contractors and other companies also would gain from a 355-ship Navy. “All the reactors that are built that go into the nuclear carriers and subs are built in Lynchburg. Building these ships will be an enormous opportunity,” he said, especially if the state and localities work together with higher education institutions to provide a skilled workforce for the expansion.
Kaine, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that it will be tasked with rewriting the Higher Education Act in 2018. “As we go forth this year, I’d love to pick the brain of VAFREE and other organizations grappling with workforce issues. As the unemployment rate comes down, it’s tougher to find the help you need. “
In an interview with Virginia Business, Kaine said he supports expanding Pell grants to cover not only college costs but costs associated with accredited career training programs in the trades as an incentive for students to seek such training.
With Congress expected to vote this week on a tax reform package, Kaine weighed in on that issue calling it “a missed opportunity.” Unlike President Ronald Reagan’s tax reform bill of 1986, which Kaine said unfolded after 10 months of hearings in both houses, President Trump’s package was “rushed, secretive and partisan,” he said.
The Democrats didn’t get the handwritten bill until late in the day last week, he said, and they had to vote on it that night
Kaine says there’s a “90 percent chance” the package will pass in the form that it was reported out, following a House-Senate conference committee meeting on Friday. “While the bill has some features that are positive, the absence of meaningful dialogue with the Democratic Party means it will be a missed opportunity. The bill does sadly, in my view, weight the benefits at the top end and doesn’t do much for the middle class. It jacks up the deficit, and, with limitations on historic tax credit programs, Virginia gets socked a little more than other states,” he said.
Many businesses, though, are looking forward to the proposed reduction in the U. S. corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. That cut will raise the country’s deficit by $1.5 trillion dollars, said Kaine.
Nancy Agee, the CEO of Carilion Clinic in Roanoke and chair of the Virginia Business Council, also addressed the VAFREE gathering, congratulating the group on its 30th anniversary.
She expressed concern about a political environment that’s increasingly polarizing. “Our civil discourse is disintegrating at the federal level,” Agee said. “That’s the only way forward. When it devolves into a refusal to engage, it’s gets us nowhere, and it’s bad for business.”
Agee also commented on Virginia’s rise this year in a national business ranking by Forbes magazine to No. 5, after being No. 6 in 2016. The state’s Achilles’ heel, she said, may two things: “The cost of doing business — labor, energy and taxes cost more in Virginia than in 20 other states. And secondly, we rank No. 1 in per-capita federal spending. That’s a two-edge sword. It accounts for one third of our state economic activity, which makes us vulnerable to federal spending events like sequestration That’s why efforts to diversify our economy are so important.’’