Lawmakers Talk I-81, Education

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December 06, 2018
For the Daily News-Record          12/6/18
HARRISONBURG — Three state lawmakers representing parts of the Shenandoah Valley discussed a wide range of issues they hope to tackle in the upcoming General Assembly session with local business leaders on Wednesday.
Dels. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, and Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, and Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, spoke to about 50 people at a pre-session legislative breakfast at the James Madison University Festival Conference and Student Center.
The event was organized by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce and the Shenandoah Valley Technology Council.
The lawmakers expect to deal with familiar issues in the 2019 session, which begins next month, including improvements to Interstate 81. They spoke about various options, including tolls, to cover an estimated $2 billion worth of capital projects on I-81.
On Wednesday, the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved the yearlong Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan. Projects outlined in
the plan include widening parts of the interstate and extending acceleration lanes.
One proposal would tax tractor-trailers only, which Wilt said he is opposed to, as the industry employs many people in the area.
A regional gas tax has also been discussed.
The CTB will present its plan to the General Assembly before the session begins on Jan. 9.
“Bottom line — we’re going to have to raise taxes,” Hanger said.
Landes, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he will seek to keep costs down to attend Virginia’s colleges and universities. At the same time, he said, the General Assembly recognizes that higher ed isn’t for everyone. Lawmakers are looking at ways to train students for jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree or above, he said. Some colleges have work-study and internship programs, pairing students with companies in their field to provide experience and industry ties.
“We’re trying to see if we can replicate that in the high school years,” Landes said.
The initiative is called high school redesign and is a response to the many skilled trade jobs that go unfilled in the state.
“Maybe he stinks at science — he’s not that kind of learner — but he’d be a master welder,” Wilt said. “We need those vocational jobs as well.” “We’re trying to find out and use a model where students could work in an apprenticeship or mentorship so they could work in the business and start working with them before they
actually graduate,” Landes added.
In 2021, following the 2020 U.S. census, state lawmakers will redraw district lines for the House of Delegates and Senate. Redistricting is usually a contentious issue throughout the U. S., with the minority party typically crying foul and saying the party in power drew lines to their favor. A lawsuit over Virginia’s redistricting following the 2010 census, when Republicans controlled the process, is still making its way through court. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Republicans over a lower court ruling that ordered the state to redraw 11 House districts to fix race- based gerrymandering, The Washington Post reported.
Hanger supports a push to have an independent, bipartisan group of former politicians and judges redraw the lines to eliminate the risk of partisan gerrymandering.
Landes and Wilt, however, say the Virginia Constitution requires the General Assembly to handle the matter, not an outside body.