Norment touches on topics close to home

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

The General Assembly might be in recess, but that does not mean the Senate's majority leader is on spring vacation.

Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment touched on a raft of state political issues during a meeting with the Kiwanis Club.

Norment touched on the state's budget troubles, defense spending and jobs during the Wednesday afternoon engagement.

The James City County Republican downplayed the state's $1.5 billion budget gap that Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced last August.

The shortfall Virginia had was small in comparison to the state's $107 billion budget, Norment said.

"Those of you who are businessman, you budget," he said. "If you come within 1 percent of your budget, $1.5 billion is barely a drop in the bucket that creates a ripple," he said.

The state passed a two-year spending plan in late February that includes major raises for state police, a 3 percent increase for state employees, the state's portion of a 2 percent bump for public school teachers, and raises for sheriff's deputies and university faculty.

A late-year positive swing in revenue collections helped stave off several planned cuts announced last winter.

Norment sees Virginia's dependence on federal Department of Defense spending as something that could hamper Virginia's economy. Each time the government runs into issues, it directly affects the state.

Hampton Roads is particularly susceptible to feeling swings in defense spending. Close to 37 percent of the region's economy is tied of Department of Defense spending, according to Old Dominion University's 2017 annual economic forecast

"Sequestration has been a major, major issue," Norment said.

President Donald Trump's approach to military action could give the state some economic life, but it remains to be seen, Norment said.

"The current president seems to have put a greater emphasis on the military, and whether you like him or not, I think that could help," he said.

Southwest Virginia is in particular need of help, Norment said. The high-ranking Republican said he meets with business leaders interested in entering the region but concerned with its lack of skilled workers.

"There is seven more hours of Virginia west of Richmond," he said. "There is a lot of hemorrhaging going on out there. We would love to put a data center or something like that out in that area."

Norment said he chose to stay in the Senate this long because he does not want to deal with gridlock in Congress. He urged listeners to vote out anyone they are unhappy with.

"If you did not enjoy last year's elections, be heartened — there is another one this year," she said. "Next year too."

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
82°