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In a Friday morning forum at the Williamsburg Regional Library, state senators and delegates representing the greater Williamsburg area laid out their expectations for the state’s upcoming General Assembly session.
State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, Jr, freshman Senator Monty Mason, Delegate Brenda Pogge, and freshman Delegate Mike Mullin addressed an audience of about 100 business people and local government officials.
The representatives tackled issues like education, transportation, and good-governance in a series of questions moderated by Susan Gaston, a local government relations and public affairs consultant. The forum was sponsored by the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance.
In a telling exchange, Sen. Norment said the Virginia Senate would block any House of Delegate proposals to codify the rates of increase for tuition and fees at state universities.
“I’ve been a fierce advocate of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but trying to balance state dollars against the pressures on tuition and fees, I don’t get it,” Norment said. “You can’t have it both ways…I mean budgets are cut, the schools can take more out of state students, and they can try to balance the budget through that fiscal tool. [It’s] never coming out of the Senate.”
Mason elicited laughs from the audience when he joked that the short distance between Newport News and Williamsburg could sometimes feel like a trek, especially to tourists arriving at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. He stressed that the situation is problematic for an area that heavily relies on tourism.
“You would think that Mike [Mullin] took the overnight train to get here this morning,” Mason joked. “He lives about eight miles from here, and he lives in the community adjacent to the airport that’s critical for our tourism to get people here.”
The issue of tourism and Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport was raised once again by the moderator who asked Mullin what the area delegation can do to support the airport to ensure its sustainability.
“We need to find opportunities for Williamsburg/Newport News International Airport to find its own niche,” Mullin said. “There certainly is the opportunity here. We just need to make sure we’re better coordinated.”
Pogge suggested that the two parties rarely clash when it comes to maintaining the region’s financial stability.
“Obviously, the two parties have much different ideas on different philosophical matters, but when we agree on things such as education, on business, on making sure Virginia is open for business, we get a lot done,” Pogge said. “We probably get more done in a six week session than Congress will in six years. Certainly, we have our arguments over other issues, but we seem to get along and get our work accomplished very efficiently.”
Mason, Norment, and Mullin agreed with Pogge, stating the recent gridlock in Congress is not reflected in the tenor of the Virginia legislature.
“Day in and day out, we work very closely together,” Mason said. “We have a better relationship. Richmond is not like Washington.”