Note to readers: This is one in a series of question and answer articles about local candidates running for office in the Nov. 5 election. The Northern Virginia Daily asked candidates for the 15th House District to answer three questions. Their unedited responses are below.
Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, represents the 15th House District and is seeking re-election to seventh term. Gilbert faces a challenge from Democratic Party candidate Beverly Harrison. The 15th House District covers Page and Shenandoah counties and parts of Rockingham and Warren counties.
What state legislators do to help improve the economy in Shenandoah County?
As for Shenandoah County, we are an integral part of Virginia's #1 industry which is agriculture. I have worked closely with the farming and agribusiness community to protect their interests and our rural way of life. Just last year I was asked to carry their most important legislative initiative, now the law of Virginia, which will protect farmers from unscrupulous nuisance lawsuits from those unaccustomed to our way of life which could otherwise bankrupt a farming operation. I am currently working with local officials and Virginia Tech to address the shortfall in agriculture teachers in Virginia's classrooms. Each year in Richmond we are also increasing the focus on vocational education, thereby allowing young people to choose a career path that will allow them economic independence and financial security without the burden of college debt. I intend to help make this an even greater aspect of Virginia's education policy going forward.
Every decision we make in Richmond reverberates throughout Shenandoah County and our entire district, and I am proud of the work we have done to allow our state and local economies to thrive. As of this July, unemployment in Shenandoah County was at 2.5% and inching toward its historic low. This is great news for anybody who wants to work and secure a more competitive income. Many of these opportunities are due to our thriving national economy and to the fact that we in the General Assembly have worked hard to ensure that Virginia's business climate is highly competitive. In fact, this year Virginia was once again able to secure CNBC's coveted ranking as the #1 state in which to do business. CNBC cited our skilled workforce and public education system as well as our "business friendliness" specifically in the area of protecting Virginia's "right-to-work" law. So much of this success flows from the policy decisions we make in the legislature which allows for the conditions under which businesses both big and small can thrive and create countless jobs and opportunities for others.
Where should the General Assembly spend most of the state's revenue?
The spending decisions of any government should be prioritized first and foremost on the core functions of government--infrastructure, public safety and education at the state level, for example. Unfortunately, the constant creep of any government's desire to do more with taxpayers' dollars means that those core services can be compromised. A classic example was the General Assembly's vote to expand the Medicaid program, which I opposed. Unlike Medicare, which is designed for older citizens and which is exclusively an obligation of the federal government, the Medicaid program is a joint state and federal obligation. Medicaid, which was originally intended only to provide health insurance for a narrow group of low-income individuals, was for the first time expanded in Virginia under Obamacare to include able-bodied, childless individuals ABOVE the poverty line. At the time of this expansion, Medicaid already represented nearly a quarter of our state budget. And it had a roughly $500 million shortfall in the very year the expansion occurred that was based on its existing obligations and not the obligations to the additional 400,000 individuals expected to be added to the Medicaid system. Since the program is growing at around 8% a year and we are essentially unable to control those costs, Medicaid stands to supplant public education as Virginia's biggest budget item within just a few years. That means that in the very near future, citizens who are already paying much higher health care premiums for themselves and their families since the adoption of Obamacare will be asked to also pay for the health care of other able-bodied people, while at the same time being asked to pay more in taxes to make up for the revenue being shifted away from public schools, sheriffs, mental health programs, and so on.
How and when should legislators who represent Shenandoah County meet with its elected leaders and discuss local concerns with state spending?
I have always met with our local town and county elected officials whenever they have asked about any issue. Just recently, I attended a meeting of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors at their request to discuss plans for the Seven Bends State Park. We are also currently discussing projects in other localities. Our office also excels at addressing our constituents' problems with state government agencies, and fixing those problems is the most rewarding part of the job. Anyone who needs our help can contact my office at 540-459-7550 or email us at email@example.com.