Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) said building talent is one of the keys to improving many issues in the nation, including growing the economy and solving illegal immigration problems at the state and federal levels.
Kaine, a candidate for U.S. Senate, made his case for focusing on talent during a roundtable discussion at City Square Cafe in Old Town Manassas Wednesday.
The 53-year-old said that when he was born the Commonwealth was 38th in the nation in per capita economy. Now, depending on how it is measured, Virginia is ranked as high as number seven, Kaine said.
There are many reasons for this, but talent is one of them, he said.
“Nobody has jumped ahead as much as Virginia,” he said. “… I really think what moved us is … we decided to embrace talent.”
Though Virginia has a history of segregation and blocking women from attending certain universities, this generation has decided that Virginia shouldn’t be that kind of state, Kaine told the crowd.
"I really believe that once we started down that path, that’s what started to move Virginia to be stronger economically,” he said.
When he was governor from 2006 to 2010, companies such as Volkswagen of North America, Northrop Grumman and Computer Sciences Corporation all decided to move their headquarters to Virginia, mainly because of the people and the talent here, he said.
Kaine said that the Commonwealth offers some great economical lessons; the nation's economy would be stronger if some of Virginia's strategies were applied at the federal level.
Right now, America’s losing the talent war in this world, he said.
“We could fix everything else we want. We could have a balance budget tomorrow, we could have a comprehensive energy policy tomorrow, we can do it all, but if we keep losing the talent war, we’re not going to like what we have,” Kaine said.
He wants to take the lessons Virginia has learned about talent to the U.S. Senate and particularly work on improving the talent of military personnel and veterans.
“We need to make sure we improve, equip and train that group of talent,” Kaine added.
Other than talent, there are other things that can be done to improve the nation’s economy.
For one, the tax code is too complex and there are things that can be done to simplify it, he said.
Jan Alten, owner of Opera House Gourmet in Old Town Manassas, told Kaine a 10 percent tax on items purchased on the Internet would generate money for many things.
She said one of her customers purchased the same china she sells in her store for 10 percent over cost, no sales tax and free shipping.
“I can’t operate on a 10 percent profit. If I had my business run out of my garage in my pajamas with me as the sole employee, then maybe I could,” she said. “But I think that a fair Internet tax … everything that you buy on the Internet is a 10 percent (tax) … that’s a way to get a lot of money because the Internet is a huge factor.”
Kaine also briefly discussed the federal gas tax and how it relates to transportation.
Transportation financing relies solely on the gas tax, but Kaine said raising the gas tax probably isn’t the way to create more funding for transportation.
People like him are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, which means less gas tax money, even as the price of pavement and steel for roadways and bridges continues to rise, Kaine said.
There is a federal Surface Transportation Act that funds transportation and Congress members keep saying it needs to be reauthorized, Kaine said. But so far, Congress has been doing,“patch job after patch job,” Kaine said.
Patch jobs make it difficult to plan effectively, Kaine added.
“We need to go in and have discussion about the infrastructure needs of the country and then have that painful discussion about how we are going to finance it,” he said. A lot can be done in the area of public-private partnerships but there’s still that need for public money, Kaine added.
Kaine also discussed issues pertinent to small businesses after Manassas City Council candidate Patricia Richie-Folks asked him about his vision for such businesses and about federal resources that would help promote new entrepreneurs.
Virginia spends billions of dollars contracting with business, he said. Contracting revenues with small businesses or businesses owned by minorities and women increased by a factor of three during his four-year tenure as governor, Kaine said.
He knows the state procurement system well, but he doesn’t know the federal procurement system, and so he wants to learn it and make sure small businesses have appropriate opportunities to get federal contracts, Kaine said.
He also wants to make sure policies are friendly to small businesses, he added.
Kaine also told Prince William County Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Rob Clapper that he would be interested in returning to the county to particapte in debate with others in the race for the U.S. Senate seat.
Former (R) and (R) of Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park are the other contenders for the seat.