Investing in the future of Prince William County.
That was the focus of Congressman Gerry Connolly’s talk at an economic development luncheon, hosted by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce in Woodbridge this week.
According to Connolly, while some would say otherwise, the United States economy – and local economy – are recovering and doing well, following the crash in 2008.
“Where are we economically? If we can put aside the fact that we’re in a campaign year…the U.S. economy right now is in a very good place. By any metrics, we ought to feel pretty good – especially when measured by where we came…in  the economy was teetering on the brink. There was not a dime in the country for local governments to float their municipal bonds to be able to finance local projects; roads, bridges, schools, libraries – you name it – stopped 100%,” said Connolly.
For Connolly, investing in research and development are essential for Prince William’s economy.
“You’ve gotta invest in research and development. You’ve gotta be thinking about the investments of the future. Investments and [research and development] have a return on them…they have a huge payoff, and we’ve got to be making them,” said Connolly.
Connolly talked anecdotally about how both the Internet and GPS systems were federal investments that revolutionized our nation’s economy.
Along with investments in our economy from the side of research and development, Connolly also stressed the need to make improvements in the county’s infrastructure and transportation system. Currently, the county is facing a large transportation crisis, as the county’s bus system is working with a $9.2 million budget shortfall.
“We have in Prince William right now, 430,000 people. In the next 15 years, we’re going to have 50,000 more. What are the transportation investments we’re making to anticipate that – let alone, try to be more efficient in how we move the existing population? Are we going to settle for the infrastructure we have today? I hope not – cause I can tell you the gridlock will be nightmarish,” said Connolly.
Connolly feels that while bringing Metro to Prince William is a controversial topic, that it’s necessary for the future of the county, comparing Metro expansion to the success of investing in building the Interstate Highway system, many decades ago.
“What do we want Prince William to look like, 20 years hence? 25 years, hence? What infrastructure [decisions] do we need to make…we need to think seriously about what are the infrastructure investments we’re going to be making…I happen to believe that Prince William is making a mistake if we don’t include Metro in our future…it’s not going to solve all of our problems, but if we don’t connect ourselves to the grid, we will be an outlier. We will absolutely seal our fate as a bedroom community, and that means we’re commuting somewhere else to go to work…and that traffic we see will not get better,” said Connolly.
The final segment that Connolly said the county needs to focus on is properly funding the public school system.
“Now in Prince William we’ve done a pretty good job [with education]. We’ve got good, high-performing schools – and we need to keep it that way. But as we look out to the future, there are gonna be challenges in financing that system…we’re going to see our state share of education funding go down. That leaves more burden on us…if we have a healthy commercial tax base, we can weather that storm. But if we don’t, that means we’re relying on the homeowners to finance our schools more and more,” said Connolly.
According to Connolly, Congress’ recently passed a transportation bill that will pump $500 million into Virginia’s economy, to help fund the infrastructure changes and investments that he feels need to be made.
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