I have an economics background and am determined to strengthen our economy, our businesses, our workforce, and our job situation. After 75 years of far outperforming the nation, Virginia's economy and population growth have lagged behind national rates since Sequestration hit in 2013 and most Virginia counties have lost population. This year, with my involvement on the Finance Committee and chair of a state workforce authority, the legislature increased workforce training funding and approved the Amazon and Micron projects that will bring huge investments and many great high-paying jobs to Virginia. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce President said "With the support of pro-business legislators like Senator Barker, we can continue to improve Virginia s business climate and maintain Virginia's ranking as the Best State for Business."
I have worked for transportation improvements to Northern Virginia's inadequate transportation system for more than two decades. I have been a key leader on many transportation issues, including the first major transportation bill in 27 years and improvements to that initiative that focused resources on reducing congestion. As a result, more than half of state construction spending is occurring on roads and transit in Northern Virginia. I successfully negotiated an agreement with colleagues in Maryland and Washington to fix Metro. I am addressing other commuter options, including bus and rail. Working on the Transportation part of the State budget, I will continue to work hard to meet our transportation needs.
I serve on the Education and Health Committee, have gotten many education bills passed, and am involved in nearly every health and human resources issue. Virginia's K-12 schools are ranked 4th best among states and our public higher education system is rated the best. I have helped teachers get a 5% pay increase, elementary and middle school students retake SOL tests they nearly passed, and students temporarily not living with their families stay in school. I am working to get as many children as possible fully ready for kindergarten, which will benefit all Virginians. I was a leader in getting Medicaid Expansion, which has already helped over 300,000 Virginians, in dramatically improving our mental health system, and in addressing the opioid and substance abuse crisis with treatment that is getting excellent results.
We all owe more than we will ever know to those in the military and our veterans. We are working to make Virginia the most Veteran friendly state in the USA. I have worked on issues large and small to help them. These include building a Veterans Care Center in Northern Virginia, becoming the first state to functionally end Veteran homelessness, getting ex-medics and corpsmen good-paying jobs in health systems while they complete requirements for licensure, assisting veterans in establishing small businesses, granting tax exemptions for those fully disabled and for survivors of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and getting veterans, National Guardsmen, and members of the military appropriate in-state tuition. They never backed down in protecting you and me. I will not back down in fighting for them.
Although there are occasional partisan disagreements, Republicans and Democrats in the legislature usually work well together. We focus on what is best for Virginians. Partly because I work closely with my Republican colleagues, often jointly sponsoring bills, I get more bills and budget amendments passed than most Senators. After many years of working with Republicans and Democrats, I was successful this year in getting overwhelming bipartisan support for a Constitutional amendment to end partisan gerrymandering by creating a redistricting commission of eight citizens and eight legislators (four from each party) to draw new districts in 2021. This followed previous success with a fiscally responsible Constitutional amendment to increase the size of our Rainy Day Fund. I will continue pushing for such long-lasting bipartisan solutions.
I serve on the Finance Committee, which has responsibility for our budget, taxes, and oversight. We are required to have a balanced budget, and we are the only state having AAA bond ratings ever since the rating agencies began rating states 80 years ago. I work to keep it that way. This year, because federal tax law changes caused your state taxes to go up, I negotiated a tax cut deal with the Republicans. You will be receiving a refund this fall for 2018's increase and reductions in state taxes beginning with this 2019 year. I was successful in getting some critical funding increases while also putting more money into reserves to better protect us from a recession, which appears more likely now.
The number of gun deaths we have is not acceptable. I have sponsored legislation for years to establish a process to allow a court to temporarily remove guns from someone who is an imminent threat to use a gun to harm or kill self or others„ That now is the law in one-third of all states, and it is showing promising signs of a positive effect. We need to keep those who should not have guns from getting them, we need to keep people from being able to easily kill many Virginians in a very short time, and we need to ensure that guns are cared for safely and securely.
I have led on many common sense issues in Virginia, including allowing Virginians to keep their health insurance plans, prohibiting censorship of the sermons of National Guard Chaplains, allowing police to stop people who are texting while driving, giving Virginians a tax refund check rather than a debit card, ensuring those in a mental health crisis get emergency care, making sure college students contemplating suicide are contacted and have the support of family and friends, ensuring students who are sexually assaulted get the support they need and help to decide whether to pursue prosecution, granting protective orders to those threatened by former intimate partners, providing protection from financial exploitation to elderly persons, holding the line on taxes, and pursuing more money in our Rainy Day Fund.