By The Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Mr. Speaker. Mr. President.
Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of the State Corporation Commission,
Ladies and Gentlemen of the General Assembly,
My fellow Virginians,
Tonight, we gather in Mr. Jefferson's Capitol for the annual State of the Commonwealth Address.
The Virginia General Assembly has met in this building for 220 years..the Speaker was just a young boy during that first session.
Next door, the Executive Mansion is the oldest continuously occupied Governor's residence in the nation. This year we mark its 200th anniversary, and I thank the First Lady and her team for their work in promoting its extraordinary history. Thanks Maureen!
Tonight we convene, surrounded by our legislative history that started in 1619, ready to do our part to create a more perfect union, and cement a strong foundation for Virginia's future.
We must be determined this session to create more jobs and new opportunities for the attainment of the American Dream for the people of Virginia. They have sent us here to work together on their behalf, and find solutions for the challenges they face in their daily lives.
They've sent us here to do legislatively what they do personally in their own homes, businesses, churches and schools: Act responsibly, solve problems, spend wisely, serve one another, and make life better for those around us.
We don't have to look far for inspiration from our brave and caring people.
On the rain-soaked night of October 30th as Hurricane Sandy's waters rose swiftly in Accomack County, Virginia National Guard soldiers trudged through high water to clear a path to transport seven adults and a child out of harm's way. Another rescue required Guardsmen to carry a citizen 200 yards through chest-high water to safety. Virginia Guard personnel rescued 42 citizens during Hurricane Sandy.
Joining us tonight are Lt. James Breckenridge and PFC Norman Malone of the 1173rd Transportation Company who helped lead some of these rescue missions, and the Adjutant General of Virginia, Major General Daniel Long.
Gentlemen, we salute you for your brave service to Virginia.
With the return of soldiers from Afghanistan this summer, all Virginia Guard units were home for Christmas for the first time since Sept. 11, 2001.
During these 11 years more than 15,000 Virginia Guard soldiers and Airmen were mobilized for combat operations and other missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world. Since 9-11 we have lost 10 Virginia guardsmen to hostile enemy activity.
Our Virginia Guard is rightly recognized as among the best in the nation. They have served all of us well.
That same heroic service is replicated every day here at home by our men and women in law enforcement.
In March of 2011, Buchanan County sheriff's deputies responded to a suspected robbery only to find a sniper lying in deadly wait.
In the shootout that followed, two deputies, Cameron Justus and Billy Stiltner, were killed. Deputy Stiltner had rushed to the scene from his front yard where he was putting together a new swing set for his two grandchildren. It would be a project left unfinished.
Two other deputies, Eric Rasnake and Shane Charles, were shot and severely injured in the ambush.
Tonight, Deputy Rasnake and Deputy Charles, along with Buchanan County Sheriff Ray Foster, are here with us.
Gentlemen, we thank you, and all Virginia law enforcement officers and first responders for your courage, and your commitment to the safety and freedom of the people.
Over the past three years we've worked together for the common good, with passion, civility and a focus on results.
We have worked hard to create good jobs and build a "Commonwealth of Opportunity."
In January 2010 the unemployment rate was 7.3%.
Today it is 5.6%; the second lowest east of the Mississippi and the lowest in the Southeast.
Virginia has created 150,500 net new private sector jobs during that time.
In 2011 we hit our all time record for agricultural exports, at $2.35 billion, bolstering Virginia's largest industry.
Together we put in place a stronger environment in which the private sector can create good-paying jobs, and Virginia is now outperforming our neighboring states.
We have also worked to get our fiscal house in order.
Three years ago, we closed a cumulative budget shortfall of $6 billion, without raising taxes.
The results: We've had three consecutive budget surpluses, totaling $1.4 billion.
We more than doubled the Rainy Day Fund.
We gave two 3% performance bonuses to our great state employees