RICHMOND — Go Virginia is a go.
Republican lawmakers plan to give Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) control over a new state board designed to dole out millions in regional economic development grants, but the legislature will not fund any projects for at least a year.
The compromise was announced Tuesday afternoon by John O. “Dubby” Wynne, former chief executive of Landmark Communications, and Dominion chief executive Thomas F. Farrell II, who conceived the Go Virginia program.
“While we would prefer to resolve the underlying issue now, the current charged atmosphere and rushed process is not conducive to doing so,” they wrote in a five-page letter to McAuliffe and lawmakers.
Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said McAuliffe has already agreed to appoint to the board Wynne; Farrell; Nancy Howell Agee, CEO of the Roanoke area health care system Carilion Clinic; and Todd Stottlemyer, CEO of the Inova Center for Personalized Health at Inova, the newest campus of Northern Virginia’s largest hospital system.
Since first announced last summer as a way to grow a state economy smarting from cuts in federal defense contracts, Go Virginia has taken a circuitous route to final passage.
McAuliffe initially supported the program, declaring himself “all in,” but later balked at bills passed by the General Assembly that gave lawmakers — not the governor — the advantage in approving grants for workforce training and other related projects.
Earlier this month, McAuliffe amended the bills to give himself greater control of the board, causing Republican lawmakers to complain he should have been forthcoming with his concerns earlier.
But in the end, lawmakers said they could live with the changes as long as they provided the governor with a pool of candidates from which to choose. Lawmakers are set to vote on the bills when they gather Wednesday in Richmond for a short session.
“I am pleased that we were able to find a way forward on this initiative that addresses the concerns I raised and preserves a concept that enjoys widespread bipartisan support,” McAuliffe said in a statement.
In the first year, the state board will be able to award $5.7 million to regional councils for planning and organization only. McAuliffe set aside $32 million for grants in the second year, but no money will be distributed unless the legislature passes another bill in the 2017 legislative session.
This approach allows lawmakers and the administration to temporarily sidestep a provision that would have given the administration, the House and the Senate each the power to block projects they found lacking.
“Over the next year, we will have the opportunity to search for a solution to the questions related to the grant approval process,” Cox said.
In an opinion requested by McAuliffe, Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said a court would likely rule the so-called veto authority in the original bill unconstitutional. Lawyers from the Richmond-based lobbying shop McGuire Woods who have been crafting the bills since last year disagreed.
“The important point, however, is that this issue need not be resolved now,” Wynne and Farrell wrote in the letter.
The state board will have 24 members, including four delegates, three senators, three members of the governor’s cabinet and 14 citizens with business experience. McAuliffe will choose 10 of the citizens from a list provided by legislative leadership and most of those will be subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.