Two Vying for Virginia Gov’s Office Tout Benefits of Biotech, STEM Workers

October 03, 2013

Only two states will hold gubernatorial elections this year: New Jersey and Virginia. But those states have garnered a great deal of media attention because of the candidates’ stark policy differences on a wide range of issues, including jobs and the economy. This week, SSTI takes a look at the plans for economic growth and higher education put forth by Virginia Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe and Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

Current polls indicate a slight lead of 43.1 to 38.9 percent by Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic National Committee chairman, over Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. On one side, improving biotech commercialization is touted as necessary for growing high-tech companies. The other candidate’s jobs plan promotes tax reform and emphasizes higher education with a focus on supporting STEM workers.

McAuliffe’s jobs platform, according to his campaign website, is focused on energy and biotech policy. A plan to improve the state’s existing biotech commercialization program coincides with a proposal to establish a new biotech startup program. McAuliffe wants to increase by $1 million to $2.5 million the current limit on investment tax credits for commercialization, with the increase specifically targeted to biotech and biomedical companies. The current limit is $5 million. To help scientists and entrepreneurs access more startup capital, McAuliffe wants to create a new program within the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund. He is calling for initial funding of up to $5 million, which would be replenished as loans are repaid.

During a jobs summit in August, McAuliffe said he would give greater support to community colleges, helping them produce more graduates in fields where there are shortages, reports The Washington Post. Similarly, Cuccinelli’s plan for higher education builds on the Top Jobs Act implemented by the legislature in 2011 to prepare students for in-demand jobs and increase the number of degrees and certificates earned.

Cuccinelli also wants to provide STEM scholarships with help from companies who would sponsor students by donating a certain dollar amount per student in return for the opportunity to interview and hire the student for an internship in their junior or senior year. He wants to do away with the state’s two-year transfer grant, which provides $1,000 for non-STEM and $2,000 for STEM-H majors and instead increase the STEM grant to $3,000 for low- and middle-income students. Following the lead of fellow Republican Govs. Rick Perry in Texas and Rick Scott in Florida, Cuccinelli would challenge the legislature to offer at least one $10,000 degree in a STEM or STEM-related field, and like Gov. Scott, he would encourage differential funding for STEM majors.

Like McAuliffe, Cuccinelli supports efforts to improve commercialization in biosciences. His plan differs by calling for the creation of research quadrangles to attract government and corporate research funds in cybersecurity and biosciences. Few specifics are offered in his jobs plan, although it does mention encouraging state investments for targeted consortia to attract the best professors, private and federal government research funds, and high quality students.

In contrast to McAuliffe’s jobs plan, Cuccinelli is advocating for a $1.4 billion-a-year tax cut plan as the best way to boost job creation and economic growth. Under the plan, individual income tax rates are reduced to 5 percent from 5.75 percent and the business income tax rate would be dropped to 4 percent from 6 percent. A Small Business Tax Relief Commission also would be established to seek ways to eliminate or reduce certain taxes and identify outdated exemptions and loopholes, according to his jobs plan.

In next week’s issue, SSTI will compare and contrast the economic platforms of the New Jersey candidates.

Virginiaelections, stem, bio, workforce