Amtrak’s return to Roanoke is a great thing, but we can go further. Increasing passenger train services, improving roads and bridges, as well as providing flights to and from our local airports to more cities will give the 6th District better access to the rest of the country and more economic opportunity.
The gig economy is growing and most of these workers don’t get benefits like health care, workers’ compensation, retirement, or unemployment. If a worker is injured, there is no safety net for them or their family and taxpayers will likely pay the bill. First, I want to make sure everyone has access to quality, affordable healthcare so that working in the gig economy doesn’t mean someone works without healthcare benefits. Second, I support Senator Mark Warner’s initiative to incentivize states and localities to experiment with portable benefits models that allow workers to take benefits like retirement, workers’ compensation, and other benefits from job to job.
Education is essential if we want to compete in the global economy. Yet, the cost of college has increased over 1,000% since 1978, and students owe more than $1.3 trillion in debt. I will work to make college and trade schools more accessible to everyone regardless of income, and I will stand up to protect students from the predatory practices of some for-profit colleges. Students should be able to pursue higher education, whether at trade school or college, knowing that they will come out with marketable skills and without being crushed by debt. When students graduate without the burden of debt, they can be more creative and take bigger risks. These risks can turn into new businesses and new industries that help our economy and our society.
Businesses need capital to grow, but many new entrepreneurs have a hard time getting loans from banks. Virginia Senator John Edwards has successfully fought to loosen Virginia State Corporation Commission regulations in order to make crowdfunding a more viable option for small businesses seeking to raise money from investors. I want to do something similar on the national level by rolling back regulations that stand in the way of small businesses raising money from investors. I will also push to give small lenders access low cost capital that they can then lend to small, local businesses.
I will support grants to bring high-speed internet to rural areas in the 6th District. Better access to the internet means better access to educational tools and business opportunities. New “Smart Farm” technologies can improve agricultural productivity by helping local farmers monitor crop conditions, respond to problems before equipment breaks down, and consult with agronomy experts around the world. We need to think outside of the box and explore whether there are technologies like blimps, SuperTowers, and drones that might be more efficient than traditional cables in bringing broadband to rural areas. I want to make sure rural communities are able to take advantage of these new technologies rather than being left behind.
The Employee Fair Choice Act returns protects employees as they deliberate unionizing. Oftentimes employees are harassed or threatened by their employers for even mentioning unionization. In my experience as a union organizer, unions bargain for better wages, safety, and benefits for workers, while also ensuring that employers are profitable. Unions help build and sustain a strong middle class and I will only support laws designed to build up unions, not tear them down.
Small businesses create jobs faster than traditional companies and I will work to pass legislation that clears the way for entrepreneurs to build new businesses. We need tax reform that encourages investment in these ventures. I support the proposal by Senators Warner and Kaine to make capital gains tax exemptions for new businesses permanent. This will encourage outsiders to invest and will benefit employees of these businesses who often take stock options as part of their compensation so that the business can use capital for research and development.
The new tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum by President Trump started a trade war in which China retaliated by imposing tariffs on American products. This is bad for the 6th District as workers throughout the Blue Ridge depend on exports. Many of the Chinese tariffs target agriculture and will hurt Virginians who export goods like soybeans, apples, pork, and wine. Last year, soybeans alone accounted for $360.7 million in exports from Virginia to China. Tariffs are sometimes necessary, but before implementing tariffs, we should do a thorough analysis on the potential consequences to the American economy.