Last week’s election results across Virginia buoyed some folks, and devastated others. What was unexpected, however, was the reaction expressed by a number of local elected officials, Democrats and Republicans, at the annual meeting of the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo).
The meeting always is held the weekend after the elections, regardless of whether they are local, state, or national. That means, in Virginia of course, that election results are always a topic of discussion at the VACo conference. This year, most Supervisors I talked with took little comfort from the outcome, regardless of party. While open to working with the new gubernatorial administration, the general outlook for success was gloomy.
Although the theme of the conference was “Embracing Change: New Partnerships for Sustainable Communities,” the theme probably should have been “there is no money.” That was the refrain at nearly every breakout session, whether on education, energy, human services, public safety, or transportation. Supervisors acknowledged that local governments must make severe cuts in their budgets because of declining revenues at both the state and local levels. Virginia’s state budget was described as “a train wreck about to happen.” Terms used by Secretary of Finance Richard Brown included “collapse,” “pessimism,” “slower growth,” and “reductions, reductions, reductions.” Secretary Brown said that Governor Kaine is intent on preparing a biennial budget that is balanced when he turns it over to Governor-elect McDonnell in mid-January.
Secretary Brown noted that payroll withholding tax collections fell one percent, but individual non-withholding declined almost 25 percent. That means that people either can’t pay their estimated quarterly tax bills, or they no longer have to pay because their small businesses have failed. Sales tax collections at the state level declined almost six percent, and corporate income taxes fell 19 percent. There is no money.
State aid to K-12 education, which essentially held the line last year, likely will have severe reductions. An October estimate was an overall reduction of $782 billion in the FY 2010 budget, a 13 percent change statewide. The shortfall could be higher now. The demand to make up those reductions at the local level may be loud but, again, there is no money.
On the transportation front, an editorial in the Roanoke Times on Sunday asserted that “Virginia voted for gridlock last Tuesday.” The item predicted that “the election of McDonnell and…five more Republican seats…guarantee that nothing will be done to address the groaning, creaking, deteriorating transportation infrastructure for at least four years…” The editorial pointed out what we already know here — that Northern Virginia and Tidewater are the economic engines of the state. Without new sources of revenue (insert taxes) transportation stalls will be felt around the Commonwealth, not just in Northern Virginia. But, editor Dan Radmacher said, “this is what Virginians said they wanted on Tuesday.” Is it? I guess time will tell.
On a happier note, Fairfax County received its “Green Government” certification from the Go Green Virginia Initiative at the VACo meeting. The certification included a $1000 cash award from Moseley Architects and Trane. Every little bit helps!