More budget pain
In the past few years, we have seen election campaigns based on decrying county and state budget deficits. In Virginia, our constitution prohibits unbalanced budgets.
If sate and local governments have insufficient revenues to pay the bills, they must increase revenues or make expenditure reductions to ensure that balance is maintained. In my experience, state and local governments have done just that. If revenues fall below expectations, expenses are cut. While employment in Virginia has fared better than in many other states, we have seen unemployment increase even though the recession is technically “over.”
Our fiscal conservatism is one of the foundations of our reputation as the best managed state, the most business friendly state and the state where a child is most likely to be successful when he/she grows up.
In the past several months, Governor Kaine has maintained Virginia’s standards -and its AAA Bond rating-by reducing agency budgets without proposing any tax increases. That has been possible largely because of Federal stimulus funding. But that funding will cease in the next fiscal year.
Last week I attended the House Appropriations Committee’s annual “retreat” held in Richmond. The staff presented a very thorough and pessimistic view of our fiscal situation. Below are some of their conclusions:
“All ‘low-hanging fruit’ have been picked”
“Standard option of level funding or freezing programs not sufficient to close the gap”
“Sustainable reductions to ongoing costs will have to be made”
So far Federal stimulus funding has allowed the state to limit reductions in public education funding. That aid will cease before the end of the next fiscal year. With no revenue increases, teachers and state employees are unlikely to see increases. And state funding for support personnel such as central office staff, finance, human resource, attendance, health, social workers, guidance support, and other operation and maintained personnel will be curtailed.
Public safety and prison costs will have to be limited as well. Since Virginia has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation and since our prison system is therefore so expensive, we will have to find ways of cutting operating expenses and providing alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders that have proved successful here and elsewhere.
Finally, we must remember that our transportation system remains woefully underfunded. While the HOT lanes and Dulles rail projects are moving forward, maintenance has suffered and key intersection improvements are in jeopardy or suspended. Without additional revenue, we will only see further decline. After November’s election results, I see little likelihood of additional revenue in the near future.
Delegate Scott represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]