In the past week, the Virginia legislature has shifted its focus from the annual early session hodgepodge of legislative hairsplitting, program refinement and ideology-driven political declarations and moved forward into a rising crescendo of budgetary decisions that have real and substantial effects on Virginians. It’s not a pretty picture for Northern Virginia, in particular, and the rest of the Commonwealth in general.
Each year the Senate and the House of Delegates craft detailed budgets that fund government operations for the subsequent two years. The starting point is the “Executive” budget presented to the Legislature by the Governor. While I disagreed with some of tradeoffs between program cuts and revenue increases proposed by Governor Kaine, overall it was a praiseworthy attempt to balance economic realities of the recession with citizen needs. Governor McDonnell chose not to propose his own comprehensive revision to the Kaine budget. Rather, he set forth a few fundamental principles-no new taxes or fees-and turned the painful job of slashing Virginia’s investment in its children, K-12 and higher education and transportation infrastructure over to his loyal troops in the House. A few highlights (“lowlights?”):
• The House budget cuts direct aid to public education by over $500 million more than the Senate. Both budgets allow class size to grow-which in my opinion is already unacceptably large. Additionally, the House waives requirements for English for Speakers of a Second Language (ESOL) training; elementary school resource teachers, gifted, career & technical training, technologists, librarians & guidance counselors. The House combines four programs formerly based on need into “Block Grants,” but minus $500 million. The claim is this provides local Districts “flexibility.” As a former School Board member, I assure you this is not the kind of flexibility local districts are seeking.
• Changes the financial aid formula for Virginia’s public college students. Eliminates or drastically reduces scholarship programs for students who live in poverty. The majority of cuts impact community college students. The agenda here, as in K-12 cuts, is to reduce support for those who have the greatest economic need. Further, close inspection of the cuts reveals a basic shift in funding AWAY from Northern Virginia four year and community colleges to institutions located in southwest Virginia.
• In the name of “jobs creation” the Governor proposes a range of generous tax credits to business, which he funds with service cuts. The Senate, instead, maintains Commonwealth services-and jobs-funding them with small increases in fees for weights and measures testing, environmental permitting, etc. The jobs credits are a totally ideologically-driven give-away to businesses whose decisions on hiring will be driven by market conditions, not by paltry state tax credits (Though I’m sure they’ll dig up lobbyists who will howl in protest at this assessment). BTW, the House Budget would, according to the Virginia Education Association result in a loss of more than 20,000 jobs in K-12 education.
Despite the dire projections, I remain hopeful. Majority Leader Dick Saslaw is unbowed in his opposition to the extremism emanating from the House of Delegates. I suspect the Governor also understands that his political future may well be threatened if he yields to the coarsest instincts of his party. Under the current regime, Virginia will surely be turning away from the pragmatic, business friendly and optimistic policies of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine; but, perhaps we will avert for another year, at least, jumping off the cliff.
Finally, late word on the election results in Mason District and the 41st House District. Sandy Evans was elected to the Fairfax County School Board from Mason and Eileen Filler-Corn, Democrat, was elected to fill Dave Marsden’s seat in the House of Delegates. Together with Marsden’s election to fill Ken Cuccinelli’s Senate seat, these results show that Fairfax County can and will select capable Democrats committed common sense solutions to real world problems. Congratulations to both winners.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].