The State Budget Balancing Act
The 2010 General Assembly Session is scheduled to end this Saturday. Although we have addressed numerous issues, none is as important and challenging as the adoption of the budget for 2010 and 2011.
The budget defines spending on K-12 education, health care, public safety, higher education and other public services. It has a profound effect on the lives of millions of Virginians.
The economic downturn affecting our Commonwealth and the Nation since 2007 has resulted in dramatic reductions in revenues. Since December 2007, the revenue projections for the 2008-2010 biennium have been reduced by over $6.9 billion. In order to maintain a balanced budget, we have made deep cuts in government spending. Still, the forecast shortfall for the 2010-2012 biennium is $4.5 billion.
In light of the budget challenge, the Senate Democratic Caucus, which I chair, decided to develop a budget that would do as much as possible to protect the core services of government, especially K-12 education, public safety, and health care support for the poor and disabled. During the Session we received testimony from the education and health care sectors that the cuts would result in the loss of over 33,000 jobs throughout the Commonwealth. The Senate Democrats decided to include increases in service-linked user fees to reduce the terrible loss of jobs and services.
On February 25th, the Senate adopted its budget with eight of the eighteen Republicans joining every Democrat in a 30-10 vote. To the contrary, the House budget was approved along party lines. The Senate budget helps protect jobs and critical services throughout Virginia. The budget adopted by the Senate is far better than the one adopted by the House of Delegates and we are hopeful that it will prevail in the conference committee.
The Senate budget reduces public education by $133 million whereas Gov. McDonnell supported a $730 million reduction and the House budget proposes a $620 million cut, dramatic differences that will affect the quality of education all across Virginia. The Senate rejected Governor McDonnell’s recommendation to eliminate the state’s support for school breakfasts. The Senate restores funding for Virginia’s free clinics, community health centers and the Virginia Health Care Foundation to preserve access to health care and dental services. Our budget also recommends a net restoration of $182.3 million for support of locally elected constitutional officers and $20 million in support of local police.
The Senate budget provides for a partial deferral of our contribution to the Virginia Retirement System. This one-time action will not affect the benefits of current retirees and will not endanger the long term health of the system or the state’s AAA bond rating.
The Senate budget protects jobs and services in education, public safety, the healthcare safety net and economic development programs. It includes many cuts that will create challenges for many Virginians, but it is a much better plan than the draconian cuts proposed by the House budget. I support the Senate conferees in their effort to convince the House conferees and the Governor that the Senate approach is the better alternative.
Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at email@example.com