With thanks to the Senate…..
The 2010 session of the Virginia General Assembly ended with billions cut from virtually all services funded by the Commonwealth. The only good news is that the cuts were not as bad as originally proposed by the Governor-or as amended by the House of Delegates.
Governor Kaine proposed to freeze the public school funding formula in the only year in recent memory that it worked to the advantage of northern Virginia school divisions. And he proposed an increase in the state income tax to offset other cuts he proposed.
In return the Speaker referred the tax increase to the Rules Committee which he chairs. Thanks to a rule change last year, rammed through without any Democratic support, the Rules Committee can now send a bill to the floor of the House without a recommendation; in other words, a bill can be sent to the full House for a vote without a single vote in favor-or against– it in committee!!
Needless to say, the tax increase failed by a unanimous vote in the House.
But that maneuver set the tone for the Budget deliberations to follow.
The House Appropriations Committee has several subcommittees. I was appointed to serve on four: public education, higher education, transportation, and technology and general government. My understanding-and experience-is that the subcommittees meet individually to consider budget amendments assigned to them. This year that did not happen. The Budget was prepared by the staff with no input from the Democrats. It was approved by the Republican majority with only one vote from the Democrats.
In my view, the new administration must share a large measure of the blame for the lack of bi-partisanship in the budget. In contrast to the two previous Governors-Warner and Kaine-this Governor submitted his amendments to the Budget well after the deadline, followed by his statement that he disagreed with Kaine’s shortchanging of Northern Virginia by freezing the distribution formula at the previous year’s distribution level.
While his statement was greeted with grateful support from Northern Virginians, unsympathetic Republicans were forced to find a way to pay for the formula change. They decided to do so by reducing the funding for Northern Virginia’s “cost of competing” -a hard-won principle that bases teachers pay on the concept that state police and other state employees living in Northern Virginia receive a pay boost that recognizes the higher cost of living in our part of the state. In other words, the House Republicans decided to demonstrate a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul at the expense of Northern Virginia.
That position would have undoubtedly prevailed if it were not for the Senate Democratic majority, which stopped both the formula freeze and the cost of competing dilution. Similarly, the Senate refused to accept some important higher education cuts, and insisted that some revenues be increased to fund those increases without painful cuts elsewhere.
Of course, the House and the Governor refused revenue increases sufficient to restore all the cuts in education and human services, including mental health services. We will be recovering from those cuts for a long time -with more to come unless increased revenues can be considered. We can easily lose Virginia’s reputation as the “best state to raise a child” and the “best managed state” if we continue to refuse to invest in our future.
Delegate Scott represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]