The large hearing room is packed with press, government officials, aides and observers as the “money committees” of the General Assembly prepare to hear from the Governor. Cabinet members mill around in the center of the room that is standing room only while the First Lady and three of the McDonnell children take their seats.
Ten minutes late the Governor strolls in, smiling graciously, as the audience rises to greet him as is traditional for the Governor of Virginia.
He congratulates re-elected members, new members and thanks those who are departing for their service.
Then he launches into the presentation of his new budget, one not inherited from his predecessor. He says it supports his core priorities while recognizing the uncertainties of the global economy. He says he could have taken the easy way out and raised taxes, but that would have been wrong, when what needs to be done is set priorities and make tough decisions.
He says it’s such a good budget that he would “be happy if you didn’t make any amendments” to his plan, eliciting laughter from the legislators and the assembled crowd.
So what does this budget do?
First of all, revenue is projected to increase by $83 million net in the current fiscal year that runs until June 30, 2012. Then the administration projects increases of 3.3 percent in 2013 and 4.5 percent in fiscal year 2014, so there is more money to work with.
However, one of the main features of this budget is the large reductions made in K-12 education and Medicaid.
Public education spending was reduces by more than $363 million, including removing $81 million in funding for the Preschool Initiative, a favorite target, and $65 million for the cost-of-competing adjustment for support personnel, a program that helps Northern Virginia schools where salaries are higher. After these reductions, money was added back in for schools to provide for enrollment growth and payments for retirement. However, only some $100 million was for purposes other than reimbursing the retirement fund that would actually help our school systems.
Large reductions were also made in Medicaid, a total of more than $416 million, by not giving hospitals and nursing facilities any adjustment for inflation, and continuing indigent care reductions for teaching hospitals. Of course the problem is that medical inflation continues and our facilities will be inadequately reimbursed.
Continuing a favorite attack, the Governor also removed funding for public broadcasting, a move that has been rejected by the General Assembly in the past. Repeating a favorite proposal, the Governor included $10 million for tuition tax credits for private schools, an amount that exceeds his proposal for increases in financial aid for Virginia’s college students.
As the Governor completed his remarks, his Chief of Staff winked and said “good job”.
This is my final column from Richmond for the Falls Church News Press as I leave the Senate after 16 years. It has been an honor to represent you all in the General Assembly and I thank you again for your support, advice and encouragement over the years.
Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]