This year’s General Assembly session featured several unique controversies: the power and role of the Lieutenant Governor when there is an even partisan split in the Virginia Senate, the adequacy of the Governor’s proposed budget in financing government services, and the adequacy of funding of the retirement system for State employees.
Local governments were particularly worried about funding for public education. The Governor’s cuts to kindergarten through high schools were particularly hard to take in Northern Virginia where the Commonwealth’s on-again, off-again support for K-12 and teachers in high cost areas seemed clearly inadequate.
Only recently have local governments in high cost areas been able to convince their colleagues in other parts of the state that it was only fair that special efforts needed to be made to address those higher costs with better pay. This year, however, much to our surprise, the Governor’s budget included large reductions in the so-called “Cost-to-Compete” funds as well as general cuts to funding needed to make up for inflation. Our Northern Virginia delegation was united in working successfully to achieve significant restoration of that funding. In the final analysis, though, too little additional funding was restored. The Commonwealth Institute, a non-profit, independent research firm, concluded that only $8.7 million in the Governor’s budget was actual new money for K-12 support.
In the case of the Virginia Retirement System, funding for the biennium fell heavily on localities – approximately 45% of the total. In addition, while opposing federal health care reform, the Governor cut 50% from services to the poor, such as free clinics, health centers and other safety net providers.
To fund transportation initiatives, the Governor refused to support a 4-cent increase in gasoline prices proposed by the Senate – the first such increase since 1986! Instead, he proposed taking part of the sales tax dedicated to the General Fund (for schools, colleges, universities, etc.) and used it to increase transportation funding. State investment in Virginia’s schools and health care remains well below pre-recession levels, and falls even further below FY2012 levels in the Governor’s proposed 2012-14 budget.
Delegate Scott represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]