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Mar 30

Let’s Talk Budget

Yes, Virginia, it looks like we will have a budget this year – if the House and Senate budget conferees are able to come to a “meeting of the minds” and agree to compromise on differing solutions to balancing the state budget. Conferees on the part of the House are: Delegates Putney, Cox (of Colonial Heights), Sherwood, Landes, Jones, Joannou; and Senate conferees are Senators Stosch, Colgan, Norment, Howell, Hanger and Watkins. Senators Saslaw and Newman will join Stosch, Colgan, Hanger and Watkins to work with the House conferees on the less controversial bill to fund state operations for the remainder of 2012 (commonly referred to as the “caboose bill.”) They will have time to work out their differences since the Veto Session is not scheduled to convene until April 18.

In agreeing to move the budget process forward after voting against the Senate Finance Committee’s 2012 proposed budget during the regular session, the 20 Senate Democrats decided to untangle their arguments with the 20 Senate Republicans over organization and committee assignments and from budget negotiations. In doing so, Democrats were able to get some concessions related to certain budget items including transportation, mental health and public education funding. Prior to the Senate split, both the House and Senate budgets added more funding for K-12 than the Governor’s proposed budget. They both still have more money for K-12, but the Senate budget now adds about $60M more to include such items as additional funding for pre-K and recognition of the inflation factor related to school expenses.

It is not unusual lately for budget talks to stall during regular General Assembly sessions and for members to be forced to take a time out to cool off before tackling cuts to programs and services that are sacred to some and deemed superfluous by others. Raising taxes is becoming less and less an option; but it doesn’t seem to bother most legislators that, in order to preserve “no tax” pledges and appease tax weary constituents, they continue to shift the burden of paying a growing portion of the state’s bills to localities. Sadly, this year will be no different.

Take for example VRS. Legislators are vowing to fully fund VRS but don’t have enough state money to get the job done after years of robbing Peter to pay Paul (i.e., robbing VRS to pay off other obligations). But, no problem, they will just ask employees to ante up and mandate that localities and school boards give them a raise to lessen the sting. Problem is, localities are drowning in red ink.

What are you hearing in your localities?