Virginia Budgets Debated
Yesterday both the House and Senate finally debated their respective budgets before their full chambers.
In the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression…the General Assembly is tasked with balancing a budget with a 4 billion dollar shortfall. When presenting his budget in December, outgoing Governor Tim Kaine offered 2 billion dollars in cuts…as well as the repeal of the 2 billion dollar Car Tax Relief program. Governor Bob McDonnell and the House Republican majority firmly rejected the Car Tax proposal…and eventually offered further cuts to close the remaining 2 billion dollar gap with more cuts. Something Democrats unilaterally objected to yesterday in their first chance to formally debate the bill.
Democratic Delegate Jennifer McClellan of Richmond.
Jennifer McClellan: Statewide education cuts are projected to result in the loss of over 30,000 teaching jobs. This cut’s only approach will add to the unemployment problem, as I stated, and loss of important stable jobs in our community. Now, a quick word about the Medicaid cuts. The draconian cuts to our FAMIS programs will not just be the 37.5 million to savings that we see in state funding but a 107.5 million dollar cut when you consider the 65% matching funds from the federal government.
Republican Delegate Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights viewed the budget very differently.
Kirk Cox: I’m very proud of the budget that we’ve put together. Its probably one of the toughest things I know that I’ve ever been a part of but I find it amazing that, number one I don’t think there’s a program the other side doesn’t like, number one and there’s been no suggestion on maybe how can we maybe make Government smaller, is there anything that doesn’t work. We offer tax relief to the citizens of Virginia, that was our number one priority. We’re not embarrassed by it, we don’t apologize for it. It was the right thing to do. We did try to minimize K-12 cuts and they’re not draconian. And they’re not going to end life as we know it now. As a matter of fact when you look at the VRS savings, it’s about 40 million dollars a year in K-12 cuts.
Republican Majority Leader Morgan Griffith of Salem…effectively dared the opposition to bring a tax increase to the floor if they could not support the proposed budget reductions.
Morgan Griffith: If somebody wanted to create a whole new budget, they thought was a lot better than what the appropriations committee could do, both the minority and the majority have done that in the past, that certainly could be done today. If somebody really wanted tax increases, while today might not be the appropriate time to do it within the budget, they certainly could put forward a bill and fight for that bill for tax increases, for large tax increases. So they could have their opportunity to talk about how much they love to raise taxes on the poor hardworking people of Virginia.
Democratic Minority Leader Ward Armstrong of Henry, focused on the negative impact the budget cuts will have on education and jobs.
Ward Armstrong: These cuts would cost as many jobs as the Governor and the House majority hope to create. McDonnell introduced a package of economic stimulus measures last month that he said would lead to the creation of more than 29,000 new jobs over the next two years. Last week the VEA estimated that McDonnell’s proposed 731 million in cuts to public education could lead to more than 28,000 school job losses. The other piece of the puzzle I this morning asked the Health Care community is what are the job losses that the house budget would cost? 6,000. Add those to the 28,000 job losses of teachers and you have now exceeded the number of jobs that our Governor wants to create. How is a document that will cut 22,000 children from health insurance, that will cut homeless services, that will cut funding for mortgage councilors for those in danger of losing their homes, that will cut at risk funding for schools, that will cut Medicaid reimbursement rates and hundreds of millions of dollars for education be moral? I in good conscience cannot vote for this budget, neigh I would tell you I’d rather resign my seat. We’ve failed in our commitment to the people of this commonwealth to give them the nobility of work.
The House passed their budget bill along party lines with 59 Republican and two Independent votes in favor and 38 Democratic votes against. In contrast the Senate passed their budget with a bipartisan vote of 30 to 10. Now the House and Senate budget conferees have two weeks to reconcile the differences between the two plans.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square.