Deeds: More cuts will come
Column by Sen. Creigh Deeds
The 2010 session of the General Assembly is now almost two weeks old and answers to the issues that we face remain distant. This year’s session of the General Assembly features many new members and over 2000 bills and resolutions are being discussed. The debates are somewhat subdued due to the overwhelming reality of the budget work.
Issues before the General Assembly this year include bills to raise the speed limit, to privatize the sale of alcohol, and to mandate insurance coverage for autism. A number of bills have been introduced to modify laws related to firearms, including a bill to rescind the law that limits handgun purchases to one a month, bills to allow concealed carry permit holders to carry weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol, and a bill that relates to the shooting range issue that was debated in Nelson County several years ago. And, as in many years past, there is also a bill that would require background checks for every sale at gun shows.
All of this legislation was put in a dark perspective with the news this past week about the tragedy in Appomattox County. The tragic loss of life impacted families and communities.
Real world reminders like what happened in Appomattox also put into context the budget work of this General Assembly.
In spite of the fact that we are in the worst economy in seventy years, that we will cut about $4.5 billion out of the budget this year, that any economic recovery that has occurred has been largely jobless and that people around Virginia and around the country are hurting, the flow of people through the General Assembly building who are requesting and even pleading that their budgets not be cut is endless. This level of budget cuts is bound to affect negatively the delivery of services. We are already among the most frugal states with respect to health care, services for mental illness, and natural resources. There is no debate that we have one of the best systems of higher education in the country yet, instead of investing, we have made cuts to that system every year. To this point, we have largely protected K-12 funding, but that protection will be difficult to continue given the current budget situation.
Within the next few days, I expect the governor to identify another $1.9 billion in cuts. Gov. Kaine proposed a budget with $2.5 billion in cuts and by proposing an income tax increase, prevented another $1.9 billion in cuts. The new governor, and the House of Delegates, has already rejected that idea, so more cuts will come. The largest expenditures in the state budget are public education, health care (Medicaid), and public safety. To a large extent, Medicaid cannot be cut because it is mandated by the federal government, which leaves public education, public safety, and services for the mentally ill as likely targets.
The tension around this issue is palpable and is overwhelming every other issue. Our responsibility is clear: We must balance the budget, and we must do so in a way that protects our AAA bond rating, our status as the best state in the nation for business, and the best managed state in the country. We must also maintain services that make Virginia one of the best places to live. Our work is cut out for us this session.