Deeds: Work to do to balance state budget
Column by Creigh Deeds
Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 will be the commencement of the 2010 session of the General Assembly. This is the 60-day session when the biennial budget is adopted. This will be a tough time for Virginia government, those responsible for managing it, and those who depend on state services. In the 1990s, this country experienced the longest period of peace time prosperity in our nation’s history. Since then we have gone through a couple of economic boom periods, fueled by the technology and real estate industries.
While Virginia is not immune to the troubles that have been well chronicled in other states (California with its multibillion dollar annual deficit, et al.), we have struggled as well for the past couple of years. Gov. Kaine has presided over a process that has trimmed more than seven billion dollars out of the budget over the last three and a half years.
One of Gov. Kaine’s last responsibilities as governor was to submit a balanced budget in December. The governor’s budget contains a number of controversial subjects, including changing the educational funding formula in a way that has angered many in Northern Virginia. One of the most contentious items, however, was the addition of a 1 percent income tax to offset the cost of eliminating the car tax. The governor-elect has already come out in opposition to Gov. Kaine’s budget, but it will be incumbent upon him to come up with alternative ideas to keep the budget balanced.
Gov. Kaine has provided leadership in a very tough time. Unlike the federal government and some other states, our constitution requires that we balance the budget and precludes our state government from engaging in deficit spending. Even in a tough economic period, we have managed to keep the budget balanced and were rewarded for our frugality. Virginia has been recognized as the best managed state in the country and the best state for business. We preserved our AAA bond rating and are the only state in the nation to maintain that rating every year since 1938 when credit ratings were first awarded to states.
If Virginia is to grow and maintain these ratings, there are a couple of things that we must do. First, we have to ensure that our system of public education has the resources necessary to prepare the next generation of workers to do the smart work of the future. The cuts outlined to public education in Gov. Kaine’s budget proposal, on top of the cuts that have already been made in this area, are painful. We have to protect our priorities. We have to work together, Democrats and Republicans, to develop a long-term plan to assure that a system of higher education, both community college and the four year schools, is thriving in the future. The level of state support for our four-year institutions has dropped dramatically over the last two decades. In order to maintain a competitive advantage with respect to the other states, we must recommit ourselves to our system of higher education.
Second, we are going to have to address our long terms needs in the area of transportation. The two areas of our Commonwealth that have grown significantly over the last twenty years are Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. Both of those areas are choked in traffic. The transportation problem, however, is statewide. Transportation needs throughout the Commonwealth, from Central Virginia to Southwest and Southside Virginia, are well known and hinder our ability to grow our economy and bring jobs to those regions. The General Assembly has been discussing the inadequacy of our current transportation funding mechanisms for years, and this remains one of the most important challenges facing this General Assembly and the incoming governor.
This will be my 19th session of the General Assembly. I spent 10 sessions in the House of Delegates; this is my ninth in the Senate. Public service continues to be one of the high honors of my life. I appreciate your trust and welcome your input during the General Assembly session. My legislative aide is Tracy Eppard, who worked for me between 2002 and 2007. We can be reached at P.O. Box 396, Richmond, Virginia 23218, (804) 698-7525 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If anyone wants to visit the General Assembly during the session, do not hesitate to let us know how we can better accommodate your visit.
Creigh Deeds represents the 25th District in the Virginia State Senate.