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Kaine’s proposals drawing critics

Tim Kaine’s budget balancing act is earning the Virginia governor critics across the Commonwealth.
“While the decisions are tough and certainly not anything that the governor or anybody else would have wished for, the ultimate impact is going to be on the various localities. And the poorest school divisions are going to be among the ones the hardest hit,” said Kitty Boitnott, the president of the Virginia Education Association, in an interview for “The Augusta Free Press Show” that will air tomorrow, bringing up the bone of contention raised ’round the Old Dominion in regard to the $400 million-plus in cuts directed in Kaine’s proposed budget toward K-12 public education.

The lion’s share of the cuts would come in the form of a cap on state funding for so-called support positions in the budget that would have an impact of close to a million dollars on the Staunton school system’s budget and closer to a $4 million hit in Augusta County, State Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, said this evening in a meeting with Staunton City Council.

The rest of the cuts would result from a suggestion from Kaine to divert state monies, including lottery monies, that currently are earmarked toward school construction.

The dust hasn’t settled on the education-funding issue yet, Hanger told Staunton leaders. Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, who joined Hanger in the meeting with city leaders, said his focus will be on making sure that the state gives local decisionmakers “as much flexibility as possible” to balance their budgets in the wake of what is being done at the state level “so that they can make decisions more closely associated with their constituencies rather than having Richmond mandate everything.”

Hanger is there with Saxman on that point. “Local governments obviously are not immune to the same problems that we’re facing in Richmond. Of course the challenges at the state level are affecting local officials as well,” Hanger said. “If we are restricting funds going back to local governments, and that’s where most of the money goes, back to education and other things that are local services, as we pull back on that funding, those areas will be hit twice, because local governments in addition to the state are going to be impacted,” Hanger said.

Saxman and Hanger agree that another of the governor’s proposals that would double the state tax on cigarette sales from 30 cents a pack to 60 cents a pack might have a hard time flying with the General Assembly. “The political dynamic is such that if you attempt in any way, even if it’s a minor effort to enhance revenues, it’s going to get shot down. You saw some of that with the reaction to the governor’s proposal on the tobacco tax yesterday. And I really believe that’s where we’re headed,” Hanger said.

And somewhat out of left field, State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, sounds to be wavering seriously on the cigarette-tax issue. In a conference call with reporters today to discuss the endorsement of his gubernatorial campaign from Ninth District Congressman Rick Boucher, Deeds said he is not “prepared to say yea or nay” on the proposed tax increase. “I’m going to look at the whole budget picture,” Deeds said. “I’m not going to take a position on that yet.”

Kaine projected that the cigarette-tax hike would generate $148 million a year for the state, which if it is not there because the General Assembly would refuse to give it approval would add another significant chunk of change that would have to be replaced in the state budget to get it back into balance.


– Story by Chris Graham

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