In a much anticipated move to balance a seriously challenged state budget, Gov. Bob McDonnell has put forth a package of unprecedented cuts to public schools, the government work force and health and welfare safety net programs. Having ruled out new taxes before taking office a month ago, the sweeping budget cuts set important guidelines for how the Governor wants state lawmakers to fill $4 billion worth of spending holes.
At the press conference the Governor remarked, “We face an historic budget shortfall in the Commonwealth. I served in the House of Delegates for 14 years and as Attorney General, and these budget decisions are among the toughest I have had to make in public service.”
The Governor has been criticized by Democrats for waiting this long to put forward his ideas on how the General Assembly should close Virginia’s $4 billion, two-year budget shortfall. However McDonnell explained. “I have awaited the release of today’s revenue projections prior to making public the cost savings strategies our Administration is advancing. Now, I am committed to helping the legislature finalize adjustments to the budget.”
Commenting specifically on the revenue projections the Governor stated, “I am pleased to report that the updated revenue numbers from the Department of Taxation project a slight increase in incoming revenue for the year ahead. I have made a conservative estimate of increased revenue based on the new information. I will encourage the General Assembly to put this additional revenue towards K-12 public education, employee compensation or other core services.”
McDonnell further commented, “Finally, in the cost saving strategies recommended to the legislature, I am calling for a restoration of some of the proposed cuts to public safety and no further cuts to higher education. Tough times call for setting priorities. Public safety and higher education have been cut significantly in recent years and cannot sustain further reductions.”
However the cost savings measures outlined by the Governor do contain $731 million in cuts to schools. The projected savings from the state revenue projections will do little to abate the cuts that have been proposed.
The response from educators has been swift. Virginia Education Association President Kitty Boitnott said Gov. Bob McDonnell is balancing the budget on the backs of our school children, saying “Virginians should be shocked by the degree to which Virginia’s budget is being balanced at the expense of investment in K-12 public education. We are very disappointed that Governor McDonnell has chosen to balance the budget on the backs of Virginia’s school children.”
Other areas targeted for cost saving measures include $786 million in savings by cutting down on payments into the Virginia Retirement System over the next two years. The Governor is also suggesting the state save $180 million over the next two years by forcing state employees to take five unpaid days off work each year which would be the equivalent of a 2 percent pay cut. $316 million in cuts to health and human resources are also in the proposal.
The package of ideas that McDonnell has presented will play an important role in the upcoming discussions in the House and Senate. The Governor is a key player in the budget process because he holds the veto pen and the ideas that survive the General Assembly will have to cross his desk.