Bob McDonnell has been touting his “surplus” as if he had anything to do with whatever he is calling a surplus. Well, some local governments in the state are rebelling, tired of the second year of claiming a state surplus while simultaneously cutting funding for vital services to localities.
At least one locality found a way to express their rejection of the state shell game and the “surplus” claims. Lynchburg City Council has agreed to just ignore the state government’s attempt to force localities to make the hard choices on what services to cut. “I think it’s unconscionable that the state would claim to have a balanced budget when in fact all it’s doing is forcing us to raise revenues locally to pay for its efforts,” Councilman Michael Gillette said, going on to call the state’s actions “dishonest.”
What the state has done in the last few years is cut back state aid to localities and then tell those localities to either cut their services or pay the state to preserve the services. In other words, the cowardly lions in Richmond didn’t want to be the ones who cut police funding or necessary social services. Instead, they shifted the responsibility for their budget cuts onto localities.
“This state reduction strategy has become a symbol of a great deal of frustration for local governments,” Neal Menkes of the Virginia’s Municipal League said. “Their [local] revenues are barely hanging on and state revenues are improving, yet they get stuck with the political hardship of deciding how these state cuts are going to be made without getting any regulatory relief in state mandates.”
Because Lynchburg refuses to participate in this shell game, that means state budget staff will have to decide where to make service cuts. The city still plans to use local funds to offset those reductions, if possible, which means there will be few practical consequences for citizens, but it will make the process more unwieldly for the state. The purpose is to send a strong message to Richmond: You cut the services. You take responsibility.
I would add: You claim a surplus. You share that with the localities you have cut aid to. Either that, or shut up about your vaunted “surplus.”