Eating the Seed Corn

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    “Eating the seed corn – any desperate action which creates a disastrous situation in the long-term, done in order to provide temporary relief.”

    Virginia did some very dangerous things for the future of the Commonwealth in order to balance the budget during the Great Recession. Now that recovery is underway, the state’s citizens should be seeing its leaders trying to undo the worst of those actions, but instead Republican Ken Cuccinelli wants to push the state even further into a “disastrous situation.” Cuccinelli, in pursuit of the Governor’s Mansion and perhaps in order to emulate former Gov. Jim Gilmore’s “no car tax” election strategy that ended in a fiscal sinkhole for the state, has proposed cutting state taxes by $1.5 billion without saying how he plans to deal with the shortfall. Let’s look at just one area of the state budget Cooch proposes to rob – education.

    People who understand the 21st-century economy we live in know that one vital component of competing in that economy is an educated workforce. In that respect, Virginia has been absent for the last four years under Republican rule. Want proof? O.K., here goes:

    Virginia has shrunk direct aid for public K-12 education to pre-2009 levels, shifting the burden of maintaining educational standards to local government. It also shifted part of the cost of employee benefits to localities and forced additional costs on localities and teachers for the Virginia Retirement System. Virginia’s budget devoted to public education as a percentage of the general fund in fiscal year 2009 was 34.63%. In 2012 it was 29.88%. That is unconscionable and guarantees a future where that Virginia faces possible economic mediocrity.

    In higher education, if possible, the picture for the future is even worse. Between 1992 and 2010, general fund appropriations to public higher education in Virginia fell from 14% to 11% of total state appropriations. The Commonwealth (10th in wealth in the U.S.) ranked 40th for state and local appropriations for higher education. For comparison, Maryland ranked 14th and North Carolina ranked 7th. While the national average for educational appropriations was $7,059 in 2008, Virginia’s appropriation per student was $1,254 lower at $5,805.

    If Ken Cuccinelli sells the voters on his “rape state taxes” plan, we can look forward to a state that “has eaten its seed corn” and is destined to become just another failed experiment in Republican anti-tax propaganda and failed governance. When we shortchange education, we shortchange the future of us all. It’s past time to end the illusion that we all can get something for nothing. There are no free lunches. If we want a quality educational system, we must pay for it. Cucinelli is a charlatan selling snake oil to the voters. He must be stopped.