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Myths about the State Budget


Here we go again. Gov. Bob McDonnell wants to walk in the footsteps of George Allen and shrink the big, bad, state government. When Allen tried that, it was simply a smokescreen for his radical conservative agenda. He was more interested in  vouchers for private schools and privatizing mental health and child support services than in ending unnecessary state spending.

Conservatives in the GOP always throw around this budget figure: “State spending over the past decade has grown 73 percent in the past 10 years.” NOT TRUE.

The figure bandied about by those who begrudge any state revenue going to anyone except themselves includes directed funds, such as money that gives tuition help to state colleges. According to the latest JLARC report, the actual increase in state spending for the General Fund  in the last 10 years is 46 percent.

If one is honest and corrects that figure for inflation and state population growth (10 percent), the state budget has grown only 8 percent over 10 years, or less than 1 percent per year. That is hardly profligate state spending.

However, here we go again…

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) told the Washington Post, “I’ve heard it all before. If it makes sense, we’ll do it. If it doesn’t make sense, we won’t.”

One “plan” of McDonnell’s is a sub-committee of his new Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring that will look into selling off the state ABC stores. The people on the sub-committee represent liquor retailers, wholesalers and distributors.

Well, isn’t that coincidental? The very people who would benefit the most from the General Fund losing $100 million per year in revenue by the sell-off of state liquor stores will make the recommendation to the governor about whether to sell the stores or not….

The Washington Post has looked back at some of the recommendations made by the group George Allen set up when he was governor from 1994-1998. Back then, they wanted to eliminate 16,000 state jobs. Allen actually eliminated about 10,000 jobs. At least it was fairly easy for the state employees who found themselves out of a job to find a new one since the Clinton economic boom was in full force.

This time, the people who lose state jobs will simply join the ranks of those unemployed during the “Wall Street Greed Great Recession.” Besides, it will be mighty hard for McDonnell to find other jobs to slash after the adoption of a budget that will result in anywhere from 25,000 to 35,000 fewer state and local jobs.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that periodic looks at how tax money is spent isn’t laudable. It actually would make good business sense for such a review to be done regularly, as long as it is done by some group that doesn’t come to their mission with a preconceived viewpoint driven by ideology. (Actually, we already have JLARC that does a fine job analyzing the budget.)

That is my main objection to McDonnell’s commission. Like the earlier one set up by George Allen, it will approach its job with biases firmly in place: no new taxes and lower tax rates for those already in place, with most cuts occurring in services to the poorest and the weakest members of our society.

That’s not how effective businesses seek greater efficiency. That’s simply a recipe for making Virginia a meaner, crueler place.

Ex-Gov. Doug Wilder, who has always been a budget hawk himself, has suggested a couple of ways to cut the state budget. He suggests McDonnell engage in video conferencing when possible instead of traveling and that the state budget cycle be changed to an annual one.

I might add to that list a look at whether Virginia should remain the only state in the U.S. that retains independent cities, which means that cities duplicate the governance of counties. The practical result is separate police departments, fire departments, court systems, etc. There should be savings possible if that situation is somehow modified.

I will give McDonnell credit for one thing, if he actually means it. He says that any savings identified by his commission will be put back into the General Fund to mitigate some of the draconian cuts to state services in the upcoming biennial budget.


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