Message from Chris What turned out to be a brief imitation of Spring ended this week, as temperatures became more seasonal in Richmond. With just one week remaining before the scheduled end of this year’s General Assembly session, the state’s fiscal situation became clearer, along with the challenges we face in completing our work on amending the existing biennial budget.
Governor Kaine's administration released newly revised figures on the state's anticipated revenues. As expected, those expectations are even lower than they were when the Governor introduced his package of budget amendments in December. What he then projected to be a $2.9 billion shortfall he is now saying will be a $3.7 billion shortfall. I believe it will get worse and there may be a prospect of a special session later in the year to address the ever diminishing economic climate.
When Governor Kaine downgraded his own revenue forecast, the federal government passed a multi-hundred-billion-dollar spending plan, some of which is being forwarded to the state governments for distribution. As is the case with most funds that come from the federal government, there are strings attached.
The federal spending package provides funds to give states a meaningful tool to manage their budgets over the next two fiscal years. For example, the federal package would give Virginia a total of $1.2 billion for state stabilization funds for education, public safety grants and "flex funds" - monies that can be allocated largely at the state's discretion - to be spent during fiscal years 2010 and 2011, just over $600 million per year.
Obviously, these monies are insufficient to cover the existing shortfall, let alone the newly revised amount that Governor Kaine announced. So, those planning on federal largesse to stave off cuts in Virginia's budget were disappointed.
The educational stabilization fund dollars, which amounted to $492 million in FY 2010, were designed to restore reductions in K-12 and higher education to the fiscal year 2009 level. While hardly a windfall, those funds will help ease the pain of the cuts for our public schools.
There are $12 million available each fiscal year in the public safety grants. The flex fund amounts to about $108 million in each of the two fiscal years. The key with all of these monies is to utilize them very judiciously.
It is essential that - wherever possible - Virginia not use these one-time monies to cover long-term expenses. The strings that come with these funds undoubtedly will require some of the monies be used to reduce our shortfall. But while concocting various accounting gimmicks and schemes that might allow us to use the federal funds in a manner that avoids making cuts to Virginia's budget may sound attractive, it is a perilous course.
We can't count on Virginia receiving these funds from the federal government on an ongoing basis. If we misguidedly made revisions to Virginia's budget with that assumption, taxpayers might end up on the hook for an even larger shortfall when the funds end abruptly in 2011. That is not an attractive prospect.
Since the Senate amended the House's spending plan this week with their own plan, the General Assembly is now back on course to complete its work on revising the state's two-year spending plan. More encouragingly, the prospects for resolving the differences between the House and Senate over changes to the budget by the scheduled adjournment on February 28 look promising.
Transportation Legislation for New Kent
Working with Senator Tommy Norment, Senate Bill 1405 will designate Virginia Route 64 (Old Roxbury Road) that crosses Interstate 64 in New Kent County the “John McLaughlin Memorial Bridge.” Sheriff Wakie Howard requested of our office to memorialize this bridge in Mr. McLaughlin's honor. This Senate bill was carried by Sen. Norment and myself as co-patron. It passed unanimously February 23, 2009.
John Joseph McLaughlin, Sr., of Quinton, was a respected and admired citizen and community supporter, and died on May 18, 2006. He was extremely proud of being one of the first auxiliary deputies of the New Kent County Sheriff's Office, a devoted 41-year member and retiree of the Virginia Army National Guard, and an active member of the Virginia National Guard Enlisted Association.
Naming the bridge is most appropriate because he committed daily to improving the quality of life of his fellow residents as the chairman of the New Kent Highway Safety and Transportation Commission.
In other volunteer and civic activities, John McLaughlin served as chairman of the New Kent County Fire Department for several years, as well as president, secretary, and dedicated member of the Quinton Volunteer Fire Department and EMS Company No. 2. McLaughlin was a member of the New Kent Ruritan, the Providence Forge Ruritan, the Eagle Scouts of the Boy Scouts of America, the American Legion Post No. 0242, and the American Red Cross.
John McLaughlin received many honors for his extraordinary community service, including the Quinton Volunteer Fire Department Company No. 2 Firefighter of the Year award and the Chesapeake District Ruritan of the Year award.
John McLaughlin will be fondly remembered and missed by his devoted wife, Juaneta Phillips McLaughlin, his three loving children and their spouses, his wonderful grandchildren, his numerous other close family members and friends, and the congregation of Providence United Methodist Church.
Even though the session is hurtling towards a close, friendly faces from home are still taking the time to stop by our Richmond offices. I was glad to see students from Rappahannock Community College this week including Bryan Tyler, Courtney Legler and Caitlin Congdon. I also had a visit from Alyssa Salomon, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship winner and Providence Forge resident on Friday, February 20, 2009. The Fellowship Program is one of many important statewide education and outreach programs provided by the museum.
There are a lot of bills involving major issues that will be decided during the session’s last week. If you want to let us know where you stand on an issue, you can contact us here by sending an e-mail to Delcpeace@house.virginia.gov or by sending a letter to me at PO Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218-0406. Or, you can still call on the toll-free Constituent Viewpoint Hotline at 1.800.889.0229.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s column. Next week in this same place, look for our final column from Richmond this year.