General Assembly Update (Jan 23, 2012)
Our state budget reflects the priorities of the Commonwealth, and the Governor’s proposed budget raises several concerns. The Governor’s budget proposes transferring a portion of the sales tax revenue that would otherwise go to fund schools and public education into the transportation budget. Transportation is important but it should not be funded at the expense of schools. Republicans in the House argue against new sources of revenue for transportation, stating we should not increase the costs to Virginia families during a time of economic challenge. Democrats agree with this principle, however, because of our lack of transportation investment, Virginia families may actually pay more under the Governor’s plan.
First, the Governor continues to place more and more emphasis on tolls. Tolls cost real money to Virginia families. We are fortunate in our area that tolling is not being proposed, but in other areas of the Commonwealth – most notably in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia – tolls are an increasing concern to residents. In some cases, an individual’s toll bill over the course of a year could be in excess of $400.00. Contrast that to cost that would be incurred if we were to impose a 5% wholesale gas tax, which is estimated to cost a family approximately $200.00 per year.
Second, since we are not properly maintaining our roads, the costs to families due to flat tires and realignments caused by hitting potholes will continue to mount. These are real costs imposed on Virginians because of our failure to act.
As the Governor’s proposed budget receives more careful review, it discloses major cost shifting onto Virginia families. The Governor proposes to defund community health centers and free clinics, such as the Charlottesville Free Clinic, and dramatically decrease reimbursements to teaching hospitals like UVA and MCV, which provide care to indigent citizens. As we contemplate our budget and potential cuts, we should focus on preserving existing jobs whenever possible, retaining those programs that are most efficient, and protecting those most in need. The Governor’s healthcare budget does not do that. Many seniors who rely on certain programs likely will not qualify if the Governor’s proposals are enacted. In addition, efficient programs such as free clinics and the community healthcare system often access other resources using state monies. Without these monies, these organizations will have to seek new funding sources, which may result in fewer people receiving the care they need.
The Governor suggests that he is increasing funding for education. If you look closer, however, the per pupil spending is actually declining. And, if one considers that school divisions will have to send back a portion of their appropriations to fund required increases to VRS, some school divisions will actually see a net decrease in funding. Albemarle schools project their additional costs for VRS will create a loss of approximately $1.36 million. Charlottesville schools estimate they will have to transfer $1.4 million from their local funds for VRS – monies that would otherwise be used for classroom resources. This will mean fewer teachers, fewer resources, and some places may actually need to consider closing some schools. My number one priority is to restore these funds.