How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Final Budget: Small Victories, Misplaced Priorities

The following article appeared in the March 18, 2010 version of the Mount Vernon Gazette and the Mount Vernon Voice.

The General Assembly on March 14 approved a two-year budget that abandons our core responsibilities and is fiscally irresponsible. I voted against it. While the budget, now with Governor McDonnell, reflects improvements made after many of us lobbied for our priorities and after our state senators pressed for some rationality, the final product was disappointing.

Before this session, $7 billion had already been cut from the budget. We needed to find $2.1 billion more to balance it as the state constitution requires.

Fairfax County received a record amount of money from the state and was only one of a handful of jurisdictions to receive any increased education funding. While we won a victory for Fairfax County that was a small step in the right direction, I was deeply disturbed by $250 million in reductions from statewide K-12 education.

The budget restored 250 Medicaid waiver slots for the disabled to be cared for in their homes, but also cut payments to health care providers by $150 million. This will jeopardize coverage for Mount Vernon’s low-income residents and increase rates for anyone with private insurance.

The Budget Conferees heeded my request to leave Mason Neck State Park open. However, they also "adjusted" retirement formulas, "borrowed" $650 million in cash from the state retirement plan and promised to repay it with interest in the future. "Borrowing" from the retirement plans is why California is in a downward spiral and now paying its retirees with "IOUs." Many of us worry that Virginia’s strong AAA bond rating is in jeopardy.

The budget also fulfilled the Governor’s request of $50 million for wine promotion, movie production and corporate incentives. These are not core government responsibilities when we are cutting education, public safety and safety net services like health care.

The House Democratic Caucus was given a 60-minute budget "briefing" along with 300 pages of amendments at 3 p.m. on Sunday with a vote scheduled for 5 p.m. Not only did I feel that this was unfair to legislators who had to vote responsibly, I thought it was an insulting way to treat the public. The people of Virginia were more interested in this budget than any other of the last 80 years and the people had 120 minutes on a Sunday afternoon to evaluate 300 pages of changes and send legislators their views.

While many of us fought for two months to improve this budget and achieved some victories, I believe this budget was balanced on the backs of low-income people, the uneducated, the sick and disabled, state retirees, college students and their families and the criminal justice system. My grandfather who struggled through the Depression used to say you can pay a little bit now or a lot more later. Therefore, I and 23 other delegates voted "no."

I hope you will continue to share your views and suggestions. Please email me at DelSSurovell@house.Virginia.gov or call at 571-249-44TH (4484). Also check my blog (scottsurovell.blogspot.com). It is an honor to serve as your delegate . I hope to continue to earn your trust.

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