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Virginia’s immaculate reductions

February 17th, 2010

Editorial posted in its entirety 2/17/10:

Editorial from the Washington Post:

EVEN BEFORE Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell took office a month ago, he made clear that he would force cuts of almost $2 billion from the state’s two-year, $30 billion operating budget. That’s on top of $2 billion-plus in cuts already proposed in the spending plan submitted by his predecessor, Timothy M. Kaine, shortly before he left office — to say nothing of the billions more Mr. Kaine had already lopped from the budget. Mr. McDonnell, who ran for election on a platform opposing higher taxes, was within his rights; having preached the Republican gospel of smaller government as a candidate, he has something close to carte blanche to cut the budget.

But with crunch time approaching, Virginians have heard next to nothing from the governor about how to shrink an already badly depleted budget. And having dodged tough questions in last fall’s campaign about how to spare public education and core services, Mr. McDonnell is now attempting to outsource the political pain to the state legislature.

Past Virginia governors, faced with having to make cuts, proposed budget amendments and took the political responsibility. By contrast, Mr. McDonnell, after weeks of consultations with top lawmakers in Richmond, has made only private recommendations to make heavy cuts that would involve closing schools across the state, firing state employees and slashing health and social service programs.

The governor’s approach has left even Republican lawmakers seething. “I just wish he’d be clear with us and with the public right now and send down amendments that say exactly what he wants us to do,” an unnamed veteran GOP lawmaker told the Associated Press. “That’s how you lead.”

So far, Mr. McDonnell has proposed more government spending than reductions. He wants to pump up programs geared toward job creation, which is fine with us, and charge the state $29 million in the course of shifting more education funds to Northern Virginia from downstate: also fine. No doubt, it’s more pleasant to tell taxpayers how their dollars will benefit the commonwealth than to let them in on the news that services and schools will be gutted.

We’d ask the same question about his much-vaunted transportation plan. The governor said he would raise hundreds of millions of dollars to build roads by selling off state-run liquor stores. But at his urging, a bill in the legislature to do just that was killed last week. The probable reason? Profits from such liquor stores go directly into the state’s coffers, to the tune of about $100 million a year. Mr. McDonnell, having promised to tackle Virginia’s transportation funding crisis in his first year in office, still has time. What Virginians have yet to see are viable ideas that will yield cash for a transportation budget whose construction funds are just about gone.

The governor has taken the reins at a difficult juncture. He faces agonizing decisions. To his credit, he has appointed moderate, pragmatically oriented cabinet secretaries to help make those calls. There is no reason to expect the deliberations on budget-cutting or transportation to be quick and easy. But having ruled out new taxes to preserve schools and services, we wish he would level with Virginians about the pain, and shortfalls, to come — and take some responsibility for them.

If Republicans legislators are irriated, what about the Democrats and the rest of us. When is McDonnell going to shed some sunshine on what type of budget cuts he is going to make. Maybe he will find that it isn’t as easy from the Governor’s Mansion as it was from the campaign trail. Why is he not forthcoming with budget information? These are issues Virginians need to know and talk about.

The Post is to be commended on its catchy editorial title.

UPDATE: The Governor has released his budget.  You may view it in the Roanoke Times.  Click the blue.

Governor’s Office

Categories: Budget, General, Virginia Tags: , ,
  1. marinm
    February 17th, 2010 at 15:35 | #1

    So far I don’t see anything in the propsed budget I disagree with. Let’s see how the House and Senate crunch the numbers.

  2. February 17th, 2010 at 17:23 | #2

    Have you ever been on a job where you lost 10 days of pay?

    I have not. I can imagine it might upset the family budget. I guess it beats losing a job.

  3. marinm
    February 17th, 2010 at 18:32 | #3

    Right. Better to take a paycut than lose the entire job.

    I’m not unsympathetic but in the free market they’d have probably been RIF’d already.

  4. Slowpoke Rodriguez
    February 17th, 2010 at 19:50 | #4

    Unfortunately, McDonnell has the difficult task of cleaning up the mess left by the previous administration. The poor guy inherited a real mess, caused by years of mis-management. Sound familiar?

  5. Emma
    February 17th, 2010 at 19:53 | #5

    Actually it’s more like years of neglect, what with Kaine being so busy jetting around and campaigning for Democratic candidates, and then remembering every once in awhile that he was also governor.

  6. February 17th, 2010 at 20:42 | #6

    Oh Bullcrap. Let’s have some specifics here. What is the real mess that was caused by Kaine? Warner? But surely not by McDonnell or Gilmore…..

    You are both being ridiculously partisan. What is it that you wanted Kaine to do that he didn’t do? Where did that number 1 state to do business award come from? Fell from the sky?

    I will be waiting to hear about specific messes from both you pundits…{cough-choke-gag}

  7. February 17th, 2010 at 20:48 | #7

    Marin, no doubt it will be tough. I expect a lot of people will retire. I heard some rumor that there will be incentives to get people to retire.

    I guess there will be hard times all over. One of my friends in England was cut back to 3 days for a month, then back up to 4 for 2 months. The pay reflected the furlough. But everyone had a job at the end of the crunch. Where it hurt them is he and his wife both work for the same company.

  8. Emma
    February 17th, 2010 at 21:07 | #8

    Oh, I forgot that there can never be any criticism of a Democrat without accusations of being “partisan.” But citizens who are protesting too much government control and excessive taxes are “teabaggers.” I’m sure I’ll get this straight eventually.

    Well, for starters, the distracted Kaine botched a deal early last year with Apple Computers that would have brought thousands of jobs to Virginia, particularly in a region that has suffered high levels of unemployment. Apple ended up negotiating a deal to set up a data center in North Carolina, whose governor was able to lure the company with favorable tax legislation.

    Thanks, Timmy. I’m sure Southside Virginians can take one or two of those “saved or created jobs” that the President touted today instead.

  9. Emma
    February 17th, 2010 at 21:26 | #9

    The annual salary for the Virginia governor is $175,000. Even the Washington Post acknowledged that Kaine spent 30 percent of his workweek doing DNC business. A part-time job deserves a part-time salary. At least that’s the way it works for the rest of us.

  10. marinm
    February 17th, 2010 at 21:34 | #10

    @Emma

    I would actually consider it an honor to be thought of as a TEA partier. I like what they’re saying about limited government, civil liberties and less taxes.

    You have to give Obama credit. Without him the TEA party would not have inspired so many people to stand up and start excercising their rights. Great to see.

    I hope a good number retire but even then with the state retirement system – we’re still spending money on those employees.

    State workers inclusive of public safety and teachers need to be moved off the current pension system and to a self directed 401K-ish plan. Taxpayers are lifting a heavy burden with the State Retirement System.

  11. Rez
    February 17th, 2010 at 21:39 | #11

    Moon-howler :
    Oh Bullcrap. Let’s have some specifics here. What is the real mess that was caused by Kaine? Warner? But surely not by McDonnell or Gilmore…..
    You are both being ridiculously partisan. What is it that you wanted Kaine to do that he didn’t do? Where did that number 1 state to do business award come from? Fell from the sky?
    I will be waiting to hear about specific messes from both you pundits…{cough-choke-gag}

    Nice try, Wolfie. But what is good for the goose…

    And by the way, how does an Attorney General and before that a member of a legislative body have any responsibility?

    You can do better. Let’s not forget that each day we have to hear about George Bush. It’s time that Tim Kaine be on the block as well since he has overseen the last 4 years in Virginia.

  12. February 17th, 2010 at 21:44 | #12

    Emma, tell us how he botched it.

    Actually, you need some self reflection. You go after everyone who is a Democrat. I do not go after everyone who is Republican. Check the latest post, just as an example.

    I am waiting to hear how Tim Kaine botched the Apple deal. I want to know what he did and what he didn’t do that caused Apple to head south.

  13. February 17th, 2010 at 22:07 | #13

    You don’t hear about George Bush from me. And I wasn’t blaming Gilmore or McDonnell for anything. I was attempting to point out that they were exempt from partisan remarks. Was Gilmore not the governor of Virginia?

    I don’t see a mess made by an individual. I see a mess made by a financial crisis. And actually, I can’t do any better than that. A remark was made about years of neglect. I don’t see it that way.

    And yes Kaine has done some things I don’t like. I hope you remember that I blasted the frozen LCI formula and I also bitched and moaned about the interstate bathrooms until the cows came home. There are other things, but who cares. I believe the good outweighs the bad.

    Frankly, I bust my tail daily daily to try to find articles for discussion that will interest both liberals, moderates and conservatives. I have a belief that it is only when we can discuss things and see each others’ point of view do we really have change. I learn something everyday from disagreeing with someone. Everyone can square off in a corner and we will never get anything done. I get tired of the sound bites that have no substance.

    I am really ready to tell all those who don’t like how things are run here to go over to Greg’s blog and see if things work out better for them.

  14. February 17th, 2010 at 22:09 | #14

    Marin, please explain how retirees are costing the state money. It was my understanding that the VRS was self supporting and only lost 21% in the stock market free-fall of 2008. It’s worth about $48 billion.

    Paying into the system does cost. I understand that. However, if state employees retired, their pay would come from VRS. rather than from general revenue.

  15. Rez
    February 17th, 2010 at 22:41 | #15

    @Moon-howler

    If that is a comment about me, I suggest you calm down a bit. All we have heard since January a year ago from any liberal is how Bush screwed everything up and Obama has come in to save the day.

    if I am not permitted my point of view, then how can I give it to your satisfaction? please tell me so that I may be more perfect in your eyes.

  16. Rez
    February 17th, 2010 at 22:51 | #16

    The comment about the goose is about how Bush has been incessantly trashed.

    Remember you are the one that put McDonnell in with Gilmore as though he had any part of it.

  17. Emma
    February 17th, 2010 at 23:00 | #17

    “I am really ready to tell all those who don’t like how things are run here to go over to Greg’s blog and see if things work out better for them.”

    So you really are looking for a hallelujah chorus. Sorry, but I am who I am, and I have very definite convictions, and I speak my mind. And when I have been wrong, I have admitted it. It’s very clear, Moon, that you do not tolerate being contradicted.

    I stopped posting on the other blog, and the reason I’m sure would surprise you. I can certainly stop posting here if that is your preference.

  18. Emma
    February 17th, 2010 at 23:13 | #18

    And to answer your question about Kaine, here is a link to some info from the completely unbiased and always neutral Washington Post:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/virginiapolitics/timothy_m_kaine/

  19. marinm
    February 17th, 2010 at 23:47 | #19

    Moon-howler :Marin, please explain how retirees are costing the state money. It was my understanding that the VRS was self supporting and only lost 21% in the stock market free-fall of 2008. It’s worth about $48 billion.
    Paying into the system does cost. I understand that. However, if state employees retired, their pay would come from VRS. rather than from general revenue.

    VRS is funded by employer contributions (school systems, county government, police dept, etc.) and put into this large retirement fund. That fund is then invested. The 21% drop you’ve read about is the hit to the fund proper. But, the fund is populated by the agencies which in turn are funded by taxes paid by taxpayers.

    Additionally, when you see the salary numbers of teachers (PWC is one of the highest paid school systems in the state) don’t forget to tack on the $25,000 worth of benefits that are paid for by the School System…err..PWC taxpayers.

    To your last point you are correct. When a person retires they draw there pension from the fund. But, if the fund is $48B…how many tens of billions were directly funded by taxpayers? And, the cherry on top is that we’re only one of I believe 3 states that still continue to fund retirement that way. The other 47 figured out it was wickedly expensive.

    I have no problem with giving teachers, fire/rescue, and police a retirement. But, it should be based, like everywhere else, with a majority of the retirement monies coming from the employee and a SMALL match provided by the employer. 3% is common in industry.

    Salary and benefits take up 79% of the PWCS budget which is 57% of the counties expenditure. Oh, and the building that houses administrative staff was a GREAT investment. Funny how the county government can run the entire county with a small building complex on the parkway but the school system needed something larger than almost every other building in the county – just to run the schools.

  20. February 18th, 2010 at 00:28 | #20

    So VRS funding only costs the tax payers for those who are employed, not those who are retired. The Retirees aren’t costing the tax payers a thing, at the moment. Hopefully if the legislators will keep their mitts out of the fund, it will remain solvent. I seem to recall that every once in a while the greedy eyed monsters start eyeing VRS when general funds run a little low.

    Government isn’t private industry. There isn’t a good comparable. So let’s use the imperfect one for the sake of arguement. Most companies pay higher salaries than state and local government. Secondly, most large companies, the size of a county, pay a pretty decent match on retirement. Some even pay for 401k plus retirement.

    I think the rub is that this money is paid with public coffers rather than profits from a company. I guess my response would be for the citizens of Virginia to try doing without state and local employees. After we see how that works out for them, then they can try to get along with out teachers, policemen, fire and rescue psychologists, doctors, librarians etc etc.

    There is no free lunch. The public needs to get over this new found cheapness. People who serve the public deserve to be paid as well as those in private industry.

    VRS used to be matched. The employee paid the same as the employer. Gradually that changed. It seems folks went a year or 2 without a raise. In exchange, full VRS payment by employer replaced the raise. Keeping my ear to the ground, for the past year or 2 it has seemed like citizens are sort of at war with government employees.

    As for the Kelly building…you are kidding I hope. Do you know where they were before? Old army barracks for office space. Bathrooms blocks away. Cold, drafty, ugly. The only new building over there was far too small. And last time I looked, county complex was not all that small. There is still empty space in those offices. Not so much in Kelly or the older Aden Road complex. They used to have offices in a very small building over on Tudor Lane.

    PWC is the 2nd largest school system in the state. It is going to take up some room. There are about 75,000 students. 6,000-7,000 employees. Yes, they need something larger than every other agency in the county.

  21. Slowpoke Rodriguez
    February 18th, 2010 at 01:47 | #21

    Moon-howler :
    Oh Bullcrap. Let’s have some specifics here. What is the real mess that was caused by Kaine? Warner? But surely not by McDonnell or Gilmore…..
    You are both being ridiculously partisan. What is it that you wanted Kaine to do that he didn’t do? Where did that number 1 state to do business award come from? Fell from the sky?
    I will be waiting to hear about specific messes from both you pundits…{cough-choke-gag}

    OH! the indignity of it all! Did I use an Obama-only tactic, there? Is that line of pure BS reserved only to the anointed-one? Sad, so sad :(

  22. February 18th, 2010 at 03:25 | #22

    Emma, I am still not seeing that he left a mess. An effective leader at that level should have people in place to handle things. However, I don’t like it that anyone elected to do a job spends that much time looking like they aren’t doing the job. Other people could have filled in the DNC position until Kaine was no longer governor. However, I don’t see a mess left from years of neglect. McDonnell, Kaine, Warner, Gilmore, Allen, Wilder….who are we blaming here?

  23. February 18th, 2010 at 03:31 | #23

    Rez, I believe I explained what I meant about McDonnell and Gilmore…
    Rereading your question, isn’t McDonnell governor now? I didn’t want to exclude him.

    Bush has not been incessantly blashed on this blog nor has anyone said Obama was perfect.

  24. marinm
    February 18th, 2010 at 08:33 | #24

    @Moon-howler

    There is no talk – that I’ve heard of – of raiding the VRS fund for monies. I would disagree with doing so as the govt had a contract with those employees and I believe it wrong to break that contract. Going forward however I have no problem with saying that new employees must switch over to a 401K-type plan (the federal govt doesn’t offer a pension anymore they offer a 401K-like retirement program). There is cost savings in doing so and doesn’t deny them anything they couldn’t get on the free market. But, unlike the free market where we deal with RIFs, no pay increases for multiple years, no guaranteed COLA, less benefits than the govt, etc.

    As you mentioned, government pays less (not really) than the free market but the trade off is a job where it takes a LOT for a person to be terminated. Today I can walk into my office and my employer can tell me to pack my stuff and pick up my last check. Doesn’t have to give me a reason, a warning, or even a thank you. You don’t see that in govt.

    Almost all companies have eliminated a defined pension program. It’s just too expensive. What they’ve done is to stick the federal government with it after they’ve disolved it. (Ref. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal corp to manage pension programs when a corp gives them up).

    I think your misunderstanding me. The rub isn’t public monies going to public employees. It’s this sense of self entitement that many government employees get – we have to have a job, we have to have this much pay, we have to have a COLA, we have to have these benefits, and the list goes on. At a time where many private sector employees are unemployed, underemployed or took reductions to keep a job – where do we see that level of self-sacrifice from our public workers? There is only so much food on the plate and someone has to go hungry.

    People that serve the public don’t DESERVE to be paid as much as the private sector. They deserve to be paid a salary that is consistent with the work they provide and reflects the knowledge and experience required to do those tasks. When the employee gets to expensive they’re either promoted (if they have the appropriate skills for the promotion) or are terminated. The same happens in the private sector.

    Yes, living off 234 I knew of the old facility. But, as you pointed out if space was available at the County Complex; why wasn’t that space used instead? Could the same results have been achieved if they built a smaller less regal facility?

    Said another way. Was putting up that building worth taking away money from the education of the children of PWC? Our county government and especially PWCS spends like AIG and is looking for a bailout.

  25. February 18th, 2010 at 09:08 | #25

    I honestly can’t say what new federal govt employees have as benefits nowadays. They used to have a very decent retirement pension. I know my next door neighbor sure lives well. He is recently retired. Military benefits for officers is sure better than what many people get. And those are incentives to work for govt and to be a career military person. That is one reason that people stay in federal jobs all those years rather than private industry. Retirement. And it should be a big deal.

    At lower levels, I would say government pays better. At upper levels I would say it pays less. i find your statement

    People that serve the public don’t DESERVE to be paid as much as the private sector.

    mindboggling. I guess I would have to ask why?

    Why should a county accountant make less than someone who works for a private firm? Plug in any job and match it to a private job in industry. I strongly disagree. There comes a point where you get what you pay for.

    Where do we see the level of self sacrifice? Right here in Prince William County. Our county workers got no raise last year and it is highly unlikely they will get one this year. Yet they still work long, hard hours. The same high level of competency is demanded of them. Many of them I know personally have taken up the slack for those whose jobs have not be refilled.

  26. February 18th, 2010 at 09:21 | #26

    VRS funds….I haven’t heard of anything recently either. My mother used to keep me apprised of those eyeing the system. It does come up periodically. Raiding the old retirement fund. There was a good article in yesterday’s post about a study done by the Pew Institute of state pension funds.

    Maybe the rules will need to change. They don’t need to change on people who are currently in the system though. According to what I read yesterday, VRS is good for all retirees and those in the system currently. It is the new folks coming in that might not be playing with the same retirement standards.

    We can discuss mandatory 401k later on…I can’t handle but so many subjects this early.;)

    Getting fired–there is a little more job security with government jobs–federal, state and local…to some degree. (or so it seems) Private industry can be ruthless at least in Virginia. Go north and get unions involved and one finds a worse situation than government by far.

    Other than ugliness, I can’t fault Kelly Building any more than I can fault the design most buildings owned by the county. As for putting some of central school office at Complex? Then you would have to pay a bunch of people to run Hoadly Road. How about the space being rented out at Complex to bring some money into the county? I have never known school board and county to mix well.

  27. marinm
    February 18th, 2010 at 12:05 | #27

    @Moon-howler

    The retirement benefits for federal workers got pared down. Members of the military still enjoy a pension after 20 years of service. A quote you’ll hear often from officers is O6-26 meaning at the rank of Colonel with 26 years of sevice your ‘set’. Set in the way that the taxpayer is getting it up the shaft but I digress.

    Well, retirement, inability to be terminated, job for life, great health benefits, lots of time off, the list goes on… Govt workers have a VERY nice life compared to what you’ll see from those in the private sector.

    Keep in mind pay is only one vector in terms of compensation.

    But, to your next point – why should one accountant (gov) make less than another (corp)?

    Ever have a kid ask for Nikes? Air Jordans? The new Air ? As a parent you might give an odd look when your told that the shoes cost $150. Why don’t you just wear these shoes instead (Wal-Mart brand $15). Both do the same function – they’re shoes. but the Nike’s give me an extra 2 inches on my vertical.

    People are different. We need to enjoy the diversity of our differences (right?). And part of that is that not every employee is a super star. The vast majority are just average. Some are super stars and need to be compensated and taken care of. And then some are dirt bags that should be shown the door to your competition (I say we encourage all our bad govt employees to get a job with Fairfax County). Treating them the same hurts innovation, hurts motivated employees and brings down morale across the entire organization. When compensation is removed from what I as an employee bring to the organization I do the minimum required – because why bother?

    Another way of putting is. Do I grade a class collectively or do I grade each individual student? Why give John a grade of A and Paul a grade of C when I can just combine the effort and give them both B’s? Paul would be VERY happy and John not so much.

    To your point about getting what you pay for – I agree to an extent. But, if we’re already overpaying for some bad employees – it means we haven’t hit that rock bottom yet.

    I do not agree that PWC government has ‘felt’ our pain. PWC government as a whole has seen budget increases in sacred cow programs of education and public safety as well as general welfare.

    Do you remember a time when any of those programs had less year to year funding than a previous year? I don’t.

  28. February 18th, 2010 at 14:41 | #28

    Each year more and more is asked. No Child Left Behind and special education state and federal mandates are adding to the cost of doing business each year.

    You have to consider the county govt and the school bd stuff separately. Why? Just is. They have always gone by different rules.

    May I ask if you are in the private or public sector?

    I cannot agree that the public sector is less deserving than private industry. It is just counter-intuitive to something really basic. We also don’t want the also-rans running those services we rely on. We need the best and brightest at all levels of government.

    I am not a government hater though. It provides a certain function in our lives.

  29. marinm
    February 18th, 2010 at 18:45 | #29

    @Moon-howler

    It’s a never ending cycle. We have large government, we up standards (because shouldn’t our kids get what we didn’t have?), we up budgets to pay for those new requirements, which means we need larger government to handle the new standards and help those that can’t meet the new standards.

    Ok, assuming that PWCS is seperate from PWCG (just gets funding from them) when was the last time they did not get an increase in year to year funding? We’re also not talking about small numbers here. Tens of millions every year of NEW funding.

    PWCS doesn’t raise revenue on it’s own so it has to ask PWCG for it. They don’t have skin in the game but they do have a rather large wallet.

    I’m in the private sector and have once been RIF’d. I think twice I’ve even been fired from jobs.

    It’s not about being ‘less or more’ deserving it’s about being paid what your worth. If you are a superstar I have no issue with a govt employee being well paid. But, then you have to remove that silly protection that they have. Like I said above; I can be fired without cause and without warning. Shouldn’t teachers and public safety officials be bound by the same?

    It’s not really about being a government hater. It’s about wanting a govt that is sufficient to fulfill our essential requirements and nothing more.

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