Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Good Start, Mr. McDonnell

My new governor takes on some sacred cows in his first budget proposal...
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has privately recommended cutting $730 million from K-12 education and $300 million from health programs, as well as changing the state retirement system and requiring 10 days of furloughs for state employees, all to help offset a $2.2 billion budget shortfall over two years, according to sources familiar with the plan.

The K-12 reductions would loosen the state's basic educational standards while reducing funds for support staff, supplemental salaries for coaches and teachers who serve as club sponsors, and health insurance for teachers.

The health cuts would reduce mental-health treatment beds by 232, take 5 percent in funds from community service boards that offer substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, and freeze enrollment for a program that provides insurance to low-income children.

The governor is also recommending millions of dollars in trims to public libraries, shuttering some state parks and phasing out all public broadcasting support over four years.
My biggest complaint is that he isn't cutting enough, but this is hopefully just a start. The actual budget is slightly different than those reported cust, but it's still a better than decent start. And McDonnell's rhetoric, while sympathetic, is a lot better than the woe-is-me stuff from the other side...
"All the cuts gave me heartburn,'' McDonnell said. "All of them were difficult because I know that behind every cut there is a Virginian -- somebody in this room or somebody out of the 7.8 million people we have -- that might be affected by that."

Reponse to the proposed reductions was swift.

"We're really throwing kids in the poorest districts under the bus,'' said Robley S. Jones, director of government affairs for the Virginia Education Association, which represents teachers. ''Honestly, I don't know what school systems like Lee and Petersburg are going to do."

"Governor McDonnell, state legislators, and other officials must be aware that cutting funding to community mental health services, reducing Medicaid provider reimbursement rates, and eliminating acute inpatient beds puts extraordinary pressure on an already overburdened system," said Mira Signer, executive director of NAMI Virginia. "Individuals with serious mental illness need to be able to access treatment and services at the time when they go looking for them; if they aren't available due to waiting lists or too few providers, there are consequences."

"Virginia ranks 48th among the states for Medicaid spending per capita and 45th in Medicaid spending as a share of the state budget," says Laurens Sartoris, president of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. "Virginia's Medicaid program already is extraordinarily lean. There comes a point when cuts of this magnitude will hurt all Virginians and cause long-term damage to Virginia's health care delivery system."
You know what, guys? Make do with less. The money funding these budgets comes out the pockets of people who have to do that in the midst of a recession. They lose their jobs, take pay cuts, and work harder for less. Unlike the federal government, states can't print money, and raising taxes drives people (and jobs with tax revenue) out of state. Kudos, Governor. Now let's cut some more.

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