A revisit to the state budget

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The media has reported the disappointing news that there was a budget shortfall in the annual budget that ended the state’s year on June 30.

This was particularly disappointing for state employees and teachers who were expecting a raise this fall. Those raises were contingent on the state budget meeting expectations. Since they were not met, the raises will have to be delayed.

Some would have you believe that finger pointing should occur because the budget was wrong. That would be a misunderstanding of how the budget is built.

The planning of a budget as complicated as the state budget requires much of the year collecting the issues that must be considered as the budget is built. Then the expected tax revenues must be monitored to determine if revenues are meeting those expectations.

Slight misunderstandings of income expectations and the public’s spending can have significant effect on the budget.

Back in January and February, as the Virginia General Assembly evaluated the governor’s projections, we in the General Assembly were less confident of the strength of the economy. For that reason, as we modified his budget, we did several things to prepare for the possibility that those revenues were not going to reach the governor’s estimates. Had we not made those changes, the budget would have been one billion dollars more off the mark.

Several things we did to protect the taxpayers included not expanding Medicaid. On the other side of the ledger, we transferred $660 million to shore up the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).

This was money that we had shorted the retirement system during the recession. This not only shored up the VRS to its traditional level but also reduces the amount we need to budget in the next several years.

When legislative leaders met with the governor and his economic forecasting committee, the governor was focused on the jobs that had been lured to Virginia and the low unemployment rate.

As the CEOs of some of the largest businesses in Virginia offered their thoughts on the economy, it was clear that few were as confident about the economy’s short term outlook as was the governor.

Many are waiting and watching, trying to understand if the national economy is going to grow or remain flat as it has for the last several years. That procrastination results in goods not sold, buildings not built and employees not hired.

The governor was correct when he stated that the unemployment rate has dropped below 5 percent statewide, but that does not take into consideration those who have simply given up looking for work.

The bottom line is that nothing can be done about the raises this year, but many agree with me that we do need to pay our employees fairly.

Frank Ruff, a Republican, represents Lunenburg in the Virginia Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.