Governor’s budget by the numbers

Published 3:07 pm Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Governor Northam released his proposed budget amendments to the public officially a week before Christmas. Then, and in the weeks prior to that, he proposed funds to various groups. To provide for all those great ideas, he has planned out how he will spend hoped-for revenues, not only outside this biennium, but also past his term of office. I like a lot of his proposals, however, we as legislators have a greater responsibility to the taxpayers of Virginia rather than supporting his proposed Christmas presents to the groups that supported his election.

The biggest issue, and the first I will explain here, is how to deal with the windfall from President Trump’s tax changes last year. Those changes in the federal tax code gave taxpayers a nice break in federal taxes. In turn, those tax code changes will result in 80 percent of Virginia taxpayers receiving a break on their state taxes. However, 20 percent will have to pay significantly more. Over a five-year period, the Governor has anticipated that this will net $2.2 billion more in new taxes that Virginians will pay in taxes. He has assumed these numbers will follow the current trend and has proposed ways to spend most every dime of that. As we all know, it is dangerous to plan and budget that far in advance. A dip in the economy could change those expectations easily. Governor Northam has proposed that about half of that annual expected windfall would not be paid back to the taxpayers that paid them but rather to others. This is not an evil plan, but rather the question should be asked is it fair to those who paid those taxes.


The other half would be used to pay raises to teachers. This would be in addition to the raises the General Assembly voted to give starting next summer. It will also force local government to fund the locality’s share of that raise. He also proposed a bonus for state employees. This defies one of my basic tenets – fairness. Why would you consider giving raises to some public servants and lesser bonuses to others? Additionally, the Governor proposed $80 million to go to the Literary Fund that is used for loans to school divisions for capital construction. Considering that there is a backlog for the use of the Literary Funds, that amount would be a drop in the bucket of the construction needs. Just Halifax and Mecklenburg together are looking for more than that amount. His proposal would also increase the amount dedicated to extending broadband investment for the year from my efforts in the current budget of $4 million to $50 million.

There are many other new factors that he has addressed or not addressed in the budget. The highest is an additional $450 million in Medicaid reimbursements that is in addition to the administration’s estimate from just last winter. He has proposed additional counselors in our schools at a cost of $36 million, $35 million additional dollars for at-risk school programs, and millions of new dollars are proposed to go into public housing.

All of these are worthy proposals, and, therefore, we will evaluate each to determine what is the best use of limited resources. Rarely are budgets easy and simple yet we, as your representatives in Richmond, are tasked to do just that. My role on the Finance Committee will have me intimately involved on much of the budget. I look forward to determining how we can fund worthwhile proposals that are offered by the Governor, General Assembly members and the public.

Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.