Frank Ruff: What went wrong with the budget?
Published 12:00 pm Friday, May 5, 2023
Budgets are much like jigsaw puzzles. Government at each level, to some degree, is dependent on other levels of government; sometimes things just don’t fit together. This year is a perfect example.
The state budget builders know what will be coming since our budget is usually developed six months after the federal government. Local governments don’t have that luxury. They are building their budget as they watch the General Assembly as the process develops. Under normal situations, the state budget goes to the Governor in March. With few exceptions, the counties and towns can depend on what the General Assembly has agreed upon. The localities build their budgets with confidence that they can give raises, hire employees, and spend on needed projects.
In 2023, as in a few other cases in recent years, things did not go as planned. The Senate and House did not come to terms with each other about priorities. In most cases, neither side gets everything they want. After both sides compare their budgets, despite not wanting to, each body compromises. Some issues will be more important to one side than the other and, therefore, they will trade off for something more important to them. Other issues will be agreed to by meeting in the middle. That has yet to occur this year!
This has left localities having to build their budget with no assurance of what they will be receiving from the state. This is most uncomfortable when factoring in school budgets. School systems are supposed to give teachers contracts in May. Using the jigsaw puzzle analogy again, money can only be budgeted in one place. If you move money into one category, you must move it out of another. In the end, all the pieces must fit together.
WHAT WENT WRONG IN 2023?
Several issues came to a head this year that make the process more trying. First, we had a divided government. With the Republicans in the majority in the House of Delegates and the Governor’s office and the Democrats in the majority in the Senate, that set up a conflict. However, this was the exact case in 2022.
Second, this is the second year of a bi-annual budget, we already have a budget. Therefore, there is less pressure to act than there was last year. Third, inflation has been rampant for the last year. The result is that the raises that we built into the budget last year for teachers and law enforcement have been eroded. Those employees now must spend more money for gasoline, groceries, heating, and cooling their homes, and other expenses. This drives them to consider other professions.
Fourth, the media decided that Governor Youngkin was or might be considering running for President. Some have been doing everything possible to prevent him from having any successes regardless of how it will affect those they were elected to represent. Fifth, redistricting has upset the status quo. Many are leaving, maybe as many as a third of the legislators will not be back. In some cases, they feel free to do whatever they want with no regard to the effect.
For these reasons, the legislators in Northern Virginia are in fear that they will lose in the primary to far left zealots. House Republicans don’t want this any more than Northern Virginia incumbents. Therefore, don’t expect a budget until after the June 20th primary. After that, a compromise will quickly be agreed upon. No one wants to go before the voters leaving $3.6 billion extra unallocated when part of that money could be returned to taxpayers, and we are not providing localities the money needed to meet their needs to retain the best teachers and law enforcement officers.
If re-elected in November, I will be the most senior Republican of the Senate Finance Committee. If the Republicans win a majority in the Senate, I will be Chairman of the Committee. If that is the case, I hereby commit to having a budget on time for the good of Virginia.
Frank Ruff Jr. represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.