General Assembly Passes $77 Billion Two-Year Budget

General Assembly Passes $77 Billion Two-Year Budget
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Senate Conferees Secure Funding For Education and Public Safety; Lead Efforts to Make Targeted Budget Cuts to Ensure Fiscal Responsibility

(Richmond) - Any person who balances a budget – whether managing the family’s checkbook or running a business – knows that when revenues drop you have to tighten your belt and make cuts. 

But leadership and fiscal responsibility don’t only mean making necessary budget cuts, but also identifying areas to make wise investments to secure your future.

In their first session as the majority party in nearly a decade, Senate Democrats have shown their leadership in ensuring Virginia has a balanced, fiscally responsible budget while still moving forward. 

This is how Virginia Democrats have made their mark.

Senate Democrats approached this year’s budget with a strategy of making the necessary cuts needed to balance a nearly $2 billion shortfall and declining revenues while still funding core programs that will help Virginia in the long-run.

“We did our best to avoid across-the-board cuts and focus on making targeted cuts where we could,” Senator Charles Colgan (D-Prince William), Senate Finance Committee Chair and lead budget negotiator, said.  
“Negotiations were hard fought.  This was my seventeenth time as a budget conferee.  I can remember when it took longer, but never when we worked harder.  But we have a budget which makes necessary investments and remains fiscally sound.”

Cuts to the budget include $775 million in targeted budget reductions.

Nearly $300 million was pulled back from previously approved capital projects, aid to local governments was cut by $100 million over two years, and they directed the governor to trim $35 million from state agencies, with the exception of higher education. In addition, nearly all non-state agency funding was cut from the budget.

A total of $351 million was removed from the Rainy Day Fund.

“When times are tight, everyone has to tighten their belts and absorb some of the hits,” Senator Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said.  “We did our best though avoid massive cuts from any one group and avoid cutting funds from education, public safety and health.”

Though tough cuts were made, Senate Democrats were still able to make necessary investments to keep Virginia moving forward.

Senate Democrats fought back against House Republican efforts to change the funding formula for education which would have resulted in a loss of several hundred million dollars to education.

They also increased funding for pre-k of $22 million which will help at-risk four year-olds throughout the Commonwealth.

“Improving our schools and giving our children the best education possible is the best investment we can make,” Senator Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania), a budget conferee said.  “Even in tough times we have to invest in our children, make sure our schools are among the best in the nation and make sure our children are able to compete in a global economy.”

The Senate also was able to make new investments to improve mental health and public safety, including $42 million to expand community-based mental health services and $1.5 million for Alicia’s Law – a program to investigate Internet sex crimes against children.

“Coming into this session, we knew mental health was going to be a budget priority for us,” Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), a budget conferee who dealt with public safety, said.  “Reforming our Commonwealth’s mental health system was necessary and budget provides enough funds to truly make a difference in our mental health system.”
Senate Democrats showed in the budget negotiations, as they have throughout the entire General Assembly session, they have a plan for Virginia.

“Our conferees showed a lot of leadership and proved Democrats know how to govern responsibly,” Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington), Democratic Caucus chair, said.  “We balanced the budget, made cuts where we needed to, and stuck to our plan to fund education and reform mental health.  A lot of work went in to this budget and we won a lot of battles.  This was a tremendous effort by our conferees and the result is a budget that will help all Virginians.”

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