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Governor Talks Budget

Governor Timothy Kaine discussed his expectations for the budget process in the upcoming General Assembly session and downplayed the possibility of Sinai’s Camp 23 being a victim of budget cuts to be announced on Friday during his visit to South Boston Monday afternoon.

The governor said most of the department of corrections’ facility reductions “have already been made rather than to be announced this Friday.”

“I want to leave the (budget) announcements for Friday, but the best I can say is again, most of the changes in terms of facilities on the department of corrections side have been announced in previous rounds rather than this Friday.”

However, yesterday Governor Kaine received recommendations on ways the commonwealth can most effectively and efficiently utilize its public safety resources from the Alternatives for Non-Violent Offenders Task Force.

The task force provided more than a dozen recommendations to protect public safety and hold offenders accountable, while helping to control the cost of the commonwealth’s correctional system.

Included in its executive summary, the task force states, “In October 2008 in response to budget reductions, department of corrections closed two older correctional facilities and reduced its prison capacity by 1,400 beds. For FY 2010, DOC’s general fund budget was cut by an additional 10 percent. To meet these budget reductions, DOC will have to close an additional two facilities, reducing its capacity by another 1,100 prison beds.”

The report does not list the two facilities to be closed.

The task force recommendation further states that in September 2009, department of corrections … was forced to close two more correctional facilities, Brunswick and Botetourt Correctional Center.

“In total between the cuts in October 2008 and September 2009, DOC had reduced its prison capacity by 2,500 beds. Once the 2009 budget closures have been made, department of corrections estimates they will experience a shortfall of 3,600 prison beds by the end of FY 2010, and they expect this shortfall to grow by approximately 250 to 350 prison beds each fiscal year thereafter,” according to the task force report.

“Given the current economic situation, it is critical that we examine all expenditures to ensure that the state’s resources are being used most effectively,” said Kaine. “Public safety will always be my priority, and I look forward to reviewing the Task Force’s recommendations.”
Halifax County Supervisors adopted a resolution earlier this month requesting the governor and General Assembly to refrain from initiating any efforts that might result in the closing of Camp 23 in South Boston.

The proposal to close the aging field unit surfaced in a Nov. 18 report by a joint subcommittee on public safety created to study managing correctional costs in a challenging environment.

In the report, the subcommittee suggested housing field unit inmates in “more efficient prison facilities” that could possibly result in the closure of some older field units such as Camp 23 in Halifax County which is specifically named in the report.

According to information in the report, among the budget reduction strategies included by the Department of Corrections for consideration in development of the governor’s budget reduction plan were the closure of five of the agency’s eight field units including Sinai’s Camp 23 which accounts for 90 part-time and full-time jobs.

In addition to Halifax, other field units considered for closure include units in Rustburg, Haynesville, Wise and Cold Springs, all 40-years-old or older.

Although the governor was not specific, he said in earlier rounds he already had proposed closing some of the correctional facilities.
Due to general fund revenue reductions, prison bed capacity has been reduced by 2,560 beds by closing Southampton, Pulaski, Botetourt and Brunswick Correctional Centers.

Also closed were Dinwiddie and Tazewell Correctional Field Units.

“In a lot of areas we spend a lot less than the national average, but corrections is an area where we spend more,” the governor said on Monday.

“We have to do things there without compromising public safety. We probably made most of the closure decisions already, and at some point you start to run into issues such as overcrowding,” he added.

“We want to make it safe for inmates, but we don’t want to put our corrections employees at risk with overcrowding, so every agency of state government will see some carves and some reductions,” the governor said of Friday’s anticipated budget announcement.

The governor explained the budget process has been in progress since the economy started going soft in March of 2007.

“We have pretty much been in non-stop budget meetings since then. This will be a budget with a lot of pain in it. Everyone will see something they won’t like, but it will preserve core services that Virginians will need, especially things they need at a tough time,” Kaine said.

Secondly, it will preserve the state’s Triple A bond rating which is indicative of strong fiscal management, he added.

Third, it will keep us at the front of the pack.

“I want to stay at the front of the pack, so we continue to position Virginia as a leader,” Kaine said.

However, the governor acknowledged final say on the budget will lie with the General Assembly and newly elected Governor Bob McDonnell who will take office in January when the next legislative session gets under way.

“About the proposed budget facing a lot of opposition from the incoming administration, here’s what I think about that,” Kaine said. “I’ve been working on this everyday. Even legislators haven’t been working on the budget everyday like I have. It’s natural they want to kick the tires. That’s why I give it to them a month before the session.

“They’re going to kick the tires and probably see some things they won’t like, but I think the longer they look at it and say ‘I don’t like this, but if they don’t do that there may be something else I don’t like.’ I think they’ll kick the tires for one month, and they’ll see that if they want to keep Virginia’s Triple A bond rating, this is the budget that will do that,” Kaine concluded.

Last week Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, House Speaker William Howell, House Appropriations Chairman Lacey Putney, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment Jr., and Senate Finance Committee ranking Republican William Wampler Jr. sent a letter to the governor urging him to make budget cuts rather than to raise taxes in an effort to balance the budget.

Their letters reads as follows:

“No Governor or General Assembly wantonly enjoys making difficult choices to cut spending or to end non-performing government programs providing services to the people of Virginia.  Yet, the fact remains that we, as elected officials, have an obligation to the taxpayer to live within our existing revenue constraints.  This is no different than what taxpayers, families and businesses must do every day in their own lives.

“This past August, in your remarks to the Joint Money Committees, you stressed up front the fact that unlike many other states, Virginia did not increase the ‘tax burden on our citizens and businesses.’  We applaud the fact that you recognized then that a tax increase would be an additional burden on Virginians who already are getting squeezed on many fronts.  

“Over the last several weeks, published reports indicate that a tax increase remains on the table as part of your soon-to-be-released budgetary package on Dec. 18.  Today, we write to strongly encourage you to maintain the course of balancing Virginia’s budget without a tax increase.  

“The incoming administration has set forth very clearly that they will not support a tax increase, a position that was strongly affirmed by the voters throughout Virginia in November.  Likewise, members of the House of Delegates, while running for election this year, did not advocate a tax increase.  “Accordingly, we believe it would be counterproductive at the very least if your final proposed budget included any increase in existing taxes, proposals of new taxes or reductions to major tax relief programs.

“With Virginians already uneasy about their employment status and personal finances, they clearly have withdrawn from making major non-discretionary purchases, as evident from monthly state tax collections.  So, it seems unfathomable to us that government might now extract from them involuntarily additional tax revenue that they seemingly are unable to pay voluntarily.

“As witnessed in the past, injecting an unworkable and economically harmful tax increase into the state spending blueprint would serve only to delay the inevitable.  It would put at risk the many positive steps we have advanced together over your term in office.  Embedding tax increases within the state budget also would do a huge disservice to those of us who will continue serving the commonwealth in the upcoming session.  

“Virginia has a proud and long-standing tradition for fiscal prudence and sound budget practices.  It is a legacy we intend to protect in the legislature.  And, it is a legacy we sincerely hope you will join us in respecting and safeguarding in your final days in office.”