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Camp 23 Escapes Governor’s Budget Ax

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine unveiled Friday the 2010 caboose budget and 2010-2012 biennial budget that he will submit for consideration by the 2010 General Assembly that calls for an increase in taxes but spares Sinai’s Camp 23 correctional facility.

Although the governor’s budget proposal would lay off 664 employees and eliminate 1,879 unfilled positions, no additional department of correction closures were announced Friday.

The layoffs come on top of 1,651 state workers laid off since 2007.

The department of corrections, now Virginia’s single largest state agency, has already closed large facilities in Botetourt, Southampton, and Brunswick as well as many smaller facilities.

County supervisors and school board members 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 Sinai.

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.

“At this point, additional closures would not be consistent with our public safety needs. But, we will continue to explore options, including contracting with other states to house some of their inmates, to manage our own inmate population while reducing costs,” Kaine said Friday.

The agencies most deeply impacted by layoffs are the Department of Transportation, the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the University of Virginia.

According to the governor’s proposal, state employees also would be required to pay 1 percent of the employee contribution to their pensions under the Virginia Retirement System beginning July 1. The number would increase to 2 percent in July 2011.

“My budget includes no pay increase for state employees in either FY 2011 or FY 2012. I have not, however, proposed any additional furlough days beyond the single day previously announced for May 2010,” Kaine said.

The proposal increases the retirement age of new state employees from 50 to 55.

Local sheriffs’ departments with law enforcement responsibility and police departments, largely protected from budget cuts last year, will face reduced state payments approaching 20 percent, according to the governor’s budget proposal.

These cuts may require layoffs at the local level to keep local budgets in balance. Cuts to local commonwealth’s attorneys’ offices exceed 16 percent, while circuit court clerks face similar percentage reductions.

His proposal also calls for the elimination of the car tax in exchange for a 1 percent increase in the statewide income tax that would raise an estimated $1.9 billion.

The 1 percent increase would be given entirely to localities more than making up for the state car-tax subsidy to localities of $950 million annually, according to the governor.

It would be distributed in the same proportion as the car-tax subsidies are currently structured.

Kaine’s proposal also reduces funding for administrative and support personnel in kindergarten-12th grade.

“Nothing in our schools is as important as teachers, and a ratio for support staff is not only consistent with a ratio for teachers and instructional staff that already exists, it will help protect our core priority: the classroom,” Kaine said.

Recognizing that local school divisions need more certainty in a challenging time, especially in the near-term, Kaine said this budget proposes delaying the scheduled change in the composite index of local ability to pay for one year, until FY 2012.

“Without this action, 97 school divisions would see increases in the share of education costs paid by their local governments, and they would face greater losses of state revenue in the first year of the biennium,” he said.

The budget reduces funding for higher education to levels not seen since 2006.

Health care for low-income Virginians also will be affected in Kaine’s proposed budget. Medicaid expenditures are projected to increase $778 million in response to rising caseloads and costs corresponding to the continued weak economy.

In an effort to control these rising costs, this budget significantly limits services to individuals and reimbursements to health care providers by imposing cuts of $419 million, including freezes on services and on provider reimbursement.

In his budget proposal, the governor said he aimed for three goals:

“First, we have to make significant and painful cuts, but we need to make them in a way that preserves the core services that Virginians depend on. I am mindful of the fact that, at the very time revenues decline, our citizens have the greatest need for services. So, while we have made tough cut decisions that will be painful to virtually every governmental priority, we maintain the safety net that must be protected during these difficult times.

“Second, the budget I deliver to you will preserve our Triple A bond rating. It makes the hard decisions and avoids easy gimmicks that can paper over fiscal challenges.

“Third, the budget reflects the need to preserve Virginia’s status as an economic and educational leader while we climb out of this national recession. If adopted, it will provide the resources that the commonwealth needs in the future to tackle tough challenges and maintain our edge over other states and regions of the world with whom we compete every day.

“The bottom line is this: we can keep ‘leading the way’ if we are willing to make hard decisions in a tough time. The degree to which we will continue leading the nation as the economy improves depends upon our willingness to do the right things today,” he said.

Kaine said his proposal balances the commonwealth’s budget in FY 2012 without using any stimulus funds, which would make Virginia the first state to reach that milestone.

Governor-elect Bob McDonnell said Friday he would oppose any tax increase to fix the budget shortfall.

McDonnell, who takes office Jan. 16, said, “The cuts proposed today will have a direct impact on Virginians in every county and city. While we both understand, and agree, that significant cuts must be made, we will differ on the specifics of those cuts.”

McDonnell said he disagrees with the governor’s proposal to increase taxes. It is bad economic policy to increase taxes on Virginians, especially as they continue to struggle with the worst economy in generations. Families and businesses are making strategic reforms and deep cuts, and government must do the same. We must be looking for every means by which we can attract businesses and entrepreneurs to the Commonwealth. Capital is mobile, and I do not support any measures that could dissuade investment in Virginia, or put the state at a competitive disadvantage with our neighbors,” he concluded.