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Education, Public Safety Targeted For State Cuts

Republican Del. James Edmunds II joins state legislators in Richmond today when the Virginia General Assembly convenes.

Utmost on their minds, Edmunds said, will be the state’s massive two-year budget shortfall totaling $4.2 billion.

In a phone interview earlier this week, the freshman delegate said he knows the pain his Southside constituents are experiencing due to the depressed economy and that they can not stand any new tax increases.

Earlier, outgoing Governor Tim Kaine had proposed $2.3 billion in budget cuts and a $1.9 billion tax increase.

But with newly elected Governor Bob McDonnell saying he will not raise taxes, Edmunds said it will be up to him and other legislators to make more cuts.

Work on the budget is expected to consume just about the entire General Assembly session as lawmakers search for ways to cut costs without raising taxes, Edmunds said.

“I believe the main thing that will affect this area at this time that I know of will certainly be the budget in every aspect. I don’t believe there is any momentum from anyone to raise taxes, so it’s just going to be a belt-tightening year,” the delegate said reiterating that about $2 billion more in budget cuts will have to be made.

Likely targets include education, health and human resources and public safety programs that currently make up 82 percent of Kaine’s $32.7 billion general fund budget.

Edmunds said he will be watching out for cuts in K-12 funding that will affect  the local school system.

Under the outgoing governor’s proposed budget, the county school system is looking at a deficit of approximately $3.4 million for next year, according to Chief Financial Officer Bill Covington.

Kaine has recommended freezing the composite index at the current year’s number that will greatly benefit Halifax County and other rural counties that depend on the state funding a large chunk of their budgets each year.

If the GA does not adhere to the previous composite index, Covington predicts the deficit could raise another $1.5 million making the total deficit for the county’s school system as high as $5 million.

In addition to education, Edmunds said proposed cuts in public safety will adversely affect the county sheriff’s office as well as commonwealth’s attorney’s office.

“Much more radical I think is the proposal to not fund anything for the commissioners of revenue and treasurers which means basically eliminating by not funding those two constitutional offices,” he continued.

At this point, Edmunds said he definitely would not support any such recommendation to eliminate the two constitutional offices.

“I believe there needs to be a system to put in place some checks and balances. Certainly there may be some duplication of services that could be provided by the finance department through the board of supervisors, but I don’t think eliminating the constitutional offices is the answer,” he added.

In another pressing local issue, Edmunds has been asked to find state money that can be used to help repair the historic courthouse in Halifax.
Last year while Edmunds served as the Election District 5 supervisor, the state of disrepair at the courthouse was brought to the full board’s attention.

Outside, telltale whitish water trails scar sections of a north and west wall of the building.

Water is taking its toll on the historic building, and it is in dire need of care.

Edmunds, on a tour with fellow supervisors last year, saw firsthand the damage taking place at the historic facility, the peeling paneling, crumbling plaster and mold issues, all resulting from moisture problems.

County officials have long been aware of the situation, but money has been the problem, according to Halifax County Supervisor Chairman William Fitzgerald.

“It’s going to be an expensive undertaking,” added Fitzgerald. “I don’t know how we can finance repair and renovation unless we get some kind of state or federal help.”

According to County Administrator George Nester, the commonwealth has a program that allows eligible historic structures to request appropriation funding from the General Assembly, but the request has to be submitted by the delegate serving the location of the historic facility.

He further explained the locality can request up to one-half of the cost of the historic structure, and the local government will be required to explain how the other half will be funded.

Commenting on the supervisors’ request, Edmunds said he doesn’t believe “there is some kitty of money sitting there waiting to be spent.”

“It’s going to be a difficult sell, but I’ll certainly ask,” Edmunds said, “but the bottom line is Lacy Putney, his request for all budget amendments was that if you want money added for anything, then you need to be willing to put in an amendment declining that money somewhere else. If you pad here, you’ve got to take away there.”

Edmunds said, it has been made clear that “there’s not going to be any new money coming from anywhere” during this legislative session.

The new delegate said he plans to co-patron a few bills, but most of the bills will be “housekeeping in nature” such as one for the state police who operate a training academy where “work training” is required.

Edmunds said he plans to put in a piece of legislation that will change the word “shall” to “may” so that work training will no longer be a requirement for state police officers entering the academy.

Speaker of the House Bill Howell is expected to hand out committee assignments tonight after the governor makes his farewell address, and Edmunds said he will know more about what his responsibilities will be after the assignments are made.

With a GOP governor being sworn in this weekend, Edmunds and other Republican legislators predict several Republican measures will likely stand a better chance at going the distance this year.