Despite Its New Diet, Virginia State Government Is Fatter Than Ever

State government as a whole just keeps getting bigger.

To hear some folks tell it, budget cuts in Virginia over the past three to four years have been so savage it’s a miracle there’s any state government left. We long ago cut out all the fat and hacked through the muscle; now we’re sawing deep into bone. Localities are scared stiff that the state will stiff them come January. And it’s only going to get worse. Gov. Bob McDonnell has had state agencies prepare plans cutting 2 percent, 4 percent, and 6 percent from their budgets. The stories have grown numbingly familiar.

Yet at the same time, we’re told “State Revenue Up 3.1 Percent in October.” That Times-Dispatch news story from a couple of weeks ago related how tax collections for October, 2011, were higher than collections from October the year before. Moreover, this October “marked the 19th month out of 20 that collections had exceeded those of the same month in the preceding year.”

That’s not all. Tax revenues not only are higher than revenues from a year ago, they’re also higher than state forecasts: “For the year, tax collections are up 5.8 percent. That's 2.1 percent[age points] ahead of the administration's forecast of 3.7 percent.”

Confused? There’s more. The state budget has gone up, not down, every single fiscal year since the recession hit:

Fiscal 2008: $36.004 billion

Fiscal 2009: $37.057

Fiscal 2010: $37.165

Fiscal 2011: $38.982

Fiscal 2012: $39.567

And given how fast revenues are running ahead of projections, it’s a fair bet that the pattern will continue. So why the cuts?

Partly, it’s a function of the distinction between general funds and non-general funds. General funds come from sources such as the income tax, and legislators spend them however they see fit. Non-general funds come from specific sources such as gasoline taxes and college tuition, and can be spent only on specific categories such as transportation or higher ed.

Despite the recession non-general fund revenues have done pretty well, rising from $18 billion in fiscal 2007 to $23 billion for the current fiscal year. For the general fund, it’s a different story. Revenue in that category peaked in fiscal 2007 at $17 billion, then collapsed and still hasn’t fully recovered (though, at $16.5 billion, it’s almost there).

Still: The general fund has grown roughly $1 billion from last fiscal year to this one. That represents about a 6 percent hike. So why is the governor asking agencies to plan for cuts?

Partly out of prudence. But as Finance Secretary Ric Brown explained in a conversation last week, partly because certain spending demands are rising faster than revenue. Which ones? If you guessed health care, go to the head of the class.

For example: From fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2012, general-fund outlays for the Department of Medical Assistance Services (that’s the one responsible for administering Medicaid and the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program) have grown 35 percent. General-fund revenue hasn’t grown anything like that, so the difference has to come from the pockets of other programs.

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  • ChrisO||

    I've here for almost 20 years, and Virginia has never had good roads in that entire time. I would be willing to pay a higher gas tax if I thought it would fix the problem, but the temptation is always going to be to use that money to fund more poorly conceived new projects (or mass transit) than to maintain the existing road and bridge stock, which is in bad shape.

    The health care situation is no different than in most other states, I'm guessing. Since Medicaid is federally mandated, I'm not sure what Virginia could do about it, even if true cuts were considered.

    Cramming more responsibilities down to the municipalities is also a non-starter, since they already have their own bloated governments to feed and limited means of paying for it.

    Ultimately, the notion that Virginia Republicans favor small government is one I've always found amusing. I've never seen it in practice here.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    As someone who first came to Virginia in the 1960s, I can tell you the roads here are far worse than they once were. In the 1980s the lines were painted with top-notch reflective paint, with copious raised pavement markers. Now the cheap crap yellow paint they use is out-shined by lines of tar meandering across the low-bid macadam it separated from.

  • ChrisO||

    I'm finding this to be true almost everywhere in the USA now.

    I grew up in Oregon, and I'm shocked at how bad the roads and streets there are now--worse than in Virginia, if you can believe it. Visible rust and decay on bridges and overpasses, and faded road signs everywhere badly in need of replacement.

    When I moved to the DC area in the early '90s, I was impressed with how good the roads in Maryland were--some of the best in the nation, from what I'd seen. They've gone downhill even faster than in Virginia.

    New projects everywhere are too expensive because of NIMBYism, environmental review crapola, and cronyism with contractors and unions.

    Road and bridge maintenance is neglected everywhere because it does not have a vocal constituency the way schools and welfare do, and it doesn't "pop" the way new road projects do.

  • ||

    When I moved to northern VA from the SF Bay Area, I was flummoxed when locals kept complaining about the high price of housing and the low quality of the roads. It was freaking paradise compared to what I was used to.

  • ChrisO||

    I haven't been to the Bay Area in a very long time, but I recall the East Bay being one giant road project back in the early '90s. Did they ever actually finish expanding the 680 freeway?

    The biggest problem with the road network here in the DC area (besides maintenance problems) is that they never finished it. Everything just ends abruptly in the middle of DC, causing congestion to radiate outward.

    Also, as to housing, it took a huge price jump around here in the early 2000s, which is when people started complaining. Bay Area housing was already astronomical by then, but DC area housing in the '90s was actually pretty reasonably priced.

  • Almanian||

    Man, imagine how bad it would be if they HADN'T "cut out all the fat" and trimmed gummint to the bone?

    It'd be like MICHIGAN or something!

    **Shhhhhhhudder**

  • Almanian||

    Also:

    A. Barton Hinkle Heimerschmidt
    His name is my name, too!
    Whenever we go out,
    people always shout,
    "There goes A. Barton Hinkle Heimerschmidt!"

    LALALALALALALA......!

  • T||

    I forget who said it originally, but this seems relevant: if an agency is existentially threatened by a 5% budget cut, it's too poorly managed to exist.

  • Almanian||

    BUT WE CAN'T AFFORD AN ENTHUSIASM GAP! WE'LL BE DOOMED!

  • Mike T||

    The fastest way to force a real debate on health care would be to establish a hard and fast funding triage which specifically designates which classes of Americans get state subsidies first. Children of all citizen and legal immigrant backgrounds first, parents of children under the age of 7, then people who are actually employed full time, then people who are employed part time, then people "at or near" retirement age.

  • Mike T||

    **Once the funds run out--that's it. The programs shut down for the rest of the fiscal year.

  • ||

    Actually, your triage should be the other way around.

    Old, frail people who worked hard first. Then adults who are currently working hard today, and those at or near retirement age.

    Children and parents should be dead last. There's no guarantee that children will amount to anything; if they're like many of my friends' adult kids, they'll be trying to get on food stamps because they can't get jobs because they can't pass a drug test, they have "coping skill deficits" as their parents call it; they dropped out of high school, and they've racked up a couple of DUIs. They're virtually unemployable. Our investments in their public schooling were a complete waste of money; they're useless parasites who spend all day playing games on Facebook.

    State subsidies, if they should even exist, should go first to those who help themselves and are productive, never those who just breed more kids they can't support. From an economic standpoint (and actually, from any other standpoint, in my view) kids are worthless until they deliver on the gushing bullshit promises we're fed about their existence ("Mah keeyidz will take care of you when yer old!" and other such claims).

    Never subsidize anything as an advance payment on its "potential."

  • ryan||

    ^too arbitrary to be practicable, but I like the exposé on parasitic children and the fools who bred them

  • ryan||

    curious though why you befriended such people

  • first||

    Nicole has enchanted us here at Hegre-Art with her sultry beauty. We are sure she will do the same for you.

    Her striking good looks and breast-length brunette hair are only the start. Nicole has a degree in psychology. She has a wisdom and an understanding of the human heart not often found in a woman of only 22 years. Perhaps that is why she has that haunting smile. A touch of mystery mingling with sensuality.

    But in front of the camera there are no secrets. Everything is laid bare.

    Those famous Ukrainian looks and figure come to perfection in Nicole. From her amazing long legs to her raven hair - and everywhere in between - she excels.

  • Christina||

    Virginia is very socially conservative, to the point where we have our own Personhood bill in the works. Unfortunately that doesn't translate to fiscal conservatism.

  • moop||

    isn't it time for tony to come around and tell us why this is good?

  • ||

    The reason for more budget cuts for Virginia is because that's the only way to shrink any government. Well, apart from violent revolution, but that makes the government get smaller then way, way bigger. The state level is where politicians learn how to act when they get to the federal level. The more penny-pinching and agency-eliminating we can accustom them to at the state level, the more we'll get down the road at the federal level.

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