Thursday, November 13, 2008

Grist shortage

Virginia's newspapers are filled with stories about too little grist in the mills of government. Tight times for families and tight times for state and local government, too. I thought some stimulus might prod us out of the Bush recession... depression? I heard the comedian Rush Limbaugh blaming it on Obama... Limbaugh is right in time for the holidays, a big dumb turkey.
Back to the main point. I guess only the feds can write the checks that might stimulate the economy enough to hopefully at least get it in a holding pattern rather than the downward spiral we've been witnessing this fall. 
Virginia government is tightening its belt to reduce what looks to be about $2.5 billion in red ink. The cuts are trickling down to local governments and showing up in hiring freezes and cuts in services. Some examples:
  • School divisions in the Valley are already cutting back on such things as field trips and instructional supplies. With about 80% of school spending going toward personnel, finding deeper cuts are tough during a school year. Short term, i.e inadequate, fixes could be reducing sports travel, use of facilities after hours, energy savings, etc. If the downturn continues into the spring when the 09-10 school budgets are being crafted, with schools facing 10% or greater cuts from the state, expect no raises for staff, more health insurance cost passed on to the employee, and growing class sizes. Local governments will provide little or no relief and some could cut local funding to boot!
  • Local governments will face shortfalls. Across the state, Virginia Beach is struggling to close a $22 million gap. Other than public safety, the city is putting everything on the chopping block. Closer to home, it was reported on TV that Waynesboro has an across-the-board hiring freeze that does impact the police department. The chief noted that, like most small cities, there are already vacancies and it takes months to get a new hire trained on on the streets.
  • Speaking of public safety, the Virginia State Police Academy has been postponed twice due to lack of money. The General Assembly has authorized over 2000 troopers but has failed to fund 108 of those positions. And that may get worse. The State Police say they need about 600 new troopers for "new crimes" like identity theft, terrorism, and a variety of internet crimes. To meet that need they are diverting officers from traditional duties on highways. Response times have already gone up. Did the speed limit on I-81 just go up?
  • VDOT and many localities say they are "ready" for winter weather, but don't expect the service you've become accustomed to. The cost of chemicals has gone up sharply. Plus, a lot of plowing is done by staff working long hours, i.e. overtime pay. VDOT and cities will cut back on both! Smaller snowfalls will be left to melt on their own. Subdivisions won't get plowed. The biggest changes may be in NOVA which apparently has been getting "enhanced service" that will sharply reduced. The Farmer's Almanac is predicting a cold, snowy winter in Virginia!
  • Our state colleges and universities are looking at sharp cuts that may require internal restructuring down to eliminating many basic office expenses and travel. At Virginia Tech they are anticipating cutting programs and people. They've already planned for budget cuts of 3% to 5% but fear those numbers are just a start. It will be the same at JMU, UVA, and others.
So, across the board it looks like the grinch has stolen the extra grist we thought we put up for the winter. There are rays of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy forecast: Governor Kaine just announced Virginia will have $90 million more (total of $128 million) to help low income families heat their homes. The deadline for applying for assistance has been extended to Dec. 1.
The other ray of hope - 01.20.09.

1 comment:

unionman said...

In Mental Health we're waiting for the shoe to drop. So far it hasn't been to bad, but the next cut if it comes, will be into our muscle.