Budget cuts main course at breakfast

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 15, 2002

More than 100 people turned out at the Holiday Inn Friday morning for Suffolk Tomorrow’s annual legislative breakfast, where local leaders gave the city’s &uot;wish list&uot; to Del. S. Chris Jones.

More than likely, lawmakers will have to continuing making cuts to the state budget, said Jones, who will be returning to work in the General Assembly in January.

&uot;We are not out of the woods yet. If I were reading tea leaves, I’d guess we might be needing to make adjustments to the second year of the budget.

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&uot;…Right now, there is less than 1 percent growth in the economy. This is the worst economic environment in Virginia’s modern history.&uot;

The massive state budget reductions over the past year have already forced localities and state agencies to dig deeper into their own pockets or to take action to eliminate expenses.

State cuts have hit Suffolk hard, said Mayor E. Dana Dickens III.

The city has had to absorb $3.5 million in state revenue reductions over the past two years, Dickens said. The cuts proposed thus far to next year’s state budget are going to cost the city $243,000.

Reductions in state funding make it increasing challenging for the city to providing the infrastructure – schools, roads and other public services and facilities – needed for Suffolk’s growing residential population, he said.

School Board Chairman Lorraine Skeeter agreed, saying the growth also makes it critical that educational programs be funded.

&uot;We have 500 more students today than we did this time last year,&uot; said Skeeter. &uot;And we expect to increase by 600 students by the end of the next school year.

&uot;…Further reduction would negatively impact our ability to meet the federal no-child-left-behind legislation. Cutting the programs would have a direct impact on lives of our students.&uot;

Also, Dickens recommended that no changes be made to the state’s laws related to cluster-housing, which calls for houses to be placed close together in exchange for developers leaving large tracts of public open space. He said the General Assembly should not make decisions that would remove land-use control from local government’s hand.

Despite the failure of voters to support a special tax to fund Hampton Roads’ transportation projects over the next two decades, both state and local leaders agree that the General Assembly needs to dedicate resources to dealing with Hampton Roads’ transportation problems. Jones said Gov. Mark Warner is proposing that $20 million be earmarked for the region.

Jones said he believes several factors contributed to the legislation’s failure with voters last month, including questions about what happened with the lottery money and the Virginia Department of Transportation’s current financial problems.