The narrow path through the recession

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, August 20, 2009

It’s hard to put a positive spin on the news that Virginia is $1.5 billion short of budgeted revenues and will have to revisit state spending plans in search of ways to save even more money than has already been trimmed during the last 15 or so lean months.

On Wednesday, however, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine did the best he could with limited resources. Acknowledging on the one hand that the continuing national recession had dealt the commonwealth a serious financial blow that would continue to require government leaders to make some “tough decisions,” Kaine made an important observation: Things could be a lot worse here than they are.

Comparing Virginia’s response to the national financial crisis to that of other states, Kaine touted the commonwealth’s fiscal responsibility.

“We have not delayed paying vendors or given them IOUs to redeem sometime down the road,” he said. “We have not delayed paychecks to state workers.” Neither has Virginia resorted to selling state buildings for cash, only to turn around and lease them for more money. And — of special importance to taxpayers — not only has the state continued to pay its tax refunds on a timely basis, it paid out 17 percent more last year than it had the year before, putting that money back in the hands of the businesses and individuals that need it the most.

Throughout all the turmoil, Virginia has retained its reputation for sound fiscal management, holding onto its AAA bond rating despite the rough times Virginians have faced. And CNBC’s choice of Virginia as 2009’s “Top State for Business” is evidence of the hard work that Kaine and the General Assembly have done to maintain the commonwealth’s attractiveness to business and commercial interests.

The governor and General Assembly do, indeed, face an uphill struggle to make up for the money that has been lost to declining tax collections and struggling investments. But things surely could be a lot worse, and Kaine deserves at least a portion of the credit for keeping them from getting that way.

Voters in November’s gubernatorial election would do well to remember the conservative fiscal policies that kept their state on the narrow path of fiscal solvency. And the candidates for the office of the commonwealth’s chief administrative officer should keep in mind that there will be much danger associated with stepping off of that path.