Tracking down the state surplus

Published 7:16 pm Thursday, August 5, 2010

It was interesting to read in a recent edition of the Suffolk News-Herald about the surplus money that has been found in the commonwealth between January and June.

Where was all this money hiding, and how was it so quickly found? From whom, how and from what was spending so easily cut? Then, in reference to the tough choices referred to in the article, what tough choices were made, and what options were considered? On what criteria were the final decisions based? What really got the axe to the extent it was completely deleted?

The article stated that most of the money found was thought to have been the result of reduced spending, as state agencies held the line on spending for the last three months of the fiscal year.

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If this be the case, what a difference our state finances would be in if we could experience that kind of effort at all times on unnecessary spending. But finding such a surplus of money makes it sound as if the money was laying around in disguise, just waiting to be found.

I am reminded of the way things worked years ago with our county school system. When I and the other black children in what was then Nansemond County were walking four and five miles to and from school every day, white children were riding by in buses. At the same time, they were going to far better schools, with the best facilities, spacious rooms, sufficient teachers for the enrollment and plenty of supplies, which were always available without questions.

The early schools for blacks were basically one- and two-room school buildings, built in most cases by the parents on land that was purchased or given by the parents of students in their particular communities. After a period of time, the land and building were leased or given to the school system before a teacher would be provided by the system.

Once they provided a teacher, at the beginning of the school term, each classroom was given one broom, one mop, one dust pan, two boxes of chalk, two erasers and a special treat — a five-gallon can of burnt oil to put on the unfinished wood floors to keep down the dust. The students scrubbed these floors at least once a week.

Any additional supplies needed after that one-time supply were secured by parents or teachers. In other cases, parents were asked to send money to the school to help purchase supplies.

Every year, the school superintendent proudly reported how much surplus money he was returning to the state. It was so very easy to have so-called “surplus money” when the money was not used where it was needed or supposed to be used. Someone would just go unpaid, or some program unfunded.

It will be interesting to see where this year’s surplus money ends up. With the condition of the economy, we need miracles to take place, miracles on a level of Jesus feeding more than 5,000 people with only five loaves and two fishes. All ate and were filled, and there were 12 baskets of fragments left over.

While the 12 baskets represented an actual surplus, with the state’s finances, I wonder whether Virginia’s total assets minus the sum of all its liabilities equals $220 million. And does this take into account the $1.8 billion deficit we were supposed to have had in January?

Maybe we as laypeople need to have a simple and clear explanation of how such a terrible financial situation was corrected in such a short time. If we’ve recouped this much money in three months, then we can feel comfortable that we will soon be debt free in Virginia.

Whatever brought such success, if it was done without denying funding to deserving and needed programs and services, then let it be etched in stone and carried forward in the future.