A tale of two budgets

Published 9:27 pm Monday, February 14, 2011

By Delegate Chris Jones

Crossover week at the General Assembly is always a busy week. Crossover, which marks the midpoint of the session, is the day when all bills that have passed the House are sent to the Senate for their consideration, and vice versa.

We started off this past week with a marathon nine-hour floor session, the longest floor session this year. Thursday also saw an extended floor session as we debated proposed changes to the current biennial budget. By the time Friday rolled around, many legislators were ready for a chance to go back home to their districts to be with their families and constituents.

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The biggest issue before both the House of Delegates and the Senate this week was the state budget. In the House, we have approved our plan to revise the state budget, and the state Senate has approved its plan. When one compares the House and Senate budgets, it is clear that there is a vast difference in the approach each body took to meet the long-term needs of Virginia.

The House listened to the voters who told us to put fiscal discipline first; the Democrat-controlled Senate has chosen differently. On the House side, our primary objective was to maintain fiscal discipline by limiting new spending, reducing the amount of authorized debt, setting aside money in the state Rainy Day Fund, and reducing the burdens on small businesses.

In particular, the House budget sought to address the overall structural imbalance by rolling back the accelerated sales tax for 98 percent of affected retailers, increasing our reserve payment to the Rainy Day Fund by an additional $64 million above the required $50 million payment, and reducing the state’s authorized debt by $120 million.

The House budget has reduced or eliminated funding for a number of programs, such as public broadcasting. In contrast, the Senate budget spends every dollar available and more with almost $335 million in deficit spending as we enter the next biennium.

Specifically, the Senate budget:

4Does not reduce the accelerated sales tax for a single retailer

4Provides only an additional $20 million payment into the Rainy Day Fund, $44 million less than was approved in the House budget

4Authorizes nearly $700 million in new state supported debt, including nearly $300 million to pay for the construction of a new government building in Richmond

When you add it all up, the Senate’s budget equals more spending, more debt, and no relief for Virginia’s small businesses.

As both budgets have passed their respective chambers, it is now up to the House Appropriations and Senate Finance budget conferees to work together to put forward a final budget. As I have the opportunity to serve as a House Appropriations budget conferee, during the next two weeks I will be working to obtain the necessary resolution to these differences, achieving a balanced budget as required by the Constitution of our Commonwealth.

As always, my staff and I are here in Richmond to serve you. We want to hear what you think about the legislation pending before the House, or if there’s anything we can do to help you in dealing with a state government agency.

My office can be reached at (804) 698-1076 or via the Internet at Delcjones@house.virginia.gov. If you are planning to visit Richmond during the session, I encourage you to visit me in Room 720. 

Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your delegate.

Chris Jones represents most of Suffolk in the Virginia General Assembly.