Lawmakers Say Kaine Failed to Cut Enough

Critics say Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has understated the budget shortfall by about $1 billion. New budget revenue projections are due next month.
Critics say Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has understated the budget shortfall by about $1 billion. New budget revenue projections are due next month. (By Scott K. Brown -- Associated Press)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

RICHMOND -- State legislators from both political parties say they think Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has grossly underestimated Virginia's escalating financial crisis, and they fear that the budget would still be more than $1 billion out of balance, even if they adopted all of his proposed cuts.

They are bracing for a shortfall as high as $4 billion over two years, meaning they will need to slash deeper into vital government services, such as public education, health care and public safety.

"What are already severe cuts would become Draconian," said Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), a member of the Senate Finance Committee. "Everything in state government is on the table."

The General Assembly began a 45-day session last Wednesday to cut the state's two-year, $77 billion spending plan, which took effect in July. After just one week, legislative leaders said they are worried that Kaine (D) painted an overly optimistic picture of the state's finances by anticipating a quick economic rebound.

Republicans from both chambers accuse Kaine of not starting to plan for further cuts before the legislature convened and for failing to release further details in his annual State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night.

"If [$4 billion] is the right number, and the Democrats even acknowledge that's the right number, the question is: Why hasn't the governor proposed more cuts?" House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said. "The governor didn't do his job."

Kaine dismissed Republican attacks, noting that Virginia is one of the few states that uses a system in which lawmakers and the governor's administration use the same experts and the same numbers to predict revenue.

"They're going to find something to complain about because they mistakenly believe that talking negative is leadership, and it isn't," he said.

The House, which is controlled by Republicans, and the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, have clashed on Kaine's recommendations to cut $2.9 billion.

House Republicans, led by Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), plan to kill Kaine's proposal to raise the cigarette tax by 30 cents a pack. Neither House nor Senate leaders plan additional tax increases, so they must find more programs or services to cut.

The state is starting to eliminate thousands of jobs, slash agency spending by 15 percent, and trim almost $1 billion from K-12 education and Medicaid, which helps cover medical needs for the indigent, elderly and disabled. Kaine is legally entitled to make his own cuts, but he needs permission to raise taxes, borrow from the state's rainy day fund or make broad changes to state policies.

Virginia is struggling to balance its budget in the face of a weakening housing market, rising unemployment and an economic slowdown that has resulted in a declines in sales, corporate and withholding taxes.

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