Scattered throughout Gov. John N. Dalton's proposed $13.1 billion two-year budget are signs that Virginia will try to rescue programs and services ravished by federal budget cuts.
That effort is limited by the state's own shortage of funds and by Dalton's continuing commitment to various programs such as state aid to local schools, prisons and public safety. To compensate for federal cuts, the state has stepped up funding for the handicapped, minority businesses and mental health programs.
On the other hand, the Dalton budget makes no effort to make up for $6.1 million in federal cuts to Virginia's Employment Commission, which helps the state's unemployed find work.
State dollars simply are not enough to replace the federal cuts. In all, the state has estimated a $271 million federal loss. Dalton proposed to make up only $12 million of that, $10 million of which will go to the Department of Human Resources.
Even in cases singled out by Dalton as priorities, the state's rescue efforts will not restore last year's budgets fully. For instance, at the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center for the handicapped, a sevenfold increase in state funding -- from $330,000 to $2.4 million -- still leaves the Fishersville facility with a $633,000 shortfall, which may force the closing of a 100-bed dormitory.
In the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, the state has increased its funding 48 percent, covering federal cuts of $60 million and giving the agency an overall 13 percent increase.
This increase looks hefty compared to other agencies but here, as elsewhere, the extra state funds serve mostly to compensate for inflation, which increased in Virginia last year at a rate of 12 percent.
With fewer state dollars to divide, Dalton stuck to his oft-stated priorities -- increasing state aid to local schools (up 14.3 percent), public safety (up 20.2 percent) and state prisons (up 27 percent). For other programs, including those affected by federal cuts, there was little left.
The Virginia Employment Commission plans to close 41 of its 67 local offices -- including two in Alexandria and Manassas -- by the end of the month, and to cut the number of people served almost in half. In two weeks, the commission will have let go 788 people -- 39 percent of its staff.
"Ironic, isn't it?" said Steve Kalos, a spokesman for the commission. "We're asking clients to drive a heck of a lot farther to wait longer for many services we simply won't be able to offer any longer."
There are other service programs, cut last year by Congress, that can expect little relief from the state budget unless Gov.-elect Charles S. Robb and the Democratic-controlled legislature make major changes in the Dalton proposal.
Grants for transportation safety, funneled by the state to local governments to subsidize local driver education programs and emergency rescue operations, are being cut 38.5 percent. Economic development aid for the state's Appalachian region is down from $7 million to $2.3 million, part of a 92 percent cutback in federal aid to local governments passed through the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
The state Advocacy Office for the Developmentally Disabled will receive a 20.7 percent reduction from last year's budget of $416,000 as its federal grants draw to an end.
As if to counter the impact of the federal cuts in social services, the Dalton budget is calling for a 67 percent increase in funds for the state Division of Voluntarism -- up from $299,000 to $541,000.
The federal cuts were compounded by unexpected shortfalls in revenues, some brought about through tax relief passed in recent years by the General Assembly, but most resulting from changes in federal tax laws.
Corporate tax revenues in Virginia are down this year by 8.4 percent. Over the next three years, the corporate tax will fall $199 million short of earlier projections. The state sales tax is expected to increase by only 4.3 percent, far less than its 7 percent growth last year.