After years of unparalleled prosperity and government expansion, state budget cuts announced yesterday by Gov. L. Douglas Wilder will be felt by Northern Virginians virtually every day on the roads and in the classrooms, in their neighborhoods and their homes.
Key road improvements will be delayed. Students at George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College will have mid-year tuition increases, while class sizes will grow and some faculty positions will be eliminated.
Local public schools will only be grazed by the budget bullet this year, but expect deep cuts next year. As a result, some school systems are canceling trips and scaling back textbook and supply purchases this year to set aside the savings for next year.
In fact, the budget crunch on both schools and county governments will be lessened by reductions in the amount of money they must contribute to state retirement funds. Fairfax school officials, for instance, said state aid to their system is $6 million less than last year, but could suffer as much as a $15.4 million reduction in 1992.
Over the next two years, local governments will lose about $30 million in real estate transfer fees that the state originally had planned to return to local governments.
Other areas will also be curtailed. Local agencies overseeing health, mental health and social services lost a total of $1.5 million. Those losses will affect emergency shelters, and services for the elderly, substance abusers and the mentally retarded. About 100 state employees in the region will be laid off.
It seems the only place that area residents will not feel the pinch is in their pockets: Politicians from every major local jurisdiction have sworn not to increase taxes to make up for state cutbacks.
"These are tough times, and we all have to tighten our belts," said Fairfax Board Chairman Audrey Moore, who said her main complaint was losing about $5.9 million this year and $11.8 million next year in real estate filing fees the state was supposed to return to the county.
Local officials, who have been waiting for weeks to learn precisely where Wilder would slash state aid to localities, were still somewhat confused yesterday as they pondered new charts and graphs on the budget shortfall.
Prince William County will lose about $154,000 in human services funding and $1.2 million in promised real estate filing fees this year. Those cuts can be absorbed without too much pain, although several road construction projects will have to be delayed, according to Pierce Homer, the county's state liaison.
But Prince William officials expect to lose an additional $2.5 million in filing fees and $57,000 for the health department in 1992, and other cuts are likely to be deep.
"Localities have done very well this year, but the other shoe is going to drop next year," Homer said.
In the midst of statements of gloom and doom, there was some good news.
Affordable housing programs, where Northern Virginia stood to lose as much as $8.5 million, will maintain full funding after the state received a $38 million line of credit from a quasi-public housing authority.
Transportation officials said that construction of four commuter rail parking lots -- two each in Fairfax and Prince William counties -- will not be delayed.
Other road widenings, bridge and intersection improvements not yet out for bids will be delayed four to six months under Wilder's plan.
In addition, snow removal will be slowed, grass in road medians will be cut less frequently, and other maintenance jobs will be reduced to cut about $176 million from the state's $3.7 billion, two-year transportation plan, officials said.
Furthermore, state funding to local governments that are responsible for the operation and maintenance of their own roads, such as Arlington and the City of Alexandria, will be frozen at 1990 levels. That means that Arlington, which expected $13.3 million in state road funds this year, will get only $12.7 million, and Alexandria will get about $3 million, roughly $150,000 less than anticipated, officials said.
In mental health and retardation programs, Wilder's plan closes the 118-bed geriatic ward and a 12-bed medical unit at Western State Hospital in Staunton. Combined with other cuts, that will eliminate about 225 positions at the hospital. However, the 20-bed unit for patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease that had been threatened by cuts will remain open, officials said.
No decision has been made yet about cuts for individual branches of the Virginia community colleges, but Northern Virginia Community College funding is expected to be reduced about $8 million, according to Deputy Education Secretary Karen Petersen. Part of that can be offset, however, with a tuition increase in the second half of the year of $18 per semester, she said. Current costs for full-time tuition are about $400 per semester.
Similarly, George Mason University has been granted a 4.8 percent increase in tuition for the second semester, Petersen said, which would increase tuitions about $60 this year for in-state students and $143 for out-of-state students.
"It's not much, but every little bit helps," said GMU spokeswoman Helen Ackerman.
Staff writers Steve Bates, Stephanie Griffith, Robert F. Howe, Brooke A. Masters, Pierre Thomas and Avis Thomas-Lester contributed to this report.