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Lt. Gov. Bolling: Hard budget decisions

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Lt. Governor Bill Bolling visited J&W Seafood in Deltaville on Monday and spoke to county officials and business leaders about the state economy. Above, from left, are a J&W worker, county supervisors Jack Miller and Kenneth W. Williams, business owner Kevin Wade and Bolling. The group is looking over clams being bagged for market. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry S. Chowning

Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling visited with Middlesex County officials and businessmen Monday afternoon at J&W Seafood in Deltaville.

Bolling brought a message of long-range hope, but a dismal short-range financial forecast for the state economy.

“We are very focused on, number one, getting the economy moving again and creating jobs, and we are willing to do whatever it takes,” Bolling told the audience.

“We know that’s the biggest challenge facing us. We are where we are today with a 7.2 percent unemployment rate. We have 165,000 more Virginians unemployed today than we had two or three years ago.  Families are hurting and businesses are having a hard time keeping their doors open,” he said.

“When you have that high unemployment rate it also affects government,” said Bolling. “When people aren’t working it affects payroll tax. People are not spending so they are not paying sales tax.

“The fact is, state revenues were down 9.3 percent because the economy is in such bad shape. We are very focused on getting the economy back in shape, and the other thing we are focused on is working on the fiscal integrity of state government.

“We have got to restore fiscal integrity, and we cannot keep spending more money than we are taking in,” said Bolling. “It is going to require some very, very difficult choices.”

“What the Governor announced two weeks ago was an up-to-a $1.5 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year,” he said. “I think it will be $1.5 billion, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The big hit comes when we put together the budget for the next biennium, because that’s when the $2.1 billion in federal stimulus money that we used to balance the budget last year goes away.

“So you are talking about the $1.5 billion plus the $2.1 billion—and that’s before you re-benchmark the standards of quality for public education, re-benchmark Medicaid and re-benchmark the Comprehensive Services Act.

“You put it all together over the next 30 months and I think we are probably talking about $4 to $5 billion in additional budget shortfalls,” Bolling said.  “We have to deal with this. The gimmicks are gone. We can’t keep using gimmicks.

“We are going to have to step up to the plate and make some very difficult decisions,” he said. “We are going to have to make them on the spending side, because you can’t keep raising taxes because people don’t have any money.

“It’s a serious time. These are serious challenges that require serious leadership,” continued Bolling. “I really think the next 30 months will be challenging, but I’m hopeful that when we get into the 2010-11 fiscal year things will be better.”

Bolling warned Middlesex officials there will have to be reductions in state funds for localities next year, and school systems will be impacted “greatly.”

When Bolling said that the main area of concern for overspending in schools across the state is within central offices, the audience erupted in applause.

“We are focusing on education changes,” he said. “We want to spend our educational dollars more wisely. We are trying to get the money out of the central office and into the classroom, which is a problem throughout the state.”

He indicated there are long-term solutions. “There are areas in the budget, even in challenging economic times, where you need to try to direct more resources because they will help you grow out of current challenges.

“There are economic development programs that will help position us so we can take advantage when economic growth comes, and I believe it will come,” he said.

Bolling indicated he is supporting a “specific emphasis” on rural economic development. “I think we have the right ideas on how to get the economy moving,” he said.

“It will be a difficult 30-month period for us to get through, but if we make the right choices now, we will get through it,” Bolling concluded.

posted 08.20.2009

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