Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oh, Virginia...

Virginia's General Assembly session is drawing to a close, and the state's budget woes are currently the focus of legislators and advocacy groups. There are many arguments and discussions about how best to address the state's budget shortfall.

At this point, budget proposals include cutting K-12 education, cutting Medicaid reimbursement, cutting public health departments, and cutting programs promoting child health and wellness.

I cannot understand this plan, and I cannot see any value in it. How is cutting childhood education and health services and cutting public health departments actually supposed to help anything? If there ever was a "penny wise, pound foolish" plan, this is it. I cannot understand how sick, undereducated children are supposed to be in anyone's best interest.

It gets even more frustrating when you consider the current budget environment. The cuts to Medicaid and K-12 education total approximately $1 billion. Virginia spends $950 million every year paying for car tax relief, thanks to this guy's foolish campaign pledge. My opinion: we have a certain amount of choice in the kind of car we buy, and so we can control to a great extend the amount of personal property tax we pay. If the car tax "relief" was repealed, this would free up approximately $950 million dollars.

So: if people who buy more expensive cars are held responsible for doing so and are expected/required to pay the full amount of the personal property tax on those more-expensive vehicles, we could pretty much balance out the cuts to education and Medicaid. This would not address the issues of funding the local departments of public health and would not address CHIP funding, but it would at least be a start.

The local newspaper's web site has a widget allowing you to adjust income and spending to see how you could balance the budget. If you use this tool, increasing the personal income tax by 1% and raising the cigarette tax by $0.30, you end up with a $300 million surplus. This seems to be a reasonable proposal, but our current governor has absolutely ruled out any tax increases--a position supported by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

When did we decide as a society that it would be just to balance the budget on the backs of Virginia's poor and marginalized? This might be a rhetorical question, except that this seems to be the arc of American history.

Just to add insult to injury, Virginia's new Governor removed protections that would prevent state government from discriminating in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. Now, our Republican Attorney General is calling for all public colleges and universities to repeal their policies protecting individuals against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Republican party in Virginia: carrying the Commonwealth backwards on the backs of the poor. Not the most attractive slogan, but it certainly reflects the way I feel right now.

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