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Posted September 12, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

More budget cuts

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine came into office, hoping to build on the record of Mark Warner, his pragmatic predecessor, but his term instead has been a persistent exercise in budget cutting to cope with the most severe recession since World War II.

Warner too had to slash spending to cover deficits inherited from Gov. Jim Gilmore's single-minded devotion to eliminating the personal property tax on vehicles and the economic downturn after the 2001 terrorist attacks. But Warner, despite running on a pledge not to raise taxes, succeeded in wooing enough moderate Republican legislators to enact a package of tax hikes and reforms to help fund much-needed transportation improvements.

Kaine's similar priorities were thwarted by Republicans, especially in the House of Delegates, determined not to enhance the record of a Democrat they regarded as excessively partisan.

That continuing stalemate was transcended by last fall's financial meltdown, which tore gaping holes in the state's budget. Republican complaints that Kaine had been overly optimistic about revenue projections were overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the shortfalls, which have forced four rounds of budget cuts, totaling $7 billion.

Kaine announced this week that nearly 600 more employees will lose their jobs -- bringing the total to more than 2,600, including Virginia Department of Transportation workers. Most of those who remain will have to take a day off without pay in 2010 and Kaine also reduced pension contributions and plans to draw another $280 million from the state's "rainy day" fund.

Despite the draconian steps, the severity of the economic downturn and the cascade of cuts it has necessitated have muted the contention between the governor and legislators. Partisan zeal, which now resides in the gubernatorial and legislative campaigns, will resume in the General Assembly when the economy rebounds and there's money and priorities to fight over.


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