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McDonnell: Bigger Government Doesn't Mean Better

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McDonnell: Bigger Government Not Better

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Bob McDonnell

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Bigger government doesn't mean better government.

That was one of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's opening comments Monday as he began to lay out his $85 billion budget proposal for the next two years.

In the weeks before his budget address to the House and Senate money committees, McDonnell laid out plans for greater spending -- on transportation, higher education and on the underfunded Virginia Retirement System.

Now Democrats are wondering where the cuts will be made to offset the spending since the budget proposal includes no tax increases.

It's not necessarily something you'd expect a Republican governor to boast about, but McDonnell made it clear Monday that his proposed $85 billion biennial budget is the largest in Virginia history.

McDonnell can also boast that with Virginia revenues still on the rise, he starts with a surplus. What you would expect from a Republican -- especially one mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate -- is that there's no tax hike. There is, however, a Department of Motor Vehicles fee hike tucked into the details.

The big winners in McDonnell's budget blueprint: the Virginia Retirement system (public employees pension plan), road maintenance, K-12 public schools and higher education.

The losers: many health care programs for the poor and public preschool programs. McDonnell's budget guts one of Democratic predecessor Tim Kaine's keystone programs -- the Virginia Preschool Initiative. The pre-K classes target at-risk 4-year-olds.

If lawmakers follow McDonnell's lead, Northern Virginia school districts will be forced to choose between slashing the preschool program or seeking local funding for it.

Republican leaders defend McDonnell's budget as one that funds core priorities like higher ed and economic development.

Democrats accuse him of stripping money away from needy 4-year-olds to pay for road maintenance.

But Democrats will have a tougher time throwing up roadblocks. When the 2012 session convenes on January 11, Republicans will control both chambers.

More details from the Associated Press:

Spending from general tax collections on core services such as public safety, public schools and health care increases from about $32 billion in the present budget to $34.5 billion.

Non-general fund spending, largely from specific fees or taxes or federal money that flow to designated uses such as transportation with little if any legislative discretion, increases from nearly $48 billion in the current budget to about $50.3 billion. Much of it is federal money that pays for the 2010 health care act

McDonnell proposes the elimination of nearly $259 million in hospitalization inflation costs and more than $65 million in nursing home inflation adjustments from Virginia's share of the federal-state Medicaid program.

Nevertheless, growth in Medicaid enrollment adds $650 million to McDonnell's budget for the entitlement program that has grown by 80 percent since 2002 -- from about $1.6 billion then to $2.8 billion now -- and consumes about one-fifth of Virginia's general fund.

Funding for public schools from kindergarten through high school would increase by $438 million over the budget's two-year life span.

Other areas in public education will take hits.

McDonnell is targeting nearly $110 million to cover inflation costs for public school non-classroom support services. He is also cutting $65 million the state had provided local school districts, particularly in northern Virginia, to help them retain administrative and support personnel who would be hired away by competing school systems.

The Republican governor proposes deep cuts to the Virginia Preschool Initiative, which is among Democratic former Gov. Tim Kaine's most treasured legacies. McDonnell's advisers blamed the cut on an expected decline in participation by 4-year-olds.

McDonnell is renewing his bid to end state subsidies for public broadcasting, a cut of $7.2 million.

The budget directs fewer than 300 layoffs. Most result from the recent announcement that the state will close Mecklenberg County prison because Pennsylvania is removing about 1,000 inmates it had paid Virginia $20 million a year to incarcerate there.

Related Topics virginia, bob mcdonnell, budget
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