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August 19, 2013

Don’t Forget How We Got Here

Governor Bob McDonnell said today that he’s held state spending down during his term in office, and kept growth in the state’s general fund to an average of “one-tenth of one percent per year, well below the growth rate of inflation and population growth.” But he failed to mention the pain caused by the state’s failure to invest in critical services in order to achieve this goal.

State support for the state’s colleges and universities is down 8 percent even while enrollment has jumped 24 percent. This cut in state support contributed to an astonishing 46 percent jump in average tuition and fees at Virginia’s four-year public institutions during this period. State investment in K-12 school construction has been eliminated as previously dedicated lottery funds were diverted to cover other needs of schools, resulting in either delayed construction or additional costs being borne by local communities and school divisions. Lawmakers cut reimbursement rates for hospital outpatient care, reduced support for hospital and nursing home capital costs, and reduced help for Virginians who provide care to family members with disabilities.

Much of these cuts were driven by the dramatic hits to state revenue during the recession. State general fund spending fell 7 percent from fiscal year (FY) 2007 through the version of the FY 2010 budget that was approved before Governor McDonnell took office. Between that FY 2010 budget and the FY2013 budget, spending grew at an annual average rate of 3 percent, allowing the state to begin restoring important services. But, as the governor pointed out, state investments are still far below the level needed to keep up with population growth and inflation.

Holding the line on state spending makes a nice talking point, but we need to acknowledge the real hits to the state’s families and schools caused by deep cuts to critical core services.

–Laura Goren, Policy Analyst

The Commonwealth Institute

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