- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

RICHMOND | Virginia’s operating budget during the past decade has ballooned by about 80 percent, according to a new legislative study.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s study comes as lawmakers and Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, gird for deep cuts because state revenues are at least $2.5 billion below their budgeted forecasts.

Glen S. Tittermary, the commission’s deputy director and head of the study, said that when adjusted for a cumulative inflation rate of about 29 percent since 1999, actual spending increased 23 percent.

The increases can’t be blamed solely on profligate spending by the General Assembly, which was under Republican control for almost all of the period examined, and the governor’s office, under Democratic control since 2002.

Spending was also forced upward by one of the nation’s fastest population growth rates: 12 percent over the years studied. That particularly affected funding increases for public education and medical services, consistently the two largest budget areas.

“It shows we need to do some structural reform, especially in some big areas, whether it be education, et cetera,” said commission member Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican and a public school teacher by profession.

Growth was not even across the state’s 153 agencies. The 20 largest state agencies accounted for 83 percent of the entire state operating budget for fiscal 2008, the most recent completed budget year.

The top 20 also accounted for 86 percent of the growth in the general fund budget from 1999 through 2008, according to the 55-page report, which was released Monday.

Direct aid to public schools ranked No. 1 in appropriations, accounting for 19 percent of the state budget in 1999 and the same percentage through fiscal 2008. Over that time, funding increased from $3.8 billion to $6.7 billion.

No. 2 over that period was the Department of Medical Assistance Services. Its $5.6 billion in the last fiscal year represented 16 percent of the general fund budget and was double the $2.5 billion appropriated in 1999.

The Department of Transportation ranked third at $3.8 billion in general fund appropriations in 2008, accounting for 11 percent of the operating budget.

The bulk of money for roads, rails and transit in Virginia is supposed to come from gasoline taxes and other non-general-fund revenues, a portion of the budget distinct from the general-fund operating budget.

General-fund outlays to reimburse cities and counties for local revenues lost when the state phased out property taxes on personal cars and pickup trucks soared from its No. 16 ranking in 1999, at $219 million, to seventh place last year, at $950 million.

It would be much higher had the General Assembly not capped car tax reimbursement outlays at $950 million a year in 2004.

State Sen. Walter Stosch, Henrico Republican, said the imbalance in the best-funded agencies and the others was striking.

“Ten programs account for 71 percent of the increase and that increase is larger than the added revenue, then someone has suffered in that period,” Mr. Stosch said.

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