- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2009

RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia legislators on Saturday passed a new state budget using federal stimulus cash to preserve some services that had faced cuts.

The Senate’s 35-5 vote for the $77 billion budget made Virginia the first state to pass a budget containing federal stimulus money.

Slightly more than $1.5 billion in federal cash was used to offset a $3.7 billion shortfall and restore many state health care, educational and public safety cuts Gov. Timothy M. Kaine proposed in December.

Without the stimulus money, Kaine said, state workers faced “massive furloughs and layoffs.”

“If anybody wonders whether the stimulus packaged mattered, whether the recovery package mattered, 7,100 people are going to have jobs with state government,” said Kaine, who is also Democratic national chairman.

The House of Delegates had passed the budget on a 90-8 vote about an hour earlier, just ahead of the General Assembly’s scheduled adjournment.

The budget restores many of the cuts to public schools and all of the cuts proposed for sheriffs and other local constitutional officers.

It not only restores 200 waivers allowing home care for the mentally disabled but increases it by 200 more.

Virginia also stands to get nearly $800 million in federal money it can use on highway maintenance or construction projects.

But a closer look shows substantial pruning of many government services and its work force. State agencies generally take cuts of 5 percent to 7 percent on top of three other rounds of cuts.

State employees who remain will forgo pay raises at least through June 2010.

The restorations are possible because of the federal stimulus money, about $490 million from the state “rainy day” cash reserves and by financing some projects that had been paid with cash.

Opposition to the budget was almost exclusively Republican. Even as they denounced it as the largest federal spending spree in U.S. history that will burden generations to come with debt, 45 House Republicans voted for it.

“It’s curious that many Republicans here today are going to split with their brethren in Washington,” said Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, one of seven House Republicans who opposed the bill and called it a “hit job on the American people.”

Democrats cheered the stimulus largesse and its author, President Barack Obama, and the Democratic Congress. They also praised Kaine.

Del. Kenneth Plum, D-Fairfax, said the federal cash was “salvation” for the state.

“We may have saved as many as 7,000 state employee jobs,” said House Democratic Leader Ward L. Armstrong.

The lone House Democrat to oppose the budget, Albert Pollard of Lancaster, said the revised 16-month state spending blueprint would not withstand an economy continuing to worsen.

“I thank the Lord for the stimulus money because without it the cuts would be truly draconian,” he said. “But … I cannot support a budget where I believe that we’re going to be coming back and having to cut in another six or nine months.”

More than $960 million from the federal government more than offsets $821 million in projected cuts to the state’s already stingy Medicaid program. The federal-state partnership provides health care for the elderly, needy and disabled.

With $365 million in stimulus cash, public schools can avert many of the cuts the state had planned in basic aid through June 2010.

State-supported colleges and universities get nearly $127 million in stimulus cash to help offset tuition and fee increases.

Local sheriffs, who braced for 7 percent cuts in their state funding and laying off deputies or staff, will see no reductions thanks to the federal cash. City and county officeholders mandated by the state Constitution expected to see their funding cut by one-tenth, but they will also be spared.

Virginia, hammered by the worst year-to-date drop in state revenues on record the past seven months, becomes the first state to imbed in its budget money from the $787 billion federal package because Virginia’s legislature is the earliest to adjourn.

The House and Senate ended their 46-day run as scheduled on Saturday. Wyoming wraps up its session on March 6, followed by Arkansas six days later, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Associated Press writer Dena Potter contributed to this report.

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