Federal budget cuts would force Va. to slash spending

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Photo - Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (Examiner file photo)
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Federal budget cuts set to kick in at the start of the year could decimate Virginia's services to seniors, pregnant teens, military students and the mentally ill, department heads told Gov. Bob McDonnell.

McDonnell ordered every state agency to prepare plans that would cut up to 4 percent from their budgets in preparation for the possibility that Congress and the White House will miss a end-of-the-year deadline and allow $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts to begin.

Agencies were ordered to prepare similar plans last year in case the ailing economy continued to reduce state tax revenues, and many of those cuts ended up in the final state budget.

Proposed cuts
• Community mental heath services for 3,000 residents: $8.9m
• Funding for sheriffs' salaries, jails, court clerks and commonwealth's attorneys: $9.8m
• Grants to help homeless children: $330,000
• Mortgage assistance to help 60 families keep their homes:$157,000
• Prenatal care to pregnant teens: $500,000
• Tuition assistance for members of the VA National Guard: $252,000

"The importance of this exercise was heightened by the unprecedented uncertainty presented by the looming federal 'fiscal cliff,' and additional budget pressures currently facing Virginia," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin.

A 4 percent across-the-board cut would generate $130 million in savings, most of it in fiscal year 2014. It would require laying off 140 state employees and reducing, eliminating or reorganizing dozens of services, the department plans show.

Community mental heath services for 3,000 residents statewide would be cut to the tune of $8.9 million. An additional $9.8 million would be saved by reducing funding for local sheriffs' salaries, jails, court clerks and commonwealth's attorneys.

Grants to help homeless children would be cut by $330,000. Mortgage assistance to help families keep their homes would be slashed by $157,000, affecting 60 families. A program providing prenatal care to pregnant teens would lose $500,000, and tuition assistance for members of the Virginia National Guard would fall by $252,000.

Some agency heads warned McDonnell that they have already slashed their budgets deeply in recent years to cope with declining revenues coming into the state. Another round of budget cuts, they said, could seriously undermine some state services.

"All programs have been streamlined and all possible savings strategies have been applied," officials at the Library of Virginia, which would be hit with more than $1 million in cuts, told McDonnell. "Any further savings can only be achieved through loss of personnel, which will have an adverse impact on the level of services and programs provided to the citizens of the commonwealth."

Agencies also proposed increasing fees to help sustain their departments. The Department of Health suggested charging restaurants a $60 annual fee to support the cost of inspections. The fee was $285 before the General Assembly voted in 2011 to decrease it to $40.

The Department of Motor Vehicles proposed hiking a vehicle registration fee 50 cents to $6.75 to raise an extra $3.4 million.

Martin stressed there is "no state revenue shortfall to close" and the proposed cuts presented by each department "are just the agencies' own assessments of what steps they would recommend be taken if financial circumstances at the state level required such a move."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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