Lawmakers warn of deep budget cuts

Published 8:06 am Wednesday, January 7, 2009

FRANKLIN—Lawmakers spoke frankly with area constituents Tuesday morning about budget cuts and legislation Virginia would be facing in the coming year.

Before heading to Richmond for the upcoming General Assembly session, State Sens. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Frederick M. Quayle,

R-Suffolk, and Delegates William K. Barlow, D-Smithfield, and Roslyn Tyler, D-Surry, were on hand at the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast to give their outlooks and answer questions.

The main topic of discussion was proposed budget cuts announced by Gov. Tim Kaine in December.

All four lawmakers said times are tough and they didn’t yet know how budgetary concerns would be addressed during the session.

“I really don’t have an answer for the problems we will be facing,” Lucas said. “We really won’t know until we get back to Richmond. We are facing a ballooning deficit. We are all going to have to work together. Maybe collectively we can come up with a solution to how we can minimize the pain.”

State officials have projected a $3.5 billion deficit over the next two budget cycles.

Quayle predicted that all entities receiving state funding will see at least a 10 percent cut in funding.

“Everybody is going to share in the pain of this in the next year or so,” he said. “No one will be spared.”

Barlow agreed.

“Virginia is still considered one of the best managed states in the country, but we will still be directly adversely affected by this economy,” he said. “I think we are having a major heart attack, and extreme actions need to be taken. We are going to be forced to make cuts.”

Tyler, who is a member of the House Education Committee, said the proposed budget cuts in the schools was one of her top worries.

“A major concern is that the (education) cuts are permanent cuts,” she said. “When it comes to money, rural communities are always the last to be considered. I hope whatever cuts are made don’t affect the decreased class sizes we have tried so hard to get.”

Questions submitted anonymously by the audience mainly focused on how budget cuts would affect education, jobs and transportation.

The representatives weighed in on a question concerning adding gas and mileage taxes to help ease the Virginia Department of Transportation’s budget burdens.

“It sounds like an awful lot of oversight would be needed to handle (a mileage tax),” said Quayle. “Even before the gas prices got so high, I wouldn’t have agreed to a mileage tax.”

“I wasn’t planning to go on record in favor of any taxes this morning,” joked Lucas. “But I am for a gas tax.”

When concern was expressed about the cost to Virginia taxpayers if additional General Assembly sessions were called to make decisions, Lucas said she hoped none would be needed.

“We can’t afford to go now,” she said. “If we don’t get our work done in the time that’s allotted, the voters need to have a personal conversation with each of us.”

Barlow agreed.

“We’re not going to know any more in eight or 10 weeks than we will in six,” he said. “We know what we’ve got to do. We just have to have the will to do it.”

The four lawmakers said in addition to budget talks, constituents could look forward to several other issues up for debate, including:

Election law changes

Text messaging or e-mailing while driving

Hunting with hounds

Smoking in public and increasing the cigarette tax

Whether or not to allow a two-term governorship in Virginia

Restoration of civil rights to felons convicted of non-violent crimes and


Both senators said that in all their years serving in the Assembly, they anticipated that this year would be one of the most difficult ones they would experience.

“It’s painful to come to our constituents and say ‘We don’t know what’s going to happen.’ But, unfortunately, this time it feels like we are flying by the seat of our pants with blindfolds on,” Lucas said.

Quayle said it is going to take the participation of all their constituents to get through this session successfully.

“Talk to us,” he said. “Give us your input, because we need to hear from you to get through this.”

Barlow said he’s hopeful that the economic problems won’t persist.

“We, as Americans, are going to get through this time,” he said. “We shouldn’t be fearful of what’s ahead of us.”

Local officials present said they weren’t surprised by what they heard, but believe a lot of work needs to be done locally to absorb the blows from the impending budget cuts.

“We have a lot to do,” said Franklin City Councilman Barry Cheatham. “There are tough times ahead. It all comes downhill to Franklin. We are not going to just give in. We will figure out a way to weather this.”

Councilman Benny Burgess said it will take the cooperation of all local governments to ease the pain.

“We need to work together with Southampton County and Isle of Wight to find any way we can to ease the costs of the cuts for them and us,” he said. “That’s what it will take.”

More than 100 people attended the event promoted by the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Executive Director Teresa Beale said she believes the event was a success.

“I heard a lot of good questions, and I think people got a lot out of it,” she said.