Where did Virginia’s ‘surplus’ suddenly come from?

Published 8:43 am Tuesday, August 17, 2010

By Ruby Walden

Why is the public being given such mixed messages? What are the facts? In reference to information given to us about two weeks ago by our governor, Virginia is in good financial standing.

Let us ‘not rob Peter to pay Paul’ as the old adage goes. It was interesting to read of the surplus money that has been found within the Commonwealth in just six months — January to June 2010.

Where was all this money hiding, and how was it so quickly found? From whom, how, and from what was spending so easily cut?

Then, in reference to the tough choices referred to in the article, what tough choices were made, and what options were considered? On what criteria were the final decisions based?

How were those individual and corporate income taxes unpaid, yet, these same people were able to come up with so much money within the last six months? Did some of these late payers have a given time under certain conditions to pay their taxes at their convenience? What really got the axe to the extent it was completely deleted?

The news article stated that the great amount of funds tracked down and found was thought to be the direct result of reducing spending, the state departments and agencies held the line on spending for the last three months of the fiscal year.

If this be the case, what a difference our state finances would be if, we could experience having responsible people watching and executing their obligation, to see that the line is held at all times on unnecessary spending, Finding such a surplus of money, sounds like there was surplus money just laying around in disguise, waiting to be found.

I am reminded of plans and practices of operations that existed years ago with our county school system. When I, and all other black children in what was then Nansemond County were walking 4 and 5 miles to and from school every day, white children were riding by in buses.

At the same time, they were going to far better schools with the best facilities, spacious rooms, sufficient teachers to accommodate the enrollment, and supplies always available without any questions.

The early schools for blacks were basically one- and two-room school buildings, built in most cases by the parents on land that was purchased or given by the parents of the students in their particular communities.

After a period of time, the land and building was leased or given to the school system before a teacher would be provided by the system. Once they provided a teacher, at the beginning of the school term, each classroom was given one broom, one mop, one dust pan, two boxes of chalk, two erasers and a special treat, a five-gallon can of burnt oil to put on the unfinished wood floors to keep down the dust.

The students scrubbed these floors at least once a week. Any additional supplies needed — after that one-time supply — were secured by parents or teachers. In other cases, parents were asked to send money to the school to help purchase supplies when needed.

I refer to the school system because with situations existing as I just mentioned, every year the superintendent religiously and proudly reported how much surplus money he was returning to the state because it was not needed for that school year.

It is so very easy to have “so-called surplus money” if the money is not used where it is needed or supposed to be used. In this type of surplus, somebody or some need has gone unpaid for or unfunded.

That trend of not funding or cutting to the core usually applies to or affects the most needed people, places or things. The idea of giving state employees a 3 percent raise from the surplus pot sounds great to the employees I am sure, especially since they helped to hold the line for three months.

It will be interesting to trace this surplus money and see where it ends up. With the conditions the economy is in, we need miracles to take place. But, the kind we need could only be the kind as performed by “Jesus,” who fed the multitude of more than 5,000 people with only five loaves and two fishes. (Matthew 14:17)

The fragments that were picked up in this case were truly “surplus,” but in our case with the states finances, is it actually a fact that our “total assets minus the sum of all our liabilities” gives us a “surplus” of $220 million? This of course would be after having paid off a $1.8 billion deficit we were suppose to have had in January? Who or what has been short-changed? Maybe we as lay people need to have a clear explanation of how such a terrible financial situation corrected in an extremely short time. If we’ve recouped this much money in three months, then we can feel comfortable that we will soon be debt-free in Virginia.

Whatever brought such success, if it was done without denying funding to well-deserving and needed programs and services, then let it be etched in stone and carried forward in the future.

RUBY WALDEN lives in Suffolk. She is a retired Head Start teacher and community service worker, and a longtime volunteer.