Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Delegate Keam quoted in Fairfax County Times

As the General Assembly considers the state budget this week, Delegate Keam spoke with Fairfax County Times about the proposed cuts to public education in the House version of the budget.

‘Hardships' in House, Senate budget
Education, Medicaid among areas likely to see cuts from state

by Kali Schumitz | Staff Writer

Education and Medicaid are the primary victims of a $4.2 billion state budget deficit as legislators begin to solidify the fiscal 2011 and 2012 biennial state budget.

Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly unveiled their proposed amendments to former Gov. Timothy Kaine's (D) executive budget Sunday.

The House of Delegates Appropriations Committee stripped the budget of all tax and fee increases Kaine proposed. The Senate Finance Committee restored the funding to localities that offsets car tax payments but kept in some other "user fees," according to Sen. Charles Colgan (D-Dist. 29) of Manassas.

Both proposals restore some unpopular cuts, such as the proposed freeze of a local education funding formula that would have cost Fairfax County $61 million. Overall, the Senate budget would put Fairfax County Public Schools ahead by $56 million, according to Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Dist. 34) of Fairfax.

The House version proposes altering a different funding stream that supplements teacher pay to reflect the higher cost of living for teachers in Northern Virginia, which could cost Fairfax County about $11 million, according to Del. Mark Keam (D-Dist. 35) of Vienna.

"The General Assembly giveth and the General Assembly taketh, I guess," Keam said.

Del. Lacey Putney (I-Dist. 19) of Bedford, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he tried to strike a balance in education funding cuts by reducing state mandates and providing localities with more flexibility for things like class size. But the House version of the budget still cuts upward of $300 million from primary and secondary education.

The Senate budget plan contains about $130 million in budget reductions for k-12 education and restores some higher education cuts Kaine proposed.

Similarly, in health care, Putney proposed restoring funding for services such as Medicaid waivers but changing the eligibility requirements for certain programs to limit them to lower-income residents.

"This is one of the most difficult areas of government to address. Behind many of Gov. Kaine's proposed reductions is the face of an individual with critical needs," Putney said. "Nevertheless, difficult decisions had to be made."

The Senate version of the bill staves off some health care cuts by assuming the state could receive $350 million in additional federal dollars "if Congress passes a six-month extension of enhanced Medicaid funding," Colgan said.

Petersen and Keam said they are willing to consider the approach of changing eligibility requirements for Medicaid services in hopes that cutbacks could be restored as the economy improves.

Another area of major potential savings in both versions of the budget bill is the Virginia Retirement System, which provides public employee pensions. By reducing contributions to the pension fund and altering the level of retirement benefits provided to future hires, the state could save more than $800 million over the next two years, Putney said.

The bills also accept the slightly rosier budget picture painted by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's (R) financial team. McDonnell 's revised state revenue forecasts upward by $200 million through fiscal 2012.

McDonnell praised the work of both committees and pledged to work with House and Senate budget conferees in a bipartisan manner. The budget reconciliation process is expected to begin this week.

"We will work together across party lines to cut spending while not raising taxes," McDonnell said in a released statement. "As we do this, we will not forget that the reductions we make, while necessary for the future prosperity and vitality of our Commonwealth, will mean real hardships in the near term for many of our citizens."

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