When the joint money committees reported today, they had good news: Virginia ran a surplus again this year, with revenues exceeding projections by $321.7 million. The total surplus, including unexpended general fund appropriations and operating balances, is $544.8 million - a welcome change from a few years ago, when mid-year cuts to balance the budget threatened to become the new normal.
Revenue projections have become much more conservative since Governor McDonnell took office, and a greater effort has been made to achieve balance at the outset. As a consequence, we've avoided the mid-year budget slashing that characterized 2008 and 2009.
Surpluses, however, are soon spent, and that has been the case here. The law requires large contributions to the Revenue Stabilization Fund, the Water Quality Fund, and a few other funds whenever we run a surplus like this, and Virginia will also be replenishing its Natural Disaster Reserve, adding to the Transportation Trust Fund, and making a few other deposits, all according to formula or by prior legislative authorization.
We still have outstanding debt to the federal government (for unemployment compensation) and VRS (due to deferred payments), moreover, though the Commonwealth is working to pay down those balances. The surplus, then, isn't cause for loud celebration, but it's still good news. And let's disabuse a few notions that are already out there: the federal stimulus funds have already expired, so this surplus isn't attributable to federal spending. Nor is it based on the accelerated sales tax, an unfortunate gimmick (which I opposed) devised and employed in previous years, and which we're now working on "decelerating."
Thankfully, stewardship is on the upswing here in Virginia, and while we still have a ways to go, the surplus reported this week is a sure sign of progress.
When we go back into session next January, it will be critical to build upon this success. Agency savings of $170.5 million are encouraging, and we have to find additional ways to bring down the cost of service provision and pay down the remaining balances. We need to refocus our efforts on government's core responsibilities - responsibilities like education, transportation, and law enforcement.
Race in Focus: Mickey Chohany vs. John Miller
For years, John Miller has been the chief proponent of raising the gas tax, introducing bill after bill - but lately, he has decided that his plan to almost double the gas tax wasn't aggressive enough. That's why he's rolled out a new idea: the mileage tax.
You read that correctly: Miller wants to impose taxes based on "miles traveled in Virginia." His grand scheme includes installing electronic devices in all cars in Virginia that record miles traveled in the Commonwealth and tax accordingly. Of course, for this to work, the device has to know where the vehicle is located and where it has been driven - a rather significant privacy concern. John Miller wants to put the government in the car with you. All the better to reach for your wallet, I suppose.
Miller was also part of one of the more unusual spectacles of this past session, as a legislator desirous of preventing his own legislation from getting a fair hearing.
Miller carried the winning redistricting plan to emerge from a challenge issued to Virginia's colleges and universities. And he didn't just carry the bill as a "thank you," either - he praised the plan uxoriously, having heralded this approach as the right one, and much more respectable than partisan maps.
A funny thing happened, though: Miller's plan was never considered by the committee, nor was the Republican plan, introduced by Senators John Watkins and Jill Vogel - and that was quite all right with John Miller, who opposed motions to take a vote on his own bill. Democratic leadership told Miller how it was going to be, and that was the end of it. That's not leadership, and the voters deserve better.
Fortunately, Mickey Chohany, a Williamsburg City Councilman and small business owner, is giving Miller a stiff challenge. Whereas Miller has bowed to liberal Democratic pressure time and again, Chohany will work to lift burdensome regulations and make Virginia's government leaner and more efficient.
I continue to travel the Commonwealth working with our many great candidates to help build a conservative majority, and I appreciate the support I have received from those who share my vision. If you agree that we need a conservative majority in the Senate of Virginia, will you contribute $50, $100, $200 today? Your contribution will enable me to continue working for a conservative majority!