A Budget of Choices

On February 7, 2012, in Blog, by David Sloan

As the jobs recovery continues, there has been some chatter about the choices being made here in Maryland to help speed our recovery along compared to our neighbors across the Potomac.

Budgets are about choices, and those choices have real consequences. For example, Governor O’Malley has chosen to protect record investments in public education, affordable college and Maryland’s innovation economy even in the toughest of times.

Last year, Maryland created 30,300 new jobs, most of them in the private sector, and at nearly two and half times the rate of neighboring Virginia. Our public universities and colleges have become more affordable, not less. And we saw healthcare coverage expanded to more than 400,000 people who were previously uninsured – about half of them children.

While our neighbors in Virginia begin considering a new two-year budget, they too will have to take a hard look at the consequences of Governor McDonnell’s choices for children and families throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

For example, even as Governor McDonnell’s proposed budget spends about $7 billion dollars more than his Democratic predecessor, his budget cuts $450,000 in healthcare for Virginia’s children, and $520 million less for hospitals that could have been used to provide life-saving care to citizens.

To be certain, Governor McDonnell made a choice last year to write a $620 million IOU to Virginia’s public pension system, compounding the problems to be addressed in this new proposal. Even as he’s now pledging to “fix” Virginia’s pensions system that he helped break, Virginia’s public schools will now have to do more with less as he begins to gradually shift revenue away from schools, public safety, and health programs to roads, rails, and bridges.

The Washington Post notes that Virginia faces a transportation funding shortfall of $1 billion annually. The roads, bridges, mass transportation, schools, water treatment facilities and more that our parents and grandparents built simply aren’t going to hold up forever.

But there are no easy choices that can fix these problems. And there are certainly no easy choices that would satisfy the tea party elements of his Republican Party to help him win the #2 spot on Mitt Romney’s 2012 ticket.

So Governor McDonnell made a different choice, one that diverts funding intended for schools, children and healthcare but fails to make even the slightest dent in a transportation funding problem that he himself has called “a crisis.” The Washington Post has correctly labeled his choice as politically expedient, a major failure of leadership, and one that is likely to haunt Virginia for years.

But maybe if things don’t work out in November, he can convince Mitt Romney to at least buy the naming rights to the Virginia side of the new ‘Mitt Romney Woodrow Wilson Bridge.’

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