From the banks of the Elizabeth River, I greet you!
I drove down here yesterday for the Senate Finance Retreat at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Portsmouth. The briefing on our state budget lasted all day Thursday and carried over til lunch today.
During a break in the action, I went for a run down High Street, right through the heart of Old Town Portsmouth. It’s a pretty community which sits across the Elizabeth from its sister city of Norfolk. The brick sidewalks and Victorian-style houses near the River are classic Tidewater Virginia.
Now the Democratic Caucus is staying for an extra day at the Renaissance to work on our own legislative agenda for 2010, which means I’m spending three days and two nights in P-town all told.
On to business …
The fiscal update from our Senate Finance staff contained a veritable ton of information, which will determine our actions over the next several months. I will put up a longer post this weekend (and include statistics) to give details, both good and bad, on the budget. I’ll also try to write a Op-Ed piece for the Connection, so I can reach as many folks as possible.
To state the obvious … Virginia is still in recession. Our state revenues are down. Conversely our costs are up in those sectors (Medicaid, financial aid, FAMIS) which are driven by increased poverty and decreased wealth.
In 2010, the main threats are to K-12 education, higher education and human services — primarily in that order. While there is some residual stimulus funding to prop up spending in the short term, there is also a “cliff effect” that will occur when the Federal funds disappear. That part will be ugly.
The reality is that we have to restructure many of these programs to fit an economy that has contracted in the past two years, even as we have more citizens.
Finally, transportation continues to be a shell program, as long as we’re locked into the same revenue structure. That was discussed a good bit in our Democratic Caucus today. No, I don’t expect some imaginary oil wells in the mid-Atlantic to solve that problem.
Finally, the new Governor-Elect called the Democratic Caucus and spoke to us this afternoon. That was a nice gesture on his part and it was good to establish that contact.
I’m hoping (at a minimum) that the new Governor can support the energy efficiency bills our Energy Subcommittee will recommend in 2010. That will be a long-term cost savings to the state and citizens.
It’s past 6 p.m. at the Renaissance. It’s been a very long day in Portsmouth. I’m going to get a beer.