Saturday, October 18, 2008

Virginia's budget cuts

As has been mentioned elsewhere, Virginia governor Tim Kaine made some big budget cuts last week. The Commonwealth of Virginia has a rule that they must have a balanced budget every year. So with the economy in such shabby shape and Virginia's income predicted to have significant shortfalls, Governor Kaine has decided to trim the Commonwealth's budget. The official revenue projections forecast a shortfall of $973.6 million for fiscal year 2009 and $1.54 billion for fiscal year 2010, or just over $2.5 billion for both years. According to a press release from Richmond, "Governor Kaine will balance the FY 2009 budget through state agency savings and spending reductions of over $348 million and additional steps, including a withdrawal of about $400 million from the Revenue Stabilization Fund."

Two entities in the state government that are getting hit particularly hard by the proposed changes are (1) the Division of Geology and Mineral Resources and (2) higher education.

(1) As I mentioned earlier in the week, this was an issue of much discussion at the Virginia Geological Field Conference last weekend. I would like to share here an excerpt from an e-mail I got after the conference from Chuck Bailey (W&M), the president of the VGFC:

Unfortunately, with Virginia's looming budget crisis, the State is planning to severely cut if not eliminate the Division of Geology and Mineral Resources (DGMR). Here are some of the planned cuts:

  • 9 (out of a staff of 21) will be laid off
  • 1 staff member will be transferred to the Division of Oil and Gas
  • 4 staff members will be reassigned to support the Abandoned Mine Land project
  • DGMR will be left with a staff of 4 on state-funded positions (of which 3 are currently supervisory) and will not, in any substantive way, be able to serve the Commonwealth. Details of the plan are on pages 14-15 of the Governor's budget reduction plan.

We have an obligation to fight these cuts with vigor. DGMR has served the Commonwealth well and needs to be maintained, even through the lean times. For
me it is clear that these cuts are a deliberate action to eliminate DGMR; consider the fact that within the Department of Mines, Minerals & Energy, of which DGMR is one of six divisions, the only layoffs are being incurred by DGMR.

Not only are these cuts are extremely shortsighted, but inherently unfair.
What can be done about this?

The most important decision maker who is likely to consider input from DGMR customers is the Secretary of Commerce and Trade. He needs to know how people use DGMR products/services, especially if they use them to make money or protect people and property, and why DGMR is important to the Commonwealth. Company letterhead is preferable. He is:

Patrick O. Gottschalk
Secretary of Commerce and Trade
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218
The Acting Director of the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (which includes the DGMR) is:
Benny R. Wampler, Acting Director
Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy
P.O. Drawer 900
Big Stone Gap, VA 24219
A letter to the Governor can't hurt either:
Governor Timothy Kaine
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

People should contact their own Delegates and Senators.

Virginia Geological Field Conference Yahoo! listserv has been set up to facilitate discussion for those who wish (search "thevgfc"). [Note: I would encourage you to read this discussion, as it points out that the total savings are pretty meager (~$10,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, because of severance pay and what-not) considering the crippling cut in services. -CB]

We need to act quickly and with forceful clarity on this matter.

Chuck Bailey
President, Virginia Geological Field Conference

Please take the time to write a letter to one or more of these officials to let them know what you think of the proposed cuts. Also, I'd like to give a shout-out to Lee Allison, state geologist of Arizona, who posted on this issue earlier today.

(2) The second major area where budget cuts are hurting this blogger is in the 5% cuts to higher education in the Commonwealth. Though I utilize the maps and studies produced by the DGMR, their budget cuts don't effect my paycheck. But when the Virginia Community College System has to slash its budgets by 5%, that does change my bank account balance. NOVA faculty and staff got an e-mail from our president last Thursday (10/9), informing us that though the College would continue to provide its services essentially uninterrupted with a 5% cut, faculty salary increases, scheduled for November, would be "delayed until July of next year." This is a real bummer, though for me personally the bright side of it is that I got my promotion before all this went down, so at least I secured that pay raise before things went sour. Just the same, I'm going to miss the extra cash that was 'promised' on the contract I signed at the beginning of the academic year. With everything getting more expensive, it's a tough on faculty when their salaries don't keep up with inflation.

So it's looking kind of grim in the Commonwealth, folks. While I don't think a letter-writing campaign will effect the higher education cuts much, the DGMR is a small entity that has gotten hit disproportionately hard. If you can write a letter to help save the DGMR, please do. It's an important state agency that does great work. Thanks!

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