Warner’s Last Budget: The Bad…

13.7 percent.

That’s how much state spending will grow under Gov. Mark R. Warner’s proposed Fiscal 2007-2008 budget over the current budget. Even with inflation warming up, that’s a rapid expansion. But only one reporter who covered the Governor’s presentation noted the fact. Kudos to Warren Fiske with the Virginian-Pilot, for picking up on it.

That number did not appear in the Governor’s speech. Fiske had to track down the number himself. No other newspaper — not the The Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Associated Press, the (Newport News) Daily News or the (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star — included the figure in its coverage of the governor’s speech. Apparently, the continued ballooning of the state budget is a non-story.

Even Fiske did not stack up the Governor’s rhetoric of fiscal conservatism against the spending history during his entire four-year tenure, his claims of having addressed a “$6 billion budget shortfall,” or the chronic surpluses that have cropped up since the 2004 tax hike. No, those bold speakers of truth to power in the Virginia press corps presented the Warner budget story largely as the Governor spoon fed it to them.

Nothing in the Governor’s speech or in any of the articles written about it would allow readers to calculate even the broadest of trends in state revenues. For that, you have to visit Bacon’s Rebellion. Here are the General Fund numbers derived from historical documents posted on the Secretary of Finance website:

Fiscal 2001…….. $11,798 million……………. Gilmore
Fiscal 2002…….. 11,406 million (-3.3%)…….. Gilmore/Warner
Fiscal 2003…….. 11,910 million (+4.4%)…….. Warner
Fiscal 2004…….. 12,931 million (+8.6%)…….. Warner
Fiscal 2005…….. 14,427 million (+11.6%)…… Warner
Fiscal 2006…….. 15,355 million (+6.4%)…….. Warner/Kaine (est.)
Fiscal 2007……… 16,141 million (+5.1%)……. Kaine (proposed)
Fiscal 2008……… 16,996 million (+5.3%)……. Kaine (proposed)

(Note: These basic numbers do not exist on one Web page. I have pulled them from several different documents found on the Secretary of Finance’s website. I believe I’m comparing apples to apples, but I’m not totally certain that I am. If someone has more authoritative numbers, please correct me.)

Analysis: Over the five-year period extending from Gov. Gilmore’s last full fiscal year in office to the current fiscal year — a period that includes the recession and Warner’s painful budget cutting in fiscal 2002 — General Fund revenues have surged 30.1 percent. Inflation has amounted to about 12 percent over the same period. Bottom line: Even including a painful recession and discounting for inflation, state government revenues/spending has increased 18 percent over five years. (If you want to choose the four-year time frame of Warner’s tenure, then the spending increase is even bigger.)

Reporters in the Richmond press corps need not accept my analysis, but surely they could have made at least a minimal effort to put Gov. Warner’s budget presentation in a long-term perspective. After all, Warner is running an undeclared candidacy for president largely on his record of fiscal probity. For reporters to simply recite a laundry list of spending proposals is unforgivably lazy.

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4 responses to “Warner’s Last Budget: The Bad…”

  1. Will Vehrs Avatar

    Jim, you highlight a pernicious but little noticed factor in oversight of state government. If large increases in overall spending are not even noticed, much less examined, pockets of waste or inefficiency are allowed to continue.

    There is an attitude among some quarters in Virginia that it is churlish to question any “small” pocket of spending. The big money is, of course, in Medicaid and other basically untouchable entitlements, so all the “small” waste/inefficiency that adds up to big money gets ignored so that vested interests can tar fiscal conservatives with being heartless or mean-spirited.

  2. Joe: “How’s your wife?”
    John: “Compared to what?”

    Home assessments around here increased 122 percent in the last four years, home prices even more than that. That’s better than a 30% increase per year in a basic commodity – housing.

    The state’s job is much more complicated than just keepin a roof over it’s employees heads. Considering the run up in energy prices, gravel and almost everything else, the governments performance would be a little short of miraculous, if it wasn’t for the fact that it is actually falling behind in the performance of its duties every year.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Jim: I sent you an update of a chart I usually use to track this stuff, comparing the introduced budget for 01-02 (another time of peak revenue I think) to the one just introduced for 07-08. I’m not going to try to put excel up here, but maybe you can. Why that one for the base? Remember in fairness Warner came in at a trough, and it’s better to look at the longer time frame if the interest is analysis and not gotcha.

    it shows about 40 percent GF growth over six years, but higher NFG bringing the total growth to 50 percent.

    Inflation is a valid measure, but Ray is right that some of the items government buys (esp. fuel and building materials) are rising far faster.) It is also fair to factor in population growth, since the school enrollment is another major budget driver, as are Medicaid enrollment and college enrollment. But the growth is there in very real terms.

    A couple of quick additional observations. FTE employment is up more than 3,000 positions in this budget vs. just the last one, creeping past 116,000. And of course not every job shows up on the FTE list.

    I’ll look again, but on first review I didn’t see anything in there for Kaine’s Pre-K plan, unless it is buried in the fine print.

    When I started covering the budget annoucements with the 1985 presentation all the editors wanted was a laundry list of local goodies, teacher salaries, etc. No interest in the bottom line.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Interesting post – I wonder how discretionary spending versus mandates and entitlement programs change how these numbers look once we get past the first blush?

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