Pre-K education

Is The Governor Fiddling?

Is Governor Tim Kaine fiddling while Richmond burns? While he lays off 570 state government employees (see Washington Post, here), many of whom are in the all important corrections field, because of a budget deficit he caused by ignoring projections of a severe revenue shortfall so he could start new, unwanted programs such as Pre-K education, His Excellency is heading this weekend to Arizona and Colorado to campaign for Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama. It was his hyper campaigning for Senator Obama during the primaries, then his self-promotion campaign to get himself on the Democrat ticket as its vice presidential nominee, that many say got Governor Kaine into this budget mess. That is to say, he took his eyes off his duties for the glamor of presidential politics. Whether that's true or not, it is certain that he obstinately refused to listen to many sane voices in the General Assembly to scale back his spending plan (the budget is based on revenue projections). He didn't and here we are, eliminating security jobs and closing prisons instead of eliminating social engineering programs.

More savings Governor Kaine said he's found are in the elimination of unfilled jobs. How this saves money since no salary is spent on people who aren't working is confusing at best. Phantom savings? But don't forget about his cutting the bottled water shipments to Capitol Square offices (see Richmond Times-Dispatch, here).

The governor also will use bonds instead of cash to pay for construction which will pile up further debt to be repaid later. Funny how it's fine to use debt to build monuments — uhhh, make that buildings to name after politicians — but can't be used for transportation which is a necessity and government responsibility. It also begs the question, why is our government so big that we are constructing more state buildings? (Buying them, too: The state just bought the high-rise Verizon building in downtown Richmond.)

Another major component of Governor Kaine's budget balancing is his raid on the Rainy Day Fund, which is budget surplus; in other words, our tax money which just sits in an account, not to be refunded when we have annual surpluses, but to be used to continue feeding the government beast when the economy turns south and the politicians don't think they can tax us any further. 

Governor Kaine's actions haven't been too popular, to say the least, with state government employees and others. Now the interesting part really comes into play: Will his barnstorming for Senator Obama while the state's budget deficit explodes have any backlash on Senator Obama in Virginia? It's a tune we're waiting to hear the fiddler play while the fire rages on.   

Fun Facts For Today

Whether Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's experience is a real factor or not remains to be seen as she enters into the vice presidential debate Thursday night. Right now, the voters don't seem to mind. In fact, the last budget she administered is about $7.6 billion; the last budget administered by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton when he ran for president was about $3.6 billion. So, does she have twice the practical experience he had in 1992? Certainly, the issues of energy independence are more complicated than Arkansas pre-K education. Former Virginia governor and current Richmond Mayor Doug Wilder has disparaged Governor Palin's experience. But then-Governor Wilder, in 1992, with only one year as governor under his belt, ran for the Democrat presidential nomination. Double standard, your honor?

But perhaps the most fun (and hypocrisy exposing) fact of all is, that while her critics ridicule the size of her state, her opponent, Senator Joe Biden, comes from lil' ol' Delaware, population 853,476 or less than the total population of metropolitan Richmond (Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover Counties, and Doug's domain) which has a combined population of about 888,399. So . . . Doug Wilder for president after all?

Unintended Consequences

No, not that one. Not at all. Actually, something interesting, realistic and possibly good. Norman Leahy yesterday wrote at Tertium Quids (click here) that an unintended consequence of Governor Tim Kaine's $3 billion budget deficit is that real cuts in state spending might be made — not just reductions in increases that pols like to brag about at campaign time as big-time spending reductions (see Times-Dispatch article, here). If such cuts are made, speculates Leahy, then maybe cost-conscious state government may turn to school choice to reduce taxpayer funded public education costs. (Click here to listen to his interview about this possibility with school choice expert Adam Schaeffer of The Cato Institute.) While we're not holding our breath, maybe the pols will eliminate the unnecessary and budget busting new Pre-K program as well.

School Choice: Whether Educrats Like It Or Not

Despite rabid opposition from the education establishment across the nation, more states are realizing that restoring parents' freedom to choose how their child is educated is critical to guaranteeing the best education possible. In recent years Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania, to name a few, have passed various forms of education choice legislation. Even the District of Columbia has opened the doors of education freedom to parents. In Virginia, the birthplace of liberty in our nation, the idea of extending that freedom to parents of children in elementary and secondary schools is met with ferocious hostility by the education unions and, unfortunately, a majority of legislators. "Choice," it seems, is limited by too many only to abortion. While Virginia government provides direct assistance to families with children in pre-K programs or college, no such assistance is available for kids K-12. In fact, college TAG grants provide essentially the same type of education choice we need in K-12, so for the state to say the general model won't work is a little disingenuous.

We have long advocated for providing parents the freedom to choose the best education environment for their children. As we move through the 21st century, we remain in a 19th century education model — a "once size fits all" approach that fails too many children. Educrats simply offer to continue to pour more and more money into a system — notice their rhetoric is always about the "system" — instead of allowing parents to find the best environment for their children's particular needs.

Tuesday, we were pleased to join several other organizations in Virginia to announce the formation of School Choice Virginia, started by school choice advocate Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton). The event garnered a lot of statewide attention (see our post and the news links here, as well as a new article, today, here.) This group will review the myriad of potential proposals and work to bring about real education freedom in Virginia through advocacy and education.

At the Richmond press conference announcing the group, former Washington, D.C., City Councilman Ken Chavous, an African-American Democrat, endorsed our efforts. Mr. Chavous has seen first hand the impact of giving families more opportunities to educate children in communities where far too many never even make it to graduation. He now is traveling the country, working with legislators and organizations, to bring education choice to all of our nation's families.

In his comments, Mr. Chavous made it clear that this is not a partisan issue — it became largely so, as so many others, when it became federalized. Rather, this is an issue of liberty and it's about what is best for our nations' children. We can no longer be held hostage by the education establishment.

Not only will education freedom help students struggling in poor performing schools, but it also will save taxpayers money. Study after study shows that when choice is introduced, enrollment in public schools decreases, but much of the money spent on the students that leave stays with the school. In essence, the schools have more money to spend per child.  Though we know that money isn't the answer, this undermines opponents who claim that school choice will "take money from public schools." Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only that, but the new competition forces public schools to improve — and in many cases they do.

Frankly, school choice is coming to Virginia. It's coming whether the educrat establishment likes it or not. It may take some time, but as more and more states recognize the need for educational freedom, the only question that remains is whether Virginia will take the lead in granting families more liberty, or whether it will once again choose to fall further and further behind the rest of the nation in the area of freedom.

Ekaineomics: The Poor, The Starving . . . The Government

Jesus said the poor will always be with us. That's not good news for those who think the size of government is huge and would like to see much of it go away, because state government now considers itself among the poor. So says Governor Tim Kaine. According to his excellency, higher gas prices are causing people to buy less gas which means . . . (drum roll, please) . . . less gas tax revenue! But wait: Don't liberals want us to use less gas so we won't pollute and melt the polar ice caps? What are they going to do when we move to hydrogen powered cars? There will be no gas left to tax! Poor liberals.

Aside from that inconsistency, we hope Governor Kaine learns from this some basic economics: The more expensive a good or service, the less of it is purchased. So adding taxes to the plethora of items outlined in his recent tax scheme will make those items more expensive. How does he see this as good for Virginia?

Now, more ekaineomics: He recently told The Richmond Times-Dispatch that the meat of state government was down to the bone:

"Obviously, we've been through two rounds of expense tightening," the governor said. "One in November, where I reduced the state budget by $300 million cutting expenses. And then in February I had to do a $1.4 billion reduction in the prospective two-year budget," he added.

"Obviously"? Who would have known, what with a budget of $78 billion, more than twice what it was 10 years ago, with new programs launched just this year, such as an expansion of a Pre-K program for which there was no demand. He gets around to admitting his "cuts" were really scale-backs of proposed increases, not actual reductions in programs, although he couched them as cuts.

Without doubt, higher gas prices have increased the cost of government, especially for necessary services such as state police and school bus transportation, as well as for operating state buildings — offices, prisons and colleges, for example.

"But we also have a revenue effect," said Kaine. "As gas prices go up, people drive fewer miles, and that reduces revenues to the state's transportation fund."

Kaine said he saw a recent statistic that showed Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles in the month of March than they did during March of last year. "So what we will see is increasing costs everywhere in state government and fewer transportation dollars," he added.

But it's not only the state. Localities are claiming the poor house blues, too. Several counties have refused to lower their real estate taxes, meaning higher revenues as the old rates are applied to properties with ever increasing assessments. In Richmond, Councilman Marty Jewell, Mayor Doug Wilder's one reliable ally, was the dissenter in an 8-1 vote to reduce the property tax by 3 cents to $1.20 of assessed value, from the current $1.23. (It should have rolled back to $1.18 to remain revenue neutral.) Despite campaign promises, the mayor was opposed to any tax reductions. According to the Times-Dispatch, Jewell, echoing the mayor, said it was too large a cut given the struggling economy because the city needs the money.

So the city and state need the money? What about the hard-working Virginians supplying the money?

But in the face of all this government poorness, some agencies are living large. As Robin Beres of the T-D discovered, two of Virginia's largest universities spent nearly $3 million in catering services just in the first three quarters of the 2008 fiscal year. (Read the article here, but note a typo: she means billions, not millions, in her state budget totals). In Fiscal Year 2007, various institutes of higher learning in the Commonwealth spent $250,000 alone at Richmond's grand hotel, The Jefferson. One college spent $30,000 at the Country Club of Virginia.

But that's just the fun stuff she found. It's well documented that the budget has grown from $15.5 billion in 1998 to $39 billion in the second year of Governor Kaine's two-year budget. But why? One reason she cites is payroll. U.S. Census statistics show Virginia as the 12 largest state with 7.7 million residents. North Carolina, the 10th largest state, has more than 9 million. However, Virginia has 122,000 full-time government employees to North Carolina's 93,000. Yet, we hear from the administration that Virginia government is strapped and we have to raise taxes. Wonder why.

Plainly put: If transportation, or any function government deems necessary, is in crisis, those in charge need to prioritize. Crisis situations get put to the top. Crises are solved with what you have at that moment because crises don't wait; by definition, if it could, it's not a crisis. So if Governor Kaine, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) and the other liberals are sincere about solving the transportation crisis, they would stop trying to score political points, prioritize spending and cut just a little more than 1 percent of the $78 billion in the current two year budget and put that toward transportation (i.e., re-appropriate the last $1 billion in the budget).

It is disingenuous to say a budget that large cannot be cut. Not everything the government spends on is a priority, to say the least. Let there be no mistake: Funds are not lacking in Virginia. Perhaps truthfulness and leadership are.

Let The Tax Games Begin!

The start of the Special Tax Session of the General Assembly begins in hours. Enjoy the fun. We'll chronicle it here, so please check back as developments warrant. It all gets started in the morning with what should be a blast: Americans For Prosperity is hosting an anti-tax rally at the bell tower in Capitol Square. Attorney General Bob McDonnell will be one of the speakers. People from all over the state are expected, so if you can swing it, come on by. Your friendly admin will be there, so take a chance and try to pick me out. I'd love to meet any and all.

The rally includes free lunch. Get it? Governor Tim Kaine has been telling voters at his town hall meetings that there's no free lunch — when he's not telling them to stay off the roads if they don't agree with his $1 billion tax increase — even though we've been paying for a lot of government we don't want and never asked for (pre-K, anyone?).

So, remember: Even if you can't make the rally tomorrow, it is important you remind your delegates and senators and the governor himself of what you think about any and all ideas that require you to involuntarily part with your family's hard-earned money for more government waste and inefficiency. After all, the pro-taxers and their big business and developer lobby allies will be pressing hard to separate you from it, so you need to do your part. It may sound like an game, but in an Olympic year, sports analogies may be apt. Defeating these folks will take an Olympian effort.

One last thought: When the pro-taxers claim, as Governor Kaine did on his last "Ask The Governor" call-in show on WRVA-1140/AM, that Virginia is one of the lowest tax states in the union (although debatable because of all the recent tax increases), so we need to pay more, they are equating our tax bills with a poor performance indicator, such as low educational test scores — as if our tax rate is something we need to get up to the national average. No, no! Repeat after me, mistah guvna: Low tax, good; high tax bad; me no rede an rite bad; me read and write good.

Audio: Victoria Cobb Interview On Governor's Spending On New Pre-K Program

On August 8, 2007, Family Foundation of Virginia President Victoria Cobb was interviewed by Scott and Richard Lee on their highly rated talk show "Saturday Mornings With The Lee Brothers" on WRVA-AM/1140 in Richmond about Governor Tim Kaine's government expansion into Pre-K education. Although it was conducted about 10 months ago, this interview is very timely today as Governor Kaine (contact him here) reflexively seeks a massive tax increase on Virginia families, obstensibly to finance transportation improvements. The topic presciently was brought up even in this August interview . . . . Why begin new state programs that don't work and no one wants? Why not use that money for transportation instead of jacking up our tax burden yet more?

Scott Lee coins a great new phrase in this interview which we may unashamedly appropriate for ourselves. Even more presciently, he claims rightly:

The best government is the one not in session.

Are you listening General Assembly (contact here) and Governor Kaine? You meet in the winter, not June.

The interview lasts about five minutes. You can listen to it by clicking here.

More print, video and audio interviews with Family Foundation spokesmen, as well as other interactive features, are at our new Online Newsroom and Online Library.