Candland: Spending, Hiring Freezes Needed in Light of Projected State Budget Shortfall
Most families in Northern Virginia are still feeling the effects of a sluggish economy and a federal defense spending trajectory that remains uncertain. Last week, I visited with a husband and wife who expressed to me their concern that they won’t be able to stay in their home because his company may lose its federal contract. Despite the empty assurances of some politicians, people understand that there is still a need for caution and for restraint in local government spending just like the restraint they practice in their family budgets.
On August 15, Governor McAuliffe announced a $2.4 billion projected budget shortfall in the state budget that he attributed primarily to cuts in defense spending caused by federally mandated sequestration.
The Governor told state legislators that $882 million must be cut from planned spending, in addition to $1.55 billion that has already been trimmed earlier this year, in order to offset the three-year projected shortfall.
Over the past several months, we have seen steep reductions in projected county revenues, mirroring the same decline in state revenues. The only way to protect the hard working families in Prince William County who bear the brunt of the tax burden is for the Board of County Supervisors to act responsibly and swiftly.
To address the deficit spending that these revenue reductions have created in the FY 2015 budget, I have submitted a written request to my colleagues asking the Board of County Supervisors to consider the following steps to protect Prince William County families:
1. Impose a temporary spending freeze at FY 2014 levels to remain in effect until the Board convenes a “FY 2015 Special Budget Review Meeting.” This would not affect staff pay increases or capital projects, but would require our department heads to find other ways to hold spending. Because of the crisis in education we have in Prince William County and because of the need to protect our citizens, schools and public safety funding will also be exempt from the spending freeze.
2. Impose a countywide-hiring freeze that continues until the Board approves an amended staffing plan for FY 2015 (public safety exempted)
3. Convene a special Board work session with the School Board to review the impacts of the revenue shortfalls at both the state and county level, and discuss options for anticipated funding reductions for the schools in FY 2016 and beyond.
I have spent most of my professional career in the private sector. Whether it was helping to run a small mom and pop store or working for a Fortune 100 company, I learned early on that budgets require priorities.
Several months ago, I raised objections to the decision by the majority of the Board of County Supervisors to bury power lines on Route 1 by draining money from the county’s “rainy-day savings account” – a price tag of over $12 million. I urged the Board to wait until the revenue projections for the FY 2015 budget were in place to determine if the county could afford this project.
Unfortunately, the Board voted to use our savings account and approve the burying of the power lines. Just one month later, county staff reported a $15 million revenue shortfall that ultimately had to be offset by the largest tax increase in the last five years in Prince William County.
It is time we implement a plan that is built on sound fiscal principles to help our county have a firm foundation that leads us into the future.
First, tax cuts are desperately needed to help protect the quality of life for middle and low-income families who are the backbone of Prince William County. People need relief as they continue to see their state and federal taxes increase.
Second, we need to develop real and effective job creation programs to offset the job reductions resulting from federal sequestration and long-term budget cuts. We have to dramatically reform the business regulations here in Prince William County. I speak often with small business owners from across the county, and it concerns me to hear of the seemingly endless obstacles they are facing in starting and maintaining a business.
Third, we need to tame the lion called government spending. Reducing spending will be difficult, but it is essential to restore a healthy and growing economy.
In short, we need to get government out of the pockets of hard working families in Prince William County and restore trust in our county government. However difficult, it is a path we must follow without further delay.
Peter Candland is elected to represent the Gainesville Magisterial District of Prince William County.