The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, December 23, 2005

Study finds government spending rises by average of 7 percent a year; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

Government spending in Virginia over the last decade has gone in one direction — up — regardless of which party has held the governor’s office.

That’s one of the findings in a new study released this month by the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

Commission staffers found that state spending has increased an average of 7 percent each year between fiscal 1996 and fiscal 2005, no matter who was in charge of state government.

“There are several ways of explaining state budget trends,” the report’s authors write.

“National factors such as inflation must be considered in understanding long-term growth. Economic and population growth also has important impacts on state revenue and spending,” they wrote.

Programs like Medicaid, which are federally mandated, have grown rapidly without legislative intervention.

Big changes in the budget also came about from campaign promises turned policy — Gov. Jim Gilmore’s car tax relief — and changes approved by voters, such as the creation of the constitutional “Rainy Day” fund, both of which have eaten substantial chunks of revenue since their inception.

So where else did legislators spend another $13 billion? Not as many places as some might think.

Some 91 percent of the entire increase was spent on 20 of the more than 140 government agencies operated by the commonwealth. At the top of the heap is the Department of Education, which saw its budget grow by more than $2.4 billion.

The Department of Medical Assistance Services, which is responsible for Virginia’s Medicaid program, grew by almost the same amount.

Next in line is the Virginia Department of Transportation, which saw its budget increase by $1.3 billion over the last decade.

Those three agencies alone make up almost half of the entire budget expansion over the last decade, according to the report.

When taken by program, education again leads the pack, with an additional $4.1 billion, or 31 percent of the total $13 billion growth, being spent each year for all levels of Virginia education in fiscal 2005 than in fiscal 1996.

Individual and family services — programs like Medicaid and welfare — grew by $3.8 billion, or 30 percent of the entire budget expansion.

General government, which includes reimbursements to localities from car tax relief and debt service on public bonds, grew by $1.9 billion.

That category took up 15 percent of the overall spending growth.