Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 4, 2012

Fiscal cliff A dire warning from McDonnell

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is offering a dozen or so good reasons why Congress and President Barack Obama shouldn’t let America go over the so-called fiscal cliff.

In fact, McDonnell recently ordered all state government agencies to provide a detailed list of spending cuts that could be implemented should spending reductions be needed to balance the state budget. Those state funding cuts come to a staggering $132 million over the next 18 months, and would have a direct impact upon Southwest Virginia.

Among the proposed cuts would be the elimination of nearly $350,000 in funding for the development of new drinking water and sewer systems in Southwest Virginia. Funding to local libraries would be cut by $590,000, and nearly $9.8 million would be slashed in appropriations for offices across the state such as sheriff’s departments, commonwealth’s attorneys and circuit court clerks.

Another $30 million would be cut from the Department of Corrections, and Health and Human Service agencies would lose $34 million, the Associated Press reported last week. The deepest cuts would come from the Comprehensive Services for At-Risk Youth at $10 million and another $8.8 million in related grants to localities would be eliminated. Education programs would be cut by another $4.4 million.

Such cuts — if implemented by McDonnell — would have a troubling impact upon Southwest Virginia. Given that many families in our region are still lacking public drinking water and modern day wastewater treatment facilities, any and all cuts to the drinking water and sewer treatment fund would be devastating. Area correctional facilities, including the prisons in Pocahontas and Keen Mountain, also would be directly impacted by the cuts, along with local sheriff’s departments, commonwealth attorneys and school systems.

McDonnell can’t be faulted for ordering the suggested cuts. He is simply preparing for the worst-case scenario in the event that Congress  and President Barack Obama are unable to reach a last-minute debt reduction deal.

McDonnell could implement all of the cuts, some of them, or change any of the recommendations, according to spokesman Tucker Martin. If state revenues remain on track, or ahead of appropriations as they were during the month of October, McDonnell also could opt to impose none of the cuts.

It is our hope that such deep cuts can be avoided.

In the meantime, Congress should take notice of the uncertainty that the fiscal cliff crisis is having on the individual states. U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and U.S. Senator-elect Tim Kaine, D-Va., must work to help the Commonwealth avoid these crippling cuts by reaching a federal debt reduction deal — and soon.