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Del. Ken Plum: 2017 State of the Commonwealth

by Del. Ken Plum September 7, 2017 at 10:15 am 9 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Virginia’s population of 8,382,993 makes it the 12th largest of the states, but the median family household income of $66,262 in the Commonwealth makes it the eighth wealthiest state in the country.

With that introduction of statistics at my most recent State of the Commonwealth Breakfast, one might expect that nothing but good news would follow. Rather, what followed was a list of what might best be described as missed opportunities.

While overall numbers are impressive, the wealth of the state is not uniformly enjoyed. There clearly is a “golden crescent” in the state that runs from Northern Virginia, where it is most bright, south to Richmond and east to Hampton Roads, where it loses some luster. The crescent, if considered by itself, would be one of the wealthiest and best educated in the country. With few exceptions, outside the crescent Virginians are struggling with incomes of one-half to one-third of that in its richest regions. Virginia as a state is doing well, but there are many within the state who are suffering. It would be impossible to replicate the advantages that Northern Virginia has being situated next to the nation’s capital, nor can the misfortunes of the death of industries like tobacco, coal and textiles be easily reversed. Given our overall wealth, there is a legitimate question as to whether we are doing as well as we should.

In public education funding, for example, the state direct aid per student has fallen. According to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, per student funding of $5,966 in 2009 (in FY 17 dollars) is projected to be $5,326 in 2018. The result is that a greater share of education funding has been shifted to localities. In the 2008-09 school year, the state provided 44.1 percent of public school funding; in the 2015-2016 school year, the state share dropped to 41.3 percent. In past decades when Standards of Quality (SOQ) for schools were first adopted, the expectation was that the state would fund 60 percent of education costs. At the same time funding has decreased, the SOQs have been reduced. In 2016, localities spent $3.5 billion above the required local effort to fund the operation of its schools.

The news does not get much better in other areas. Virginia’s Medicaid program is the 48th stingiest among the states in providing benefits to those in need and one of the most difficult for which to qualify. At the same time, Gov. McAuliffe reminded the legislative money committees that he has “called for Virginia to expand Medicaid for three and a half years now. In that time, we have forever forfeited a whopping $10.4 billion of our federal tax dollars. We have missed an opportunity to cover 400,000 low-income Virginians.”

How can we be so rich as a state and yet so poor in funding programs? Since 2004, Virginia has ranked in the lowest five states in state and local revenue as a percentage of personal income. In state and local revenue as a percentage of gross state product, Virginia ranks 49th. Our state sales tax rate is 41st lowest among the states.

The state of the Commonwealth is that we get what we pay for.

  • Jay

    Speaking as a man who moved his family from a high-tax state to Virginia, I love that Virginia ranks 49th in state and local revenue as a percentage of gross state product. I personally would not mind better state support for state colleges/in-state tuition, but aside from that, I see no other compelling reasons. The Shenandoah is still spectacular to fish and camp aside, and the Blue Ridge is still beautiful. My kids’ schools are awesome, the streets are tidy, and the tap water is clean. Other states/localities can’t deliver this with much higher tax loads, so I do believe that I am getting what I am paying for.

  • Arlene Krieger

    We need reformers to become a majority in the State legislature. We need more democrats. I would like tax cuts for low, fixed income retired persons. When I mean low, I’m thinking about those with a family income of less than $40K per year. Anyone with an income of less than $40K with a family of 3 should also see a tax reduction. Lets raise taxes on the billionaires and the very wealthy and we have plenty of them especially in Northern VA, a high tech corridor.

    • IllegallyLivingInReston

      Hey don’t you know this is Reston Now? Only Republicans are allowed to post on this site to talk about how Democrats aren’t Americans (because they’re all illegal and have the ability to vote 4 times per election) or to complain about Plum’s op-eds.

    • No.

      No

    • Greg

      And that worked how well in California?

    • 40yearsinreston

      Plum is not a reformer
      Look at his track record

      He is a whiner

    • drb

      Why do you want to raise taxes on the very wealthy?

    • RestonAssurance

      Yes, please and thank you!

  • 40yearsinreston

    Got a call from the state Democrat party looking for support for Norton
    They were going to look into why Plum had no opposition in the primaries

    Not holding my breath, but anything which can rid us of this lazy incumbent who relies on identity politics, helps

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