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During a recent debate with Republican George Allen, Democrat Tim Kaine maintained that he is the true spending hawk in Virginia’s U.S. senate race.
As proof, Kaine cited budget cuts he made as Virginia’s governor.
"I ended up my time as governor with a general fund budget that was smaller than the one I started with," he said during a July 21 debate in Hot Springs.
We decided to examine Kaine’s claim.
The general fund supports public education, health programs and public safety. Most of its money comes from state incomes and sales taxes.
When Kaine became governor in January 2006, he inherited a $15.1 billion general fund budget for the 2005-06 fiscal year that started the previous July 1. The economy was healthy at the start of Kaine’s term, and the fund stood at $17 billion during each of the next two budget years.
Then Virginia, like the rest of the country, slid into recession and tax revenues plummeted. The general fund dropped to $16.2 billion during the budget year that started in July 2008. At the end of his term in January 2010, the general fund shrank to $14.8 billion.
Before leaving office, Kaine proposed a farewell budget that kept the general fund at $14.8 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010.
So the general fund decreased by $300 million -- or 2 percent -- from the start to the end of Kaine’s administration.
Despite the reduction, the state was spending more money on general fund programs at the end of Kaine’s term than at the beginning.
That’s because the state used federal stimulus money to support some general fund programs during the recession. Virginia did not count the one-time stimulus money as part of the general fund.
Virginia propped up general fund programs with $1.5 billion of stimulus money during fiscal 2009-10, and $1 billion of stimulus in 2010-11, according to a study by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee.
If those stimulus funds are combined with the budget figures, the state spent $16.3 billion on general fund programs during the 2009-10 budget that was in effect at the end of Kaine’s term. That translates to a 7.9 percent increase in general fund spending from the start to the end of Kaine’s term. Adjusted for inflation, total spending on general fund programs -- including stimulus money -- was essentially the same at the start and end of Kaine’s term.
When the stimulus money ran out in 2012, the state began feeling the full brunt of budget cuts Kaine and the General Assembly approved.
Under the six governors that preceded Kaine, the general fund budget grew by an average 33.8 percent -- not adjusted inflation -- from the day they came to office to the day they left. This figure does not include the spending levels each governor proposed in their budgets for the fiscal year that would begin six months after their terms ended.
Kaine said the general fund budget was smaller at the end of his gubernatorial term than at the start.
The raw numbers hold up his claim: The general fund budget was $15.1 billion when Kaine took office and $14.8 billion when he left. These figures don’t include $1.5 billion in federal stimulus money the state used to support general fund programs during Kaine’s last year. But this does not detract from Kaine’s claim. Virginia did not count the one-time stimulus money as part of the general fund, which mainly consists of income and sales tax revenues. And when the stimulus ran out, there was no backfill for the budget cuts Kaine endorsed.
We rate Kaine’s statement True.
Kaine, Senate debate, July 21, 2012.
Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, "Review of State Spending: 2011 Update," Oct. 11, 2011.
Inflation calculator, accessed July 24, 2012.
Census Bureau, Virginia population, accessed July 24, 2012.
Census Bureau, Virginia population for 2006 through 2009, accessed July 24, 2012.
Emails with Terry Rephann, regional economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Policy at the University of Virginia, July 24, 2012.
Mitchell, Matthew, "State Spending Restraint: An Analysis of the Path Not Taken," Aug. 17, 2010.
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