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Fack Checker: McDonnell and School Funding

For some time now, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D) has been bashing Robert F. McDonnell, his Republican opponent in the governor's race, for his stance on school funding.

Deeds and fellow Democrats accuse McDonnell of wanting to raid K-12 education funding to fix the transportation mess in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
In a press release earlier this month, the Deeds campaign said McDonnell "has pledged to take $5.4 billion from our schools to pay for roads."

Deeds made similar claims in an Aug. 21 speech at George Mason University and again at Wednesday's debate sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce in McLean.

Deeds said his opponent would take $5.4 billion out of the general fund over 10 years, effectively cutting school funding.

"My opponent has an approach as well that takes $540 million a year out of the general fund, most of which will come out of education," Deeds said. "That's the only thing that's off the table for me. I will not rob Peter to pay Paul."

Where does the $5.4 billion figure come from? And is it true that spending this sum of money on roads would take money away from schools?

Democrats obtain the $5.4 billion figure by using some, but not all, of the funding sources McDonnell has identified in his transportation plan, and then calculating these over a 10-year period.

By the Democrats' reckoning, McDonnell would fix roads by: taking $150 billion a year from new revenue growth in those years when revenues grow by more than 3 percent a year ($1.5 billion over 10 years); commiting 75 percent a year from annual budget surpluses, which McDonnell says have averaged $115 a year over the past 15 years, for a total of $86 million a year ($860 million); and siphoning $200 million a year from the Port of Virginia ($2 billion).

The Democrats' figures leave out some substantial--if so far wholly theoretical--sources of money. These include McDonnell's plan to commit 80 percent of the projected revenues from drilling offshore to recover oil and natural gas for $132 million a year ($1.32 billion). McDonnell's transportation also envisions privatizing the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Department's 300 liquor stores, a one-off source of money estimated at $500 million to $1.7 billion.

Okay, but how would this affect spending?

According to the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget, nongeneral funds raise revenue from specific sources and must apply those dollars to specific ends, such as gasoline taxes that must be spent on transportation.

In contrast, general funds are raised from a variety of sources, such as individual and corporate income taxes. These funds can be spent on schools, roads, prisons, social programs or whatever at the discretion of the General Assembly and the governor. The majority of the money in the general fund goes to education (45.9 percent), with the rest to health and human resources (24.2 percent) and public safety (11.1 percent). Only 2 percent goes to transportation.

In effect, Deeds is arguing that that every dollar McDonnell plans to spend from the general fund on transportation would be one dollar less spent on schools.
"It comes down to the simple distinction that Bob McDonnell is taking money out of the general fund to pay for transportation," said Deeds spokesman Mike Gehrke.

But Tucker Martin, spokesman for McDonnell's campaign, says that by the logic of the Deeds camp, Deeds' own campaign initiatives--and they count 30 so far--also would divert funds from schools, unless he raised taxes or cut other programs or both. The McDonnell camp also argues that their opponents are ignoring the new sources of money that McDonnell would tap.

So what to make of this?

It seems fair to question whether McDonnell's plan would raise sufficient money for new spending on roads, even if proposals such as offshore drilling or privatized liquor stores came to pass. Deeds also can make a reasonable argument that budget realities mean that steering more money from the general fund into roads would potentially require shifting money away from schools.

But to argue that laying out more money from the general fund on roads would automatically mean shortchanging schools is perhaps a bit of a stretch. This is especially true if, as McDonnell hopes, he could expand the budget pie enough to fatten all the slices.

Melissa Nehrbass, president of the nonpartisan Virginia Congress of Parents and Teachers, essentially the state PTA, agrees.

"I don't think I could say I would guarantee [school funding] would be cut, " she said. "But something is going to get cut unless there is a way to increase the size of the general fund."

--Fredrick Kunkle

By Anne Bartlett  |  September 20, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , 2009 Governor's Race Fact Checker , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Fredrick Kunkle , Robert F. McDonnell , Transportation  
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Comments

This won't stop Deeds from repeating his little "rob Peter to pay Paul" slogan.

Deeds expects voters to take him seriously on budget matters after his little tax kerfuffle? Good luck with that.

Posted by: conservativemaverick | September 22, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

"McDonnell would fix roads by: taking $150 billion a year from new revenue growth in those years when revenues grow by more than 3 percent a year ($1.5 billion over 10 years)"

To think that we will see 3% annual growth that produces an extra $15 billion a year is a pipe dream. As the state's infrastructure crumbles and productivity takes a nose-dive with transportation stalled on the clogged roads new businesses will choose other states to locate their offices and plants.

The past 15 years saw unprecedented growth in Virginia's population. That's how he comes up with those budget surplus numbers. That didn't happen in the past 5 years and certainly will not happen in the next 10.

I think McDonnell's vision of Tomorrowland is actually a walk into Fantasyland. Those numbers need a good Fact Check as well. So of course most of the funding will need to come from general funds.

But you are right, it won't just come from K-12. It will come from drastic cuts to health care, higher education (already being cut 15% per year) and services to the elderly and poor.

Posted by: thuff7 | September 22, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

So, the bottom line here seems to be that Deeds is probably correct that McDonnell's transporation plan robs the schools to build roads. But it will also come from other places.

Posted by: B2O2 | September 22, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

He doesn't make sense, AGAIN. Who? Deeds! I'm getting tired of his attack ads, he must be the brightest man in Virginia like his Mentor Obama. This Independent is tuning out.

Posted by: letsfroggy1 | September 23, 2009 8:51 PM | Report abuse

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