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Fairfax officials outline deep cuts under state budget

As local governments continue to pore over the General Assembly's new budget to assess the impact for the next two years, the early reviews were mixed, at least in Fairfax County.

Fairfax schools superintendent Jack Dale told county supervisors Tuesday that despite a decision to unfreeze a key school-funding formula that would have cost the county even more, Virginia's largest school district will still have to cut back almost across the board. And he expressed concern that the cuts spelled out by the budget are likely to far outlast the two-year budget cycle.

"These are permanent," Dale said. "Nothing's coming back in two years."

Facing net reduction of $47.8 million and rising enrollment, the district will have to trim more than 200 jobs, particularly among administrative and custodial staff, close an alternative high school, eliminate summer school, charge high school student athletes $100 to play a sport, boost the cost of renting school facilities for community uses, and freeze teacher salaries. Central office staff alone will shed nearly 100 jobs, saving the district $7.2 million.

But schools officials and county officials also panned a central component of lawmakers' strategy for saving money by reducing contributions to the state's retirement plan. The state will contribute only about half of what it was set to contribute next year.

County supervisor Jeff McKay, a Democrat representing the Lee district, called General Assembly's fiscal maneuvers "shenanigans," and Deputy County Executive Edward Long called it "gamesmanship." They agreed underfunding pensions now amounts to borrowing from the future. State and local governments will have to make up for the underfunding beginning in fiscal 2013, which for Fairfax County would mean coming up with about $70 million.

But Dale, appearing at a meeting with the school board and the Board of Supervisors, said the outcome could have been worse.

If the General Assembly had gone ahead with former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's proposal to freeze the local composite index, or LCI, Fairfax County would have received $61 million less. By recalculating that index and restoring the funds, the school district's proposed budget will not have to increase class size as school administrators initially planned. The district will also be able to spare about 400 jobs.

County supervisor John W. Foust, a Democrat representing the Dranesville district, said he was grateful the General Assembly and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell agreed to unfreeze the LCI, but he said education and human services were still severely unfunded. The changes to the Virginia Retirement System worry him more.

"I think they are creating a very serious potential crisis for our state by grossly underfunding the VRS," Foust said. "They're failing to meet the needs of the community. And we didn't even talk about transportation."

-- Fredrick Kunkle

By Fredrick Kunkle  |  March 16, 2010; 5:56 PM ET
Categories:  2010 legislative session , Fairfax County , Fairfax County Board of Supervisors , Fredrick Kunkle  
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Guarantee you in our lifetimes we will see a PBGC for govt workers pensions, and the Federal Govt will have to bail out nearly all the state pension systems, because I will bet 35 out of 50 are in dire straits unless the S&P goes on a rampage, and life expectancy plunges. So sure, put it off, everyone else is doing it, right or wrong. the feds will print more money in the next bailout.

Posted by: mikey999 | March 16, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Mikey999, where's your proof? The federal government has a minimal role in state and local pensions--primarily in providing the same tax expediture that is provided for private sector pension contributions--the value expended is to the benefit of the plan participant not the government sponsor.

State and local government employer and employee contributions fund the base of these plans and market returns pay the bulk of benefits. The VRS is a very modest system with modest but meaningful benefits provided to the vast majority of participants. Putting off contributions will only mean higher contributions in the future as these funds will have less time to grow in the market.

Shrill and unsubstantiated attempts to destabilize defined benefit pension programs in the public sector do little to stabiize these plans but provide a great smokescreen to ignore the real problem--growing retirement income insecurity in the private sector. Less than 21% of private sector workers have access to defined benefit plans; only half have access to a plan of any type at work and most workers that are saving in only a 401(k) or similar account don't have near what they will need to retire with dignity or at a level close to the income they earned while working--all while fund managers and plan sponsors laugh all the way to the bank.

There is a real crisis brewing but your concern is ill-placed.

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Posted by: llitkonlyyous | March 16, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

It seems worth noting that $47 million in cuts represents less than 3% of what the school board receives from the county.

It also seems worth noting that while the county's general fund revenue has dropped by about 2.5%, its total revenue has risen by about 4.6%. In other words the money in its special revenue funds is increasing. Where does *that* money come from, and where is it going?

If the Post did more to cover Fairfax County than just printing its press releases, it might actually ask these questions and try to present answers to its readers.

Posted by: tomtildrum | March 17, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

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