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Frugal Cavaliers
Legislating on the cheap

Date published: 12/21/2009

UNLIKE THE FEDS, state officials can't just print more money when times are tight, or send an IOU to posterity. Virtually all of the revenue they have to work with comes from personal-income, general-sales, and corporate-income taxes--topped, of course, with a dollop of funds from Uncle Sam.

Still, when a recession strikes a blow and personal income declines, when people stop spending as much and businesses go belly up, state coffers suffer. Add in extra expenditures for welfare, Medicaid, and other safety-net programs, and it's a starving time.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that states had to close a collective $145 billion gap in fiscal 2010 budgets. Medicaid is over budget in 35 states. And while the recession technically may have begun to lift in the second quarter of 2009, state finances aren't expected to bounce back for two years.

So Virginians can appreciate some frugality at the top. House Speaker Bill Howell reports that he's made an additional $1 million in cuts to General Assembly expenses (hitting everything from staffing to per diems to coffee). That puts Virginia, the 12th-largest state in population, in 46th place in per-capita spending on its legislature, says the NCSL.

Would that economics would trickle up to Capitol Hill.