Back in session: Budget tops list of concerns for General Assembly

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Jan 12, 2011 - 04:16 PM

Photo: State Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk), seated in back, held a town hall meeting at Mathews Memorial Library last Thursday to hear constituents’ concerns and field questions prior to this week’s opening of the 2011 session of the Virginia General Assembly. Photo by Sherry Hamilton.

State Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk), seated in back, held a town hall meeting at Mathews Memorial Library last Thursday to hear constituents’ concerns and field questions prior to this week’s opening of the 2011 session of the Virginia General Assembly. Photo by Sherry Hamilton.

The Virginia General Assembly convened yesterday, and local lawmakers all agreed earlier this week that the top priority will once again be the budget.

While not faced with the more than $4 billion shortfall they had to contend with last year, the legislature still has to deal with around $200 million in budget cuts and, with the budget already lean, the cuts are going to hurt.

"The food banks are empty, the free clinics are seeing more patients than they’ve ever seen, and all the social network agencies have their backs to the wall because there’s so much demand with inadequate funds," said Del. Harvey B. Morgan (R-Middlesex), who chairs the Health and Human Resources subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

Many of the cuts in such programs last year were put back in the budget thanks to federal stimulus funds, said Morgan, "but we won’t have that this year." He said he expects that some of the money Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing for higher education might have to be diverted for other purposes.

Morgan and State Sen. Ralph Northam (R-Norfolk) discussed their legislative priorities with the Gazette-Journal earlier this week, while Sen. Tommy Norment, who was ill, had his chief of staff Casey Werderman speak on his behalf.