Sunday, March 11, 2012
Public safety at issue in budget standoff
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The top priority of Virginia's government is to ensure the safety of our citizens and those who visit the commonwealth. It is not a Republican or Democrat issue — it is a Virginia issue. The budget is the key responsibility of the legislature. It is about funding priorities for Virginia. It is about state police, National Guard, emergency management and our forensic labs. It is about funding sheriffs' departments, commonwealth's attorneys, local law enforcement and courts. It is about funding the core functions of government.
Healthy debate over budget priorities is important to the legislative process and the development of a final budget. Unfortunately, the General Assembly is not at that point. This impasse puts our state's highest priority of protecting the commonwealth's citizens in jeopardy.
Law enforcement and the commonwealth's public safety agencies rely on the biennial budget to continue to fund and provide services. The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Virginia Sheriffs' Association, the Commonwealth's Attorneys Association and the Virginia State Police Association have already written to senators urging them to reach a solution. These groups have warned of the consequences to public safety should the Senate continue to delay.
Any delay in passing the budget places additional burdens on the more than 18,500 local public safety employees across Virginia who depend fully or in part on state funds. From sheriff's deputies to police officers to local prosecutors, the state budget significantly funds these critical services.
Local public safety professionals should not have to wonder what the future holds after June. It is difficult enough to retain our quality, dedicated public safety professionals. Budget uncertainty is a distraction that will cause recruitment and retention challenges.
Without approval of the caboose budget, payments to localities for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2012 will be cut by one-third. For every month delay, localities will have a gap of about one-twelfth of these funds prorated. So, if total sheriff's departments and staff of regional jails funding is $417.1 million for fiscal year 2013, then that would roughly equal a $34.7 million gap for every month of delay.
Virginia's Constitution does not allow for the budget gimmicks or stopgap measures that have been a hallmark of the federal process in Washington, D.C. The consequences for delay in Virginia are very real and loom over all of us until a budget is passed.
Virginia has a long-standing reputation as a well-managed state. Last year's budget passed unanimously in both houses after only one day of delay. The men and women who are elected to serve in our House and Senate are citizen legislators who engage in spirited debates on behalf of their constituents and, at the end of the day, have come together to craft budgets that reflect our shared priorities.
We, like many of our colleagues, have traveled to Richmond over the years to provide input on criminal legislation, public safety issues and budgets. This year was no different. In good faith, we worked with all legislators to ensure the best for all Virginians. Despite policy disagreements, bills were negotiated and either passed or failed. The budget, Virginia's most important piece of legislation, has not been afforded the same discourse/discussion/forum, and much is at stake. For the sake of the safety of our citizens, we urge our senators to pass a budget.
Branscom is writing on behalf of Ronnie Sprinkle, sheriff of Botetourt County, Thomas Bowers, commonwealth's attorney for Salem and Randy Krantz, commonwealth's attorney for Bedford County.