Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: email@example.com
Much as it began, 2011 is ending with state governments -- and the newspapers that cover them -- focused on the economy and government budgets. Virginia Gov. Bob McConnell recently revealed his next budget package, leading to mixed responses from some of the state's newspapers. Meanwhile, Oregon is set to increase its minimum wage after the new year, while its southern neighbor, California, is experiencing an exodus of profitable companies from its borders.
McConnell claimed his budget included $900 million in savings from 2012 to 2014 in his $85 billion budget, according to the Virginian Pilot. But in its Dec. 23 editorial, the Pilot took issue with one of the measures he used to do so: withholding inflationary increases for Medicaid payments. McConnell estimated it would save $324 million through 2014, the newspaper said, but the proposal "does nothing to address the annual increases in health care spending."
The proposal could make it more likely that doctors will turn away new Medicaid patients, the editorial board asserted, reducing health care access to "a population historically at higher risk of serious ailments." It could mean that those patients will have a more difficult time seeking preventive care, meaning they could end up in the hospital "where treatment ultimately costs more," the newspaper said.
"Those are realities that no patient or doctor wants to face," the Pilot concluded. "But they are the inevitable side effects of a shortsighted policy that allows government officials to claim they're saving taxpayers money."
The Daily Press in Newport News, Va., saw a combination of good and bad in McConnell's proposals. The newspaper commended the governor in its Dec. 20 editorial for asking for a $2.2 billion investment into the state's struggling retirement system for public employees, which currently has a $20 billion budget hole. The editorial board was also pleased with a $200 million increase in higher education funding. "Given the need for an educated workforce, it's hard to argue with a funding plan that improves access to education beyond high school," the Daily Press said.
The newspaper shared the Pilot's sentiments on the Medicaid freeze, however. And it criticized the proposed $81 million cut to the state's pre-school education initiative, saying those programs are "a clear indicator for future success." On the whole, though, the editorial said McConnell's balanced approach to improving Virginia's financial straits was "laudable."
"Budget reductions are essential if we are to curb a pattern of government spending that has swelled three times as fast as inflation rates," the Daily Press wrote.
The Register Guard in Eugene, Ore., referenced the connection between better wages and increased tax revenue in its Dec. 23 editorial that supported Oregon's minimum wage indexing policy. That policy will lead to a 30-cent increase in the state's minimum wage, to $8.80, on Jan. 1 and should mean a pay raise for nearly 150,000 workers, according to the newspaper.
Critics might say stringent minimum wage laws reduce opportunities for low-skill workers, the Register Guard acknowledged, but supporters who say it puts more money in the pockets of workers have a stronger argument. Recent studies have found that minimum wage increases have "no adverse employment affects," the editorial board said.
"The raises that minimum-wage workers receive boost consumer demand and swiftly return to the local and state economies as workers pay for groceries, transportation, shelter and other necessities," the Register Guard argued.
In California, the Orange County Register was unsatisfied the Democratic legislative leadership's response to the news that Waste Connections, a $3.6 billion company, was leaving the state for "a friendlier business climate." State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said that the company's profitability proved the state didn't have a bad business climate, comments the Register called "clueless and snarky" in its Dec. 22 editorial.
The newspaper argued that additional regulations and increased taxes, as some Democratic lawmakers have proposed, are not the solution to keeping more businesses in the state. The editorial board referenced business relocation expert Joe Vranich of Irvine, who has estimated that businesses save up to 40 percent on costs after relocating to states with less regulation and lower taxes than California.
"If California wants to improve its business climate and reduce its double-digit unemployment rate, its officials need to understand what companies such as Waste Connections are saying, rather than simply dismiss their concerns," the Register concluded.