State News Roundup

News Roundup | August 16, 2012

Construction in Ohio on the new Brent Spence Bridge has cleared a major federal hurdle required to begin work. All projects of this size are required to pass an assessment of their impact upon the environment, and the new bridge has just received the approval, but the project now faces a lack of funding. The Ohio Department of Transportation reports that the state should receive between $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion in transportation funding, while Kentucky will receive close to $400 million. Should the two states combine their budgets, they still would not have the needed $2.4 billion to complete the bridge. As a result, construction will likely take place between 2016 and end in 2023, depending upon future funding.

As California deals with a massive budget deficit for the year, it has come to light that hundreds of millions of dollars may be in previously unreported funds or in programs that were thought to be bankrupt. The funds have been the target of a recent audit after $54 million was found in the state’s Parks Department as it prepared to close 70 facilities and was soliciting private donations to keep those same facilities open. The audit has also uncovered another $113 million in a bottle recycling program which had previous been reported as broke. As a result of the recent discoveries Gov. Jerry Brown has called for a more detailed look into the state’s controller’s office, which functions largely as the state’s bank. The recent finds do show a state government with a loose grasp upon what spending is actually taking place in the state, prompting Nicholas Johnson, vice president for state and fiscal policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, to comment, “When a state’s revenues have been hammered as hard as California’s have during the last few years, the reasonable expectation would be that state officials are finding every last dollar before going after services with a meat cleaver.”

In Virginia, the state is planning to use its general fund for bonuses for its public employees. The state ran a surplus the past year of $448.5 million through a reduction of state programs and liabilities as well as anincrease in revenue. “Simply put: Over the past three years, we have brought in more revenue than forecasted, and spent less than budgeted,” said Governor McDonnell. The bonuses are meant to make up for a freeze on state employees’ salaries for the past three years as the state struggled against a slow economy. While state Sen. Saslaw called for the surplus to be used forpublic programs, only $77 million of the total surplus is designated for the bonuses to the 100,000 eligible state employees.

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