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Many Localities Across Virginia Facing Tough Budget Decisions Thanks to COVID-19

Local governments across Virginia are now reassessing their budgets for the coming year.

You know that new school your community was excited about? The modernization project at the elementary school? Well, forget about it. Local governments across Virginia are now reevaluating their budgets, and one of the first things to go is capital spending — especially on expensive school projects.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson says this is exactly what happened during the last downturn, and it was a mistake. 

“We pushed off all capital. We pushed off infrastructure," Wilson says. "And the problem is we spent basically a decade or so catching up on that. It’s very expensive to play that game of catchup.”

Chris Duncombe at the Commonwealth Institute says a recent study of how Virginia handled the last recession shows spending on facility construction and renovation plummeted 30% in one year. 

“In the long term, that can actually result in higher maintenance costs. So I think that is a strategy that we may see school divisions once again employ," he explains. "But this time going into the recession, we are actually going to be at a lower level of state funding. We have not yet recovered from the past recession.”

The state budget that was proposed before the downturn was going to be the first one to return to pre-recession levels of spending for education. But, budget officials are going to need to reevaluate based on dramatically reduced revenues – meaning historic funding initiatives in education will probably be off the table – at least for now.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.