Santa Claus is returning early to Richmond. No, not the jolly old elf of Thomas Nast’s creation, but a buttoned-down, gray flannel version who looks remarkably like Bob McDonnell. Regrettably, his generosity will eventually cost taxpayers plenty.

According to news reports, His Excellency plans to pursue a “massive spending campaign.” That’s quite a change even from a year ago, when the Governor and General Assembly managed to reduce state spending back to levels last seen in 2006. It seems the exercise was so trying that a bit of relief spending is now in order.

And what a relief it will be for some. More money – billions of it borrowed – for transportation. More money for higher education, which will only further gold plate the commonwealth’s colleges and universities.  And more money for economic development, in spite of the fact it’s a failed policy.

 So where is all this money coming from? More cuts -- $190 million or so. Higher expected tax revenue, around $330 million. And the budget surplus.  Last year, the state managed to finish $403 million in the black. That money was quickly diverted back into spending programs, employee raises and the rainy day fund, but enough of it seem still be lying around gathering dust to justify a spending spree.

In other circumstances, say with robust economic growth, low unemployment and a set of state books that weren’t cooked to near charcoal, this might be acceptable. But Virginians don’t live in that sunny land, though it seems its political class does.

Consider: to make the state’s books look balanced last year, the Governor and General Assembly stiffed the state’s retirement plan to the tune of $620 million. They promise to pay it back (really, they do). But it’s disturbing to realize that the system already has an unfunded liability of at least $17.6 billion.

And let’s not forget the state’s growing debt service payments, which is now the sixth largest line item in the state’s budget. The answer to that, of course, is to raise the state’s debt limit.

There are other nasties hiding in the dark corners of Virginia’s budget. But it seems they are easily ignored.

Right up until the bills come due, which the Governor seems to hope won’t occur on his watch.