Advocates packed the Fairfax County Government Center auditorium Thursday, urging state lawmakers to find additional funding for education, services for people with disabilities and other health issues, and the arts. Many, like Frank Stephens, spoke on behalf of the disabled.
Stephens, 28, who has Down syndrome, openly chided lawmakers over the typical pattern of such budget hearings when people come before legislators "like the swallows returning to Capistrano every year" to make their pitches.
"Everyone is impressed by our determination," said Stephens, who works at Wildflour Catering, Deli and Bakery in Chantilly. "Everyone talks about how very special we are. But nothing ever changes."
Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed adding $9.8 million in the budget for 275 new Medicaid waivers that allow certain people with disabilities to live in residential settings, such as group homes, rather than state institutions.
The Arc of Virginia, an advocacy group, is pushing for 900 additional waivers because there are already about 5,000 people on the program's waiting list.
Toward the end of the hearing, Lizz Coughlin, of Arlington, who has AIDS, delivered a passionate appeal for additional funding for the Virginia AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which limited new enrollment and cut its distribution of medications when its funding fell short.
"It's crazy," she said outside the auditorium. "You should not be on a waiting list."
Officials on hand to hear the public included Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Colgan, D-Prince William; Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax; Del. Joe May, R-Loudoun; Del. Bob Brink, D-Arlington; and Del. Jim Scott, D-Fairfax.
Though Virginia's fiscal situation is not as dire as it was last year ?-- when lawmakers had to close a $4.2 billion budget deficit -- Saslaw said decisions on how to spend the limited funds available would define the General Assembly's upcoming session.
"You can't fund everything," he said. "And one of the things that I've noticed in 35 years in office -- if the guy down the street has a particular government service, it's a frill. If I have a particular government service, it's a necessity."