- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2000

RICHMOND Virginia's General Assembly gave Gov. James S. Gilmore III the dedicated source of money he wanted for rail and road construction and went along with all but one of Mr. Gilmore's 16 vetoes.

Lawmakers met yesterday for their annual one-day session to consider the governor's vetoes and his dozens of amendments to bills they passed during their 59-day legislative session. They also considered the governor's line-item vetoes and recommendations to the two-year, $48 billion budget.

The dedicated source of money for transportation would come from the insurance premium tax. The plan, which begins in fiscal 2003, will amount to about $100 million a year in the first few years. The money, which now goes into the state's general fund, would be funneled into the newly created priority transportation fund. The proposal was an amendment to the six-year, $2.6 billion transportation bill passed by the assembly.

The Senate voted 22-16, with one abstention, to pass Mr. Gilmore's amendment to the Senate version of the bill. Without debate, the House passed the same amendment to its transportation package 94-5.

During the Senate debate, several lawmakers complained that transportation was only an issue for Fairfax County, not the rest of the state. They said education is the real crisis.

"People of Virginia need to have their schools, they need higher education, they need mental health facilities, they need capital, and we cannot continue to do that if we start down this road," said Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford Republican.

But the governor's supporters said more transportation money was needed to ensure the state continues its economic growth.

"Transportation is vital; it's the life's blood of commerce," said Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, Fairfax Democrat.

Lawmakers overrode one of the governor's vetoes, on a bill that will allow illegal aliens to be included in worker's compensation policies.

The bill's sponsor, Delegate Robert S. Bloxom, Accomac Republican, said the legislation helps employers because current law places no cap on damages illegal aliens could sue for if they were injured on the job.

The governor said the law could convey some new legal status for illegal aliens.

The assembly failed to override the other 15 vetoes, including:

n Mr. Gilmore's rejection of a bill that would have required elementary schools to have guidance counselors. Currently, the law allows school districts to choose between reading specialists and guidance counselors at the elementary level, and the bill would have removed that local decision.

n His veto of a bill that would have let Arlington County make grants of up to $3,000 to county employees who move into the county.

n The governor's veto of Sen. Warren E. Barry's bill that would have raised the cap on car safety inspection fees, which every car owner pays yearly, from $10 to $15.

Maybe most important for Northern Virginia, the House didn't override Mr. Gilmore's veto of a bill that, the governor argued, could have been the first step toward a local piggyback income tax for Northern Virginians.

By not taking any action, the House sustained Mr. Gilmore's veto, but not without some grumbling from lawmakers who said Northern Virginia won't get enough relief for its transportation situation.

"The commonwealth has fallen far short of its commitments, and it is clear to me with the failure of this measure and the governor's [veto] message we will continue to fall short," said Delegate James M. Scott, Fairfax Democrat.

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