- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly, in its last meeting of the year, yesterday approved most of the budget amendments offered by Gov. Mark Warner and gave final passage to a measure that will allow the state’s colleges to have more autonomy.

The Senate voted 35-2 to pass the amended version of the so-called charter universities bill, which will allow the state’s public colleges substantially greater autonomy in exchange for meeting performance standards outlined in six-year financial and academic plans.

Several lawmakers said they were concerned about the measure.

“Tuition will go up,” said Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican. “My vote against this is a cautionary vote. There is a lot of good in there, too.”

Mr. O’Brien also said the new law does not place a cap on out-of-state enrollment, continuing to make it difficult for Virginians to win the coveted slots at the state’s top schools.

Sen. Yvonne B. Miller, Norfolk Democrat, said Virginia already has a reputation of having an “elitist” college system and predicted the new law will increase “the sense of elitism.”

Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican, praised the new law, calling it a “giant step in higher education.”

The House passed the charter measure 85-14.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat in his last year in office, vetoed only one bill from the 2005 session. That measure would have allowed the state to lobby Congress to open up the Virginia coastline and Chesapeake Bay to oil and natural-gas exploration and drilling.

Lawmakers did not have enough votes to overturn Mr. Warner’s veto.

The Senate failed to overturn Mr. Warner’s veto 16-20, despite a plea from the measure’s sponsor Sen. Frank W. Wagner, Virginia Beach Republican.

Meanwhile, the House spent a hefty portion of its day arguing whether a $19.6 million budget amendment offered by Mr. Warner was appropriate, because the amendment was actually 15 items lumped into one. The state’s budget is $63 billion.

The amendment included $3 million for a pay raise for veteran sheriff deputies, $5.1 million for an economic development and tourism program, $350,220 for life insurance coverage for deployed Virginia National Guard members and $3.2 million to help Philip Morris open a new research facility.

Lawmakers were irritated that the amendments were not broken out separately so they could reject the ones they opposed.

“This is a hard position to be in,” said Delegate Johnny S. Joannou, Portsmouth Democrat. “There are a couple of amendments I don’t like and a lot I do like.”

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, agreed, but said, “Sometimes, you have to swallow the toad.”

Delegate Ward L. Armstrong, Henry County Democrat, called it a “high-stakes game of chicken.”

The amendment ultimately passed 95-1 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Prince William County Republican, was the lone dissenter.

Mr. Warner praised legislators for accepting nearly all of his recommendations.

“I am grateful to legislators in both parties for their service,” he said, noting this is his last year in office. “While we may not have always agreed, we have accomplished much together, and I believe we will leave the commonwealth in a stronger position than we found it.”

Mr. Warner signed into law more than 900 bills that the General Assembly passed during its 47-day session earlier this year. One of those bills ends the state portion of the grocery tax. Under the cut, a family that spends $100 per week on groceries will save $78 per year.

Legislators yesterday bid a temporary farewell to the state Capitol, which is undergoing major renovations. Next year’s legislative session will be held in the old state library. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol in 2007.

The House — where all 100 members are up for re-election in November — also honored delegates who recently announced their retirement: Democrats Mitchell Van Yahres of Charlottesville; Albert C. Pollard Jr. of Lancaster; J. Paul Councill Jr., of Southampton; and J. Chapman Petersen, of Fairfax, who is running for lieutenant governor.

The House adjourned in honor of Pope John Paul II.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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