- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

RICHMOND — Gov. Mark Warner has rewritten major portions of sweeping legislation that would grant public colleges unprecedented autonomy over operations and finances in return for less state funding.

The governor also has proposed 30 changes to the $63 billion state budget, including the restoration of millions of dollars for rural economic development and school breakfasts for poor children.

The administration submitted the amendments late Tuesday, just ahead of a midnight deadline for amendments and vetoes the Republican-controlled General Assembly will consider during a single-day session April 6.

Revisions to the so-called charter universities bill follow weeks of intense review by Mr. Warner and his top legal and policy advisers of the landmark reform in the relationship between state government and its institutions of higher education.

Mr. Warner’s changes tighten requirements the schools will face for meeting certain financial, accounting, educational and institutional goals they must achieve in exchange for being freed of numerous state regulations.

The governor’s substitute prescribes state oversight on such matters as acquisitions, leases, personnel, selling surplus goods and property, and contracts with vendors, particularly women- and minority-owned businesses.

His changes also define a new executive branch board to be known as the Commission on Higher Education that would evaluate potential appointees to the individual universities’ governing boards, to the Community College Board and to the State Council of Higher Education.

Despite the volume of changes, administration officials described the changes as largely technical and remedial in nature and that the thrust of the legislation was unchanged.

Mr. Warner’s amendments to the budget restore about $5 million of the $9 million cut from programs to develop jobs, tourism and cultural attractions in rural Southside and Southwest Virginia.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, had proposed about $20 million in a package he called Virginia Works in the budget he introduced in December. The General Assembly eliminated it, substituting about half that amount for economic development projects of its own.

The governor is asking lawmakers to restore about $1.2 million to provide a 5 cent-per-student subsidy for children who rely on schools for breakfast. The $1.6 million he proposed in his original budget was cut.

Mr. Warner is asking for an additional $3 million to augment the pay of senior state police, Capitol Police and local sheriffs and their deputies as a way to retain experienced staff.

Other amendments to the budget seek:

• About $1.5 million for a high-tech center at Old Dominion University to use powerful computers to bolster defense and homeland security.

• $350,000 to pay life insurance premiums for Virginia National Guard troops on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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