- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

RICHMOND Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III stuck to the issue that got him elected in 1997 by vetoing just about every bill that would have increased or led to an increase in taxes.

"I wish I could be categorical, but we shot down every one we recognized," Mr. Gilmore said yesterday.

The governor met his midnight Sunday deadline for acting on 1,089 bills passed by the General Assembly this year, vetoing 16 of them and suggesting amendments to 63.

Mr. Gilmore, a Republican, tweaked the two budget bills, adding minor amendments and vetoing funding for studies that lawmakers rejected as separate bills but sneaked into the budget.

Taken as a whole, the most dominant theme in the governor's action was his statement that he still stands as a bulwark against new fees and taxes.

Among his vetoes:

• A bill that county and city officials in Northern Virginia had sought to make it easier to add a piggyback income tax for transportation.

• A bill that would have let localities increase their motor vehicle license fees by a dollar, which would go to volunteer firefighters' pensions.

• A bill that would have raised from $10 to $15 the cap on yearly safety inspection fees every car owner pays.

Mr. Gilmore also amended another bill to cap at $2 the fees for emergency 911 calls, which local governments add to residents' phone bills.

Lawmakers will consider the governor's vetoes and amendments during a daylong session April 19.

It takes a two-thirds vote to override a veto, but only a majority to turn back a governor's amendment. Last year, lawmakers overrode several vetoes, the first time that had happened since before George F. Allen became governor in 1994.

But that's unlikely to happen this year, lawmakers from both parties said yesterday.

Of the governor's 16 vetoes, nine were on bills sponsored by Northern Virginians, including two vetoes that shored up the governor's social conservative credentials. One was against a bill that would have required elementary schools to have guidance counselors; the other against a bill that would have added nine localities, including Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park, to the list of places allowed to use cameras to catch red-light runners.

In a strongly worded message accompanying his veto on the cameras bill, the governor told lawmakers he was worried about giving away freedoms.

"I understand the argument of the bill's proponents that cameras at intersections if citizens are aware of the camera may deter traffic violations, but I nonetheless question whether a government camera strikes the appropriate balance between effective traffic enforcement and citizen privacy," Mr. Gilmore wrote lawmakers.

Sen. Charles J. Colgan, Prince William Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said he was disappointed with the veto.

"I think there was a lot of support for it," he said of his bill, adding that the city council or county board of every jurisdiction included in the bill had asked to be part of the program.

But Mr. Colgan conceded the votes aren't there to override the veto on his bill and probably aren't there for any of the other vetoed bills.

The governor will face a tough challenge on his amendment to a bill that will send lottery proceeds back to localities. The original bill required local school boards to spend at least half of the money on non-recurring costs like school construction, but the governor amended the bill to remove that provision and return the money with no strings attached.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, acknowledged that Republicans lost the same battle several times on the House floor this year.

Mr. Griffith called the governor's 63 amendments less than 6 percent of the 1,089 bills, the smallest percentage since the process was revamped in 1981 a sign that the session went smoothly. This year marked the first time in state history Republicans have had the majority of both houses.

Mr. Gilmore vetoed a bill sponsored by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat, that would have let Arlington County grant $3,000 to county employees to encourage them to move into the county.

County officials had argued it was a small bill to help with closing costs, and would make a statement about "smart growth."

But Mr. Gilmore didn't see it that way. "It's got to be the most ridiculous bill I've seen this session," the governor said, arguing that if Arlington wants to give raises to some county employees it already can do that.

"Buying houses for government workers while people in the county are struggling to meet mortgage payments I thought was improper, and I gleefully vetoed it," Mr. Gilmore said.

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