- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2000

RICHMOND Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III's wide-ranging and ambitious plan for this year's legislative session has been cut and tweaked by the General Assembly, but the governor says he's still setting the agenda.
Among the initiatives he called for in his State of the Commonwealth address, the legislature has passed bills to separate the Martin Luther King holiday from Lee-Jackson Day and should approve some of his electoral reforms.
But for all the items the governor can check off on his to-do list, there are many still unmarked.
Even with more than $114 million in unexpected funds to play with, the two houses trimmed about half of the $14 million the governor wanted for two tourism initiatives, reduced the number of state troopers for his drug-interdiction force from 200 to 71, and cut from the amount he wanted to spend on drug treatment.
The Senate killed his proposed $10 million tax credit for companies that promote telecommuting, and also changed his proposed four-year freeze on college tuitions to a two-year freeze.
The assembly defeated measures to let voters register by party and measures to remove the power of judges to make some political appointments, too.
Some say those setbacks are part of the standard legislative give-and-take. It is only the midpoint of the session, and nothing is ever completely dead in the assembly until the last gavel falls.
"The governor proposes, the legislature disposes," said Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican and co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Other lawmakers, especially Democrats, say the governor has not come ready to communicate and compromise.
They say that may be clearest on transportation.
Last week both the House and Senate passed versions of transportation plans that did not use the governor's method, called securitization, for advancing money from the state's settlement with tobacco companies.
The governor had pushed that method as a pain-free way to inject immediate money into current projects, but lawmakers from both parties said the idea was just too risky and the state had to pay too much money to have the bonds issued.
Still, yesterday, the governor called securitization "my top priority." Yesterday on "Ask the Governor," his monthly radio program that airs on WTOP-AM (Radio 1500), he urged Northern Virginians to call their delegates and senators and demand they vote for his transportation package.
"I've got to get some votes in order to get this thing through the legislature [if] we're going to have any sort of transportation package for the commonwealth of Virginia, so I'm going to be flexible on this, but it hasn't come together the way it should yet," Mr. Gilmore said.
That didn't sit well with Democrats and some Republican lawmakers.
"[The Gilmore administration is] too inflexible, and they equate success with process in other words, 'If you don't do it my way, it's improper,' " said Delegate C. Richard Cranwell, the House minority leader.
Steve Vaughn, a spokesman for the Democratic caucus, characterized another way: "It's my way or no highways," he said of the governor's attitude.
Mr. Cranwell said the state needs a long-term source of money to dedicate to transportation. Mr. Gilmore's amended plan included some money from car insurance premium taxes, but Mr. Cranwell supported a bill by John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican, that uses corporate income taxes.
Mr. Gilmore again called that method a Democratic ruse to raise those taxes in the future, but Mr. Cranwell said corporate income taxes were raised once in the last 50 years, and that was by a Republican.
The governor said, though, that despite the differences, a transportation plan should emerge from this session.
The governor was pleased that several of the other provisions of his original transportation plan have remained, including establishing a priority fund for key projects and spending general fund money a break with Virginia tradition.
"It's not all bleak," Mr. Gilmore said. "Much of my plan is, in fact, being adopted."
That's true for the governor's broader agenda, too, his office believes.
"Mental health reform, tax relief, economic development issues that came out in the House and Senate budgets are similar to the governor's initiatives," said Mark A. Miner, the governor's spokesman.

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