- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2001

RICHMOND Gov. James S. Gilmore III will take the case for his education spending and car-tax cut directly to lawmakers and state residents in tonight's State of the Commonwealth address, but he won't announce any major new programs or initiatives.
The General Assembly convenes at noon today to swear in new members who filled seats left when members were elected to Congress or to fill the Senate seat left empty by the death of Sen. Richard J. Holland.
The session will also get off to a faster start than usual, with lawmakers taking up substantial legislation in their first week.
The legislature will have its work cut out for it: With state revenues for this year coming in about 2 percent less than officials predicted when lawmakers made up the two-year budget last session, it will have to find places to cut from the second year.
The biggest question this year will be whether Mr. Gilmore, a Republican, can convince lawmakers to do that while entirely funding the next phase of the car-tax cut it is scheduled to jump from 47.5 percent to 70 percent this year.
"I think he's got to own up to a little fiscal responsibility. It's hard to imagine a governor coming in and taking a billion-dollar surplus and spending a billion and a half," said Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, Fairfax Democrat. "He's going to be lucky to get it because of the financial downturn the state is facing. He's cut programs in education. He's not giving teachers a raise like other state employees. There are a lot of things in transportation that need to be funded."
Lawmakers, already displeased with the way the governor has handled his relations with the legislature in past sessions, grumbled yesterday about the governor's attempt for the second year in a row to "securitize" the state's share of the tobacco settlement with cigarette makers, meaning take an up-front payment at a discount rather than installments year after year. The governor used that and cuts in state agency spending to close the budget gap without having to give up the next phase of the car-tax rebate.
But the governor received a boost Monday when the state's Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, which decides how to spend part of the state's settlement share, approved his securitization plan as a sound way to protect the state from future financial problems among tobacco companies.
Republicans control the state Senate with a 22-18 majority one seat more than last year. And they have an effective 52-47 majority in the House, with the aid of a conservative-leaning independent. One House seat was still up for grabs in a special election last night.
They will have much more than just education and the car tax to handle this year.
Delegate Robert F. McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican, will introduce the same bill he filed last year to require a 24-hour waiting period between the time a woman seeks and has an abortion.
Delegate Roger J. McClure, Fairfax Republican, will file a bill that tries to meet the Supreme Court's new requirements for a ban on dilation-and-extraction abortions, commonly called "partial-birth abortions."
Several bills on the state's death penalty will be introduced, but the debate this year will focus on the state crime commission's bill to allow exculpatory, newly discovered biological evidence namely, DNA to be introduced any time after someone is convicted. The bill applies to all cases, not just capital cases, but is being closely watched by advocates on both sides of the death-penalty issue.
Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax Republican, will sponsor a bill requested by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors that would add a cent to the sales tax, with half of the proceeds going to education and half going to transportation. That will be just one of several bills to try to find new sources of money at either the state or local level to spend on road and rail projects.
Lawmakers will also tweak the Standards of Learning assessments, with Mr. Dillard, chairman of the House Education Committee, introducing a bill to allow students some leeway to use good class performance plus an almost-passing grade on the SOL test to gain credit for the class. Currently, students must pass the SOL outright, as well as pass the class, to gain credit.
Mrs. Byrne said this might be the year legislation to allow localities new tools in controlling growth finally makes it out of committee, but Mr. McDonnell said he thinks lawmakers will continue to shy away from refereeing that issue and insist localities first try to use the tools already at their disposal.


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