- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

A nonprofit group representing state lawmakers nationwide has given Virginia an "F" and Maryland a "B" for their spending habits.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is scheduled to release its study, "National Report on State Fiscal Policy: Recent Trends in Taxing, Spending" today.

According to the study, Virginia has increased its spending, as a share of personal income, from 4.2 percent in 1990 to 5.4 percent in 1999. Maryland's spending decreased from 5.6 percent in 1990 to 5.2 percent in 1999.

Virginia Finance Secretary Ronald L. Tillett yesterday dismissed the study, saying it is flawed in counting Gov. James S. Gilmore III's car-tax repeal as spending instead of as a tax cut.

In addition, Mr. Tillett said the group wrongly counts the $960 million that has flowed into the state's "rainy day" fund over the last eight years as spending.

Virginia's constitution was amended in 1992 to establish the fund, which became effective in 1993.

The group uses 1990 as its base in comparing year-to-year spending and includes only money from the states' general funds.

"The last thing we would want to imply is that one state is doing better than the other," said the study's author, Douglas Lathrop. "Maryland might do better than Virginia because Maryland is a wealthier state than Virginia."

Maryland budget officials could not be reached for comment.

Data for the study were taken from census figures and the National Association of State Budget Officers, Mr. Lathrop said.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, which has 2,400 Democratic and Republican members, supports lower taxes and decreased government spending, said council spokesman Bob Adams.

The council has been criticized for being less of a professional group for lawmakers and more a vehicle for businesses to push their agendas.

One of its members Virginia Delegate John A. Rollison III, Prince William County Republican said the council "is making a judgment without studying all of the facts."

Mr. Rollison said nearly every other government watchdog group and financial publication has given Virginia high marks.

Another council member state Sen. John H. Chichester, Fredericksburg Republican and chairman of the Finance Committee said Virginia consistently has been in the financial world's good graces.

"To say that our spending habits are less than fashionable is misleading and grossly unfair," he said.

Delegate C. Richard Cranwell, Roanoke Democrat and House minority leader, noted Virginia's AAA bond rating. "It sounds like they have been drinking too much," Mr. Cranwell said of the study's authors.

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