- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

RICHMOND Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III will travel the state today to announce how he will cut the state's $50 billion budget by $421 million in order to close a budget deficit.

His action closes the book on the car tax this year, preserving the state's share of the rebate at 70 percent.

But it also means the members of the House of Delegates will probably face voters this November without delivering on pay raises for teachers and state employees, and without funding favored pet projects.

The Republican governor will begin his day in Richmond, then stop in Arlington before flying on to Roanoke and Norfolk to announce his budget plans.

Mr. Gilmore is expected to rely heavily on freezing capital building projects, especially on state college and university campuses, to close the budget. He already has identified more than $100 million of unspent cash he can use, too.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly adjourned Feb. 24 with no revisions to the two-year budget it passed last year, leaving the governor obligated to balance the budget but also, by default, allowing the car-tax rebate to proceed on his preferred schedule.

Now attention will turn to what he cannot do.

He can't authorize new spending, and the budget doesn't include money in the second year, which begins July 1, for raises for state employees, college faculty, sheriff's deputies and local administrative officers. Neither can he fund the host of "non-state agencies" in the budget mostly museums and historical and cultural attractions that rely in part on state money that weren't funded in the second year.

Those, though, are the just the types of things lawmakers like to show the folks back home.

But by sticking with the governor in insisting on moving the car-tax rebate to 70 percent this year, House members contributed to the stalemate. And opponents could exploit that in November, when all House seats are up for election.

"I think that's particularly true for House Republicans, who have to go into an election without raises for state employees, teachers and deputy sheriffs because they went along with the governor," said Steve Vaughan, spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus.

All but one House Republican voted for the budget, as did 20 Democrats.

Now, the House is caught in the public relations war between the governor and senators.

"When you consider that state employees, teachers and constitutional officers would not get a pay raise at the expense of insisting on 70 percent on the car tax, it's a very difficult position for the House members to defend," said Sen. William C. Wampler Jr., Bristol Republican and one of the Senate's budget negotiators.

That's why House leaders this week pleaded with the governor to give them more time to convince senators to meet in special session to address those issues.

Senators agreed to meet, but they have said if the House won't reconsider the car-tax rebate, there's nothing to talk about.

"The Senate is leaving them holding the bag, but we are not going to leave the House holding the bag," Mr. Gilmore said last week, pledging to give House members the chance to accomplish what they want.

House Republicans also say they voted for a budget that included those raises and the car-tax rebate on schedule.

"I think the House has indicated they would do it. The House has put together a budget that would accomplish it," said Delegate John H. "Jack" Rust Jr., Fairfax Republican. "I don't think we have anything to be ashamed of."

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