- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III said yesterday he will balance the state budget by freezing $274.5 million in construction projects, cutting $146.2 million from state agencies and transferring $85 million of unspent cash already in the budget.
But opponents of the plan demanded a special legislative session to undo the governor's budget, roll back the car-tax rebate and instead fund pay raises for teachers and state employees.
The cuts, which the Republican governor announced in a campaign-style tour of the state, mean he will keep his car-tax rebate on schedule with the state paying 70 percent of taxpayers' personal property tax bills this year.
"I'm pleased to announce the budget is balanced the crisis is over," Mr. Gilmore said. "Every state worker will continue to have a job both this year and next year. And every dollar that goes to [kindergarten through 12th grade] education, to operating our colleges and universities, to building and expanding our roads, to ensuring the health of our citizens will be preserved."
But to do that, the governor had to cut aid to localities by $25.5 million; take back unspent grant money from agencies like the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Criminal Justice Services; tell the Department of Corrections to cut more than $10 million out of its budget; and freeze $274.5 million in construction projects not already under contract at colleges and universities and state agencies.
Locally, it means halting construction of buildings at George Mason University's Fairfax and Arlington campuses, improvements at Northern Virginia Community College's Loudoun campus science building and renovations at the college's Annandale campus.
The governor's cuts include $10 million out of money that helps localities pay for sheriffs.
The administration says the $10 million is an adjustment, since state revenue projections were lowered from what was anticipated last year.
But local officials said they'd counted on the money.
"Basically, that's a cut any way you look at it," said Arlington County Board Member Christopher E. Zimmerman, a Democrat.
The governor's proposed cuts come to $506 million, which gives him a cushion to close the $421 million deficit. For now, agencies and colleges can appeal the proposed cuts.
Other than the local aid and capital projects, the governor did not spell out what specifically would be cut from agencies. Officials said those exact cuts will be finalized later.
The governor had to close a deficit in the two-year budget passed last year because the assembly adjourned this year without approving revisions to the budget.
The stalemate stemmed from a disagreement between the House, which supported keeping the gov ernor's car-tax rebate on schedule at 70 percent this year, while the Senate wanted the state to rebate 55 percent. Last year's rebate was 47.5 percent.
The average Fairfax County household would save $170 under the governor's proposal, compared with last year. The difference between his proposal and the Senate's is $130 for the average family.
But opponents say that money is better spent on services and for pay raises for state employees, college faculty and school teachers.
Yesterday, House Democratic leaders and a coalition of Republican and Democratic senators separately called for a special session to revise the budget and roll back the governor's cuts.
"The Senate is prepared to sit down with Virginia citizens and then with the House of Delegates in a special session to find a reasonable solution to the budget crisis," said Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat. "The destructive cuts announced by the governor to date are not reasonable solutions."
Senators will hold listening sessions, beginning today with college presidents, to illustrate how deep the governor's cuts go.
During the regular session, both the senators and House Democratic leaders proposed using the car-tax money instead for pay raises and other services. They said if they go back into session everything must be on the table, including rolling back the car-tax rebate.
Lawmakers can call a special session, or the governor can call them into session. But with his proposal yesterday, the governor has no pressing need to have a session, and there's no consensus between the House and Senate on how to even begin to solve the stalemate.
But all but one House Republican and more than 20 House Democrats voted for a budget that keeps the rebate on schedule, and Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican, said yesterday there are still more than enough supporters to uphold a governor's veto of anything less than 70 percent.
He is pushing for negotiators from the two houses to try to agree on something, but reiterated there's no reason to meet in session if there's no agreement beforehand.

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