- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

RICHMOND Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner proposed 83 amendments totaling $30.6 million to the state's new $50 billion spending plan.
The governor also signed into law a "caboose" bill that finally reconciles the spending plan that expires June 30 more than a year after the state's unprecedented failure to make mid-term corrections to the current two-year budget.
Mr. Warner's amendments to the 2002-04 budget restores $2.1 million for the 12 local drug court programs and puts back $892,000 next year to restore most of the money for Project Exile. The program, which prescribes harsh prison time for crimes committed with illegal handguns, was deleted from the budget the House and Senate passed March 9.
The Democratic governor also proposed putting back $3.2 million for programs to benefit at-risk public school students in areas of greatest need and $2 million to increase financial aid to students at Virginia's state-supported colleges and universities.
All totaled, the amendments are minuscule financially in the context of a budget that was drafted to compensate for a projected $3.8 billion revenue shortfall by June 2004, and it will "still require shared sacrifice," Mr. Warner said.
"You may see longer lines at certain state offices. There are clearly programs that have been substantially cut back. There are still some areas in juvenile justice that I wasn't able to do as much with as I would have liked to have done," Mr. Warner said.
A year after legislators and former governor James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, were unable to agree on budget amendments, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. was delighted that the governor found the budget overwhelmingly to his liking.
"I'm glad the governor likes the product the General Assembly produced this year," Mr. Callahan said.
Of the $30 million in spending amendments, $13 million came from transferring Virginia Department of Transportation projects not related to road construction from the general fund to debt issued by the Public Building Authority, said Finance Secretary John Bennett. Other money came from unallocated cash reserves and savings from better cash-management practices.
Mr. Warner announced his budget adjustments yesterday, the final day for him to veto, amend or sign bills passed this year. Lawmakers return to Richmond on April 17 to consider overriding his vetoes or rejecting his amendments.
Although there was no additional money for state employee raises or bonuses, workers will get the 2.5 percent bonuses earlier than allowed under the budget bill as passed. Rather than Dec. 1, the governor wants to give the one-time pay boost on Aug. 30 to help state employees in time for the start of the school year.
He also wants the bonuses included in employee paychecks rather than as separate checks to lighten the employees' income tax burden. On an average state salary of $33,000, the bonus would amount to $825.
Employees also have the option of taking an additional 10 days of paid leave instead of the cash, or they can take a combination of part cash and part time off.
Mr. Warner submitted an amendment that helps localities take in more money by ensuring that only personally owned cars and pickup trucks take advantage of the car tax cuts. The amendment could help localities statewide recover tens of millions of dollars in combined revenue lost statewide because cities and counties could not ensure that only personal vehicles get car tax relief, according to a December 2000 state audit.
On related legislation, Mr. Warner endorsed a $1.7 billion package of capital outlay bonds to rebuild structures at state colleges and universities, to buy and improve parks and natural areas and to shore up state facilities, many of which are crumbling from years of deferred maintenance.
Mr. Warner added three projects to those already funded in the bond package sponsored jointly by Mr. Callahan and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester of Stafford, both Republicans and heads of the legislature's most potent money committees.
Mr. Warner wants $8.9 million to upgrade Norfolk State University's Robinson Technology Building and another $1 million to upgrade the university's Internet access, and he proposed $34.3 million to renovate the state Supreme Court and Old State Library buildings.
Mr. Callahan said lawmakers don't even know the costs of foundation-to-roof renovations that will be necessary soon on the Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson and first used in 1788.
Much of the money Mr. Warner seeks for Capitol Square projects would be for planning renovations to the abandoned library building, which will house the General Assembly while the Capitol is closed for construction.

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