- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

RICHMOND Gov. Mark R. Warner presented a budget yesterday that would increase funding for public schools and avoid state police layoffs but would remove state government from the home-loan business and sell 35 state rental houses used by prison employees.
The governor, a Democrat, presented his spending blueprint for the next fiscal year to legislative budget writers who will struggle to close a $1.2 billion budget gap.
Mr. Warner's plans call for increasing basic state aid for elementary and secondary education by about $65 million. The money will come from lottery profits and the state's Literary Fund.
Categorical programs such as those for gifted students, adult basic education and vocational training will not lose money, but programs that cannot prove they are performing well could see funds shifted to programs with a better track record.
Public safety budget cuts will be limited to 5 percent annually but will not reduce the number of sworn officers.
Mr. Warner proposed freezing basic health services for the needy, including hospital and nursing home reimbursements, and prescription drugs.
The budget would merge or eliminate 12 state agencies and proposes new ways to collect taxes, including a tax amnesty program next year. It would also sell the housing-loan portfolio of the Department of Housing and Community Development to the independent Virginia Housing Development Authority, taking state government out of the mortgage business.
The austere budget was not as dire as many legislators had feared, and its key priorities found favor with legislative Republican leaders.
"I've been saying for months now that this is a great opportunity to consolidate government agencies to get back to core responsibilities. I believe he's going down the same path," said House Speaker-designate William J. Howell, Stafford Republican.
State Sen. John H. Chichester, Fredericksburg Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said there were parts of the budget that would cause debate but predicted little resistance to it overall.
"I don't think the public in Virginia has any further appetite for continued bickering between the legislative and executive branch," Mr. Chichester said. "They want us to come together and produce a document that will move Virginia forward."

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