- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

RICHMOND Gov. Mark R. Warner said yesterday the worst of Virginia's financial crisis is over.
"While I cannot say we are out of the woods yet, we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel," Mr. Warner told about 150 commonwealth agency supervisors at an assembly in the Virginia Library.
Mr. Warner based his prediction, in part, on the number of new jobs in Virginia.
"In the past three weeks alone, we have announced 1,400 new jobs, bringing our total to more than 4,000 for this area this year," he said. "All told, we have announced more than 25,000 new jobs statewide this year." He also said unemployment is at its lowest level in 14 months.
In the 50-minute address, Mr. Warner told his administrators he needs their help in eliminating the remaining budget shortfall and in reforming state government.
"I believe in my heart and soul that together we will make Virginia the place that gets it right," he said.
Since taking office in January, Mr. Warner has cut more than $5 billion from the state budget. During his next round of cuts, expected to be announced on Dec. 20 when presenting the budget to state lawmakers, Mr. Warner expects to eliminate an additional $1 billion.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, said in the days leading to Dec. 20 he plans to announce several legislative proposals that would reform Virginia government and regain the trust of residents.
"There were a lot of messages with the recent defeat of the transportation referendums in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia," he said. "And one message did come through clear: Many people still don't have the confidence that state government will use their tax dollars wisely."
Mr. Warner also revealed a plan to safeguard against a similar budget crisis that included reforecasting state revenue when shortfalls appear possible and ensuring regular deposits to the commonwealth's emergency fund.
However, Mr. Warner said he would wait to give further details about the plan.
In his most recent round of cuts, Mr. Warner slashed $858 million from the budget but spared aid to K-12 public education. He has vowed to save primary education during the next round of cuts, too.
"The budget that I will present to the General Assembly will not cut direct aid to Virginia's public school classrooms," he said. "If the General Assembly returns a budget that cuts direct aid to the classroom, I will veto it."
Mr. Warner instead wants to take money from programs failing to meet expectations and give it to other educational programs.
"He is really going to be looking for data on what is working and what is not," said state School Superintendent Jo Lynne DeMary. She expects programs that do not deal directly with the Standards of Quality of education likely will be targeted.
Speaker-designate William Howell, Stafford Republican, said in a news release that he supported Mr. Warner's efforts to protect public education.
Mr. Warner is scheduled tomorrow to announce reforms to the Virginia Department of Transportation, which he said will emphasize greater accountability and stronger fiscal management.
"I thought his speech was right on the money," said Philip Shucet, the agency's commissioner. "I believe he is making the right choices. We continue to be dedicated to reform."
Other areas Mr. Warner hopes to improve include:
Eliminating boards and commissions that are no longer needed.
Consolidating mental health services, work force training and veterans' services.
Reducing Virginia's technology programs that employ about 2,200 people and cost $154 million annually.
Improve the commonwealth's emergency-preparedness program.

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