- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

While Virginia leaders warn of the state's rocky financial times and belt-tightening ahead, tens of millions of dollars' worth of special spending projects have been inserted into the 2003-04 budget.
Each of the budget blueprints recently approved by the money committees of the House of Delegates and the Senate have plenty of what some lawmakers describe as "pork." Budget amendments cleared by the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee were released yesterday.
Some of that spending includes $24 million House budget writers requested to fund 4-H centers, and ballet and arts festivals around the state. Both chambers and Gov. Mark R. Warner want $7 million to study magnetic levitation (maglev) high-speed trains, even though Japan and Germany abandoned the technology after spending billions of dollars.
"It should definitely be a concern," Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, said of the millions being spent on pet programs that take dollars away from other priorities.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, Amherst Republican, said the budget despite severe cuts to state agencies is still bloated with earmarked goodies that legislators can bring back home to their districts.
A problem with much of the pork spending, Mr. Wilkins said, is that there is very little oversight of how programs and non-state agencies spend taxpayer money.
Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican, said with a $3.8 billion shortfall through 2004 that will result in at least 700 layoffs of state employees, lawmakers should be more responsible.
"All of these non-state agencies are pork," Mr. Albo said, referring to non-state funded museums, performing groups and arts centers. "It would be my preference to get rid of it."
Other legislators defended the projects.
"Waste? Where in the budget is a line item that says, 'waste?'" asked Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat.
Delegate Michele McQuigg, a Prince William Republican and member of Mr. Warner's commission on government efficiency and effectiveness, said, "What is one member's pork, is another's economic development program."
Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said there is little left to trim.
"The governor has said repeatedly that he has looked in the budget for the word 'fat' and the truth of the matter is that every administration and every General Assembly looks for those kinds of things and there's not much left."
Some lawmakers are even contesting Mr. Warner's ominous predictions, saying that with less revenue coming into the state treasury, they should be scaling back government.
"He's trying to create a crisis," said Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "And whatever minor improvements come out, he can take credit then for it. He can say he overcame the crisis."
Miss Qualls responded by saying, "The crisis is very real."
"[It] was not created in the 38 days that Governor Warner has been on the job," she said.
Robert P. Vaughn, the staff director for the House Appropriations Committee, said the House budget includes $721 million in permanent cuts to state agencies and programs. That does not include money from the Transportation Trust Fund; Mr. Warner wants to take $317 million from the fund in 2003, which the Senate has agreed to do.
The $1.3 billion shortfall for the rest of this fiscal year, ending June 30, will be made up using about $500 million in the "rainy day" fund and other cuts.
Mr. Vaughn said the governor is assuming that the state is going to spend what it has spent in the past. But the House budget, and to some degree the Senate version, makes cuts that will last beyond 2004 and eliminates any shortfall.
Virginia law requires a balanced budget.
Mr. Warner said he thinks 120 or so state agencies can be cut in addition to reduced spending by 7 percent and 8 percent over the next two years.
"We must look again at what we ask state government to do and how it does its work," Mr. Warner said.


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