- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

RICHMOND Republicans say he already has broken a slew of campaign promises, but Democrats defend his backtracking, saying he is a victim of circumstances who has to contend with a $3.5 billion budget shortfall through 2004.
Either way, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, has found being governor more of a challenge than running for governor.
"I didn't even see any of this," said Mr. Warner, describing a two-year budget shortfall that had tripled from about $1 billion in December.
Even though Mr. Warner promised about $3.3 billion worth of new programs and initiatives as a part of a 45-page action plan during his campaign, the former telecommunications executive, who never held elective office, said in an interview he believed he was keeping his word.
"My first campaign promise was to maintain the conservative fiscal policies that have kept Virginia strong," Mr. Warner said.
When it became apparent last fall that Virginia's economy was headed south, Mr. Warner said, he realized he could not achieve some of the more ambitious portions of his platform.
"I think I took the more prudent approach and said that we have to take a look at the books," Mr. Warner said. "[The budget] has required dramatic action, and that's what we are taking. It's been hard."
Republicans said Mr. Warner overpromised during the campaign.
Several times over the last two months, Mr. Warner has said that "as a businessman" he knew the state's economy was going awry in December 2000.
That goes to show, Republicans say, that he has been promising more than he could deliver.
"Due to the fact that he has made statements indicating that he was aware of the budget situation we were in a year before the election I think there is some contradiction in him having made promises to spend more money, knowing full well that we were in a budget crisis," said House Majority Whip Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican.
Sen. William T. Bolling, Mechanicsville Republican, said his worst fear is that Mr. Warner in an effort to make good on his campaign promises that involve more spending will raise taxes.
"I think his campaign promises have been exposed for what they are under the reality of the state's fiscal situation," Mr. Bolling said.
Mr. Bolling and other conservative Republicans said Mr. Warner broke his campaign pledge not to raise taxes. Mr. Warner began to break promises, they said, on Jan. 22 when he released his amendments to former Republican Gov. James S. Gilmore III's $51 billion 2003-04 budget.
To balance the budget, Mr. Warner is proposing $83 million worth of increased fees, not going forward with the full phase-out of the car tax in fiscal 2004. Furthermore, to make up for lost revenue, he has pushed to have both a state referendum to raise the sales tax by a half-cent for education needs and a Northern Virginia referendum to raise the 4.5-cent tax another half-cent to pay for transportation projects.
Teacher and state employees also will go without pay raises despite assurances by Mr. Warner, the candidate, that they never would go a year without increases. Mr. Warner has nixed his promise of creating Cabinet-level positions for secretaries of agriculture and the aging.
Mr. Warner, who promised during his campaign to pump about $2.1 billion into highway construction projects, also took $317 million in 2003 out of the highway Transportation Trust Fund to fill the budget gap.
Higher education which Mr. Warner pledged would be a priority for his administration could be hit harder under his proposed budgets, according to documents provided by the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia.
Under the Warner plan, cuts to higher education could total $128.1 million in 2003 and $167.8 million in 2004. Mr. Gilmore's proposal called for $119.7 million in cuts in 2003 and $166.7 million in 2004.
Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, Fairfax Democrat, said Republicans will pay at the polls if they start attacking Mr. Warner, considering that he must rework some of his campaign promises because of massive budget shortfalls.
"It is neither sensible nor fair to make judgments based on [a short time] in office let's not make more snap judgments," she said. "The Republicans declare war on this governor at their peril. The public just wants bipartisan solutions."
All of Mr. Warner's proposals are subject to change and compromise by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, but Republicans have bowed to the neophyte governor's wishes in several matters.
Among them were the Republican leadership's willingness to go along with Mr. Warner's plan not to extend the car-tax elimination beyond 70 percent through 2004 and to abandon proposed pay raises for state employees and teachers.
"I think we are contributing to his honeymoon," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican. "And I think it will last through this session. The session is almost half over and he hasn't stubbed his foot yet."

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