- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

RICHMOND An unexpected 30 percent drop in tax collections in January amounted to more than $300 million less for Virginia, compounding an already bleak fiscal situation, top administration officials said yesterday.

The "amount we are talking about outstrips" the $300 million Gov. Mark R. Warner set aside last month as a budgetary hedge, should the economy go south sometime in the next three years, one administration official said.

Mr. Warner has said the state faces a $3.5 billion shortfall through fiscal 2004, which means large spending cuts. This latest bit of bad news means there will be even greater cuts to state agencies and programs.

The $3.5 billion includes the Democratic governor's three-year, $100 million-a-year hedge.

Warner spokesman Kevin Hall would not comment on the exact amount of January's unexpected revenue shortfall. He described it, however, as a "significant reduction." The numbers will be released Monday.

According to the administration officials and government documents, the numbers are likely to show a revenue loss of between $325 million and $360 million compared with last January, when the state had $1.24 billion flowing into its general fund,

"January is one of those key months," Mr. Hall said, explaining that large quarterly tax payments by businesses and individuals are made during the first month of the year.

The unwelcome budget news comes at a time when members of the House of Delegates Finance Committee are set to vote on separate tax referendum bills to help pay for transportation and education projects.

If approved, the sales tax measures would increase the 4.5-cent tax and raise hundreds of millions of dollars each year for school construction and road building projects.

Anti-tax groups and conservative Republicans in the Republican-controlled General Assembly argue that a referendum may lead to tax increases that will never come off the books.

The latest count shows that both the statewide education referendum bill, sponsored by Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax Republican, and a Northern Virginia-only transportation bill sponsored by Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican, would be defeated in close votes.

Girls younger than 18 would be required to get notarized permission from a parent to have an abortion under a bill that won tentative approval from the House of Delegates, despite Mr. Warner's saying he does not support the measure.

The House also gave preliminary approval to a bill outlawing partial-birth abortions. Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said the governor is open to signing such a bill if it can pass constitutional muster.

Delegate Richard H. Black, Loudoun Republican and sponsor of the parental notification bill, said a law is needed to ensure that parents stay involved with their children regarding such life-altering decisions as having an abortion.

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