- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2002

RICHMOND Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and the General Assembly's most powerful leaders, both Democrat and Republican, publicly agreed last week that there would be no pay raises for state employees for the next 40 months.
Now lawmakers in both parties say some sort of boost perhaps bonuses or enhanced benefits, if not outright raises is still possible for the state government's 100,000 employees and thousands more public school teachers whose local pay the state augments.
"Pay raises are not out of the question," said Sen. Walter Stosch, Henrico Republican and the Senate majority leader, as well as a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
He said he will begin the process as the committee takes up the Democratic governor's budget amendments in earnest next week. He said he will offer amendments that pick up a substantial share of state workers' costs for health care insurance increases.
On Tuesday, Mr. Warner and House and Senate leaders grimly announced that the time had come for all Virginians to "share the pain" of a $3.5 billion budget shortfall through mid-2004, and possibly $5 billion through 2006.
Most of the pain comes up front as the state struggles to fill a $1.3 billion hole in its current budget by June 30 fallout from a recession, ebbing state revenues and the General Assembly's unprecedented failure to amend the two-year budget last year.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan, all Republicans, said Tuesday that they agreed on a broad framework for a difficult budget.
The deal included four points: freezing the car tax phaseout at 70 percent, diverting $317 million from the state's designated road-building fund for general use, and killing a proposal that businesses pay sales taxes and employee withholding before they are due.
Point No. 4 was to rescind the 2 percent pay raise then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, proposed in the budget he offered in December. Mr. Warner and the legislative leaders agreed the state simply had no money to pay for raises.
Mr. Stosch said nothing at the news conference, but his grimace spoke volumes. In his suburban district are thousands of state workers who lost last year's pay raise because of the budget impasse.
"It's my hope that we will find a way to address some of the needs of our state employees, if not immediately, then at least on a time frame that's less painful than the one we have now," Mr. Stosch said.
One option, he said, is for state agencies to find savings and make cuts deep enough to fund something beyond a benefits boost perhaps a raise, perhaps a bonus.
"If you can provide a benefit, that helps. But in reality, people buy groceries with real dollars, not just benefits," he said.
Democratic Sens. R. Edward Houck of Spotsylvania and Madison Marye of Montgomery County last week suggested reversing the car tax phaseout to raise the money, an idea that has little currency in either party.


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