- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

RICHMOND House Republican leaders accused Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner yesterday of providing them only "shadows and trial balloons" about cuts he plans to close a budget shortfall that already has topped $1.5 billion.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith of Salem, in the sharpest Republican challenge to Mr. Warner's leadership in the state's fiscal crisis, challenged the governor to "come forward with a comprehensive plan so we'll know what we're dealing with."

"Right now, we're dealing with shadows and trial balloons and innuendo when we're trying to deal with a very serious situation," Mr. Griffith said.

"That's very frustrating, quite frankly, because if we had some concrete ideas on the table, we may not agree with them, we may change them, we may modify them but, as of right now, we have nothing with which to actually work," he said.

Mr. Griffith made his remarks at a news conference as House Speaker-designate William J. Howell announced $1.2 million worth of cuts to the General Assembly's $53.6 million annual budget.

The governor is scheduled to address Virginians in a statewide telecast on Tuesday night to outline administrative cuts he will make to state agencies. He said on Wednesday that about 1,000 to 2,500 state employees could lose their jobs because of those cuts, not counting deeper reductions to higher education.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. said that he hoped Mr. Warner would come up with at least $1 billion in savings through the cuts he is set to announce.

The maximum cut to every state agency including vital functions, such as public safety, public schools and aid to the ailing indigent would save less than $900 million.

State law limits Mr. Warner to cutting only 15 percent of the budget, and he has made few details public other than to announce that his office would take the maximum cut 15 percent.

He, however, offered detailed briefings to legislators via his budget director, Richard D. Brown, and Mr. Brown's staff. As of yesterday, only 17 of the 100 delegates and 40 senators had signed up for briefings. Mr. Griffith received his briefing shortly after making his comments at a Capitol news conference with Mr. Callahan, Mr. Howell and other Republican leaders.

"I'm pleased to see that those who have chosen inappropriate rhetoric are finally going to actually get budget briefings that have been available to them for two weeks," said Ellen Qualls, the governor's press secretary.

"The magnitude of the shortfall we face is so great that there is no room for old-style partisan attacks," she said.

Among the measures Mr. Howell announced were a 15 percent cut to legislators' $200 per diems for attending meetings when the House is not in session, reducing the number of House pages from 38 to 30, sharply cutting the number of out-of-state conferences that delegates attend and cutting staff in the speaker's office.

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