- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

RICHMOND The sniper who has killed nine persons in metropolitan Washington, including three in Virginia, has protected law enforcement from Gov. Mark R. Warner's budget cuts for now, anyway.
"When one of their responsibilities was to help track down the sniper, we thought it was not a good time to take away resources," state Finance Secretary John M. Bennett told reporters yesterday. "We thought it was better to be cautious."
During a two-hour briefing on the governor's budget cuts announced Tuesday, Mr. Bennett said he did not know how much the sniper manhunt weighed on Mr. Warner's decisions, but he cautioned that law enforcement could be hit in the next round of cuts, which will be announced Dec. 20.
"The decision was, 'Let's think [about what our needs are] now.' He knew there would be overtime requests He did not want to rush to judgment," Mr. Bennett said. "Just because we are finished with this round doesn't mean we are done [cutting]."
Virginia faces a $1.5 billion budget shortfall. In his address Tuesday, Mr. Warner announced $858 million in cuts, which would cover about half of what is needed to make up the deficit.
Mr. Bennett said tax increases of any sort are not being considered, adding that more cuts are needed. "I have not spent three minutes thinking about a tax increase. I do not see any will to consider a tax increase," he said.
Mr. Warner also announced 1,837 job cuts. Some of those state workers found out they were being laid off as early as Tuesday afternoon; others will hear from their supervisors by tomorrow. Mr. Bennett said that, while the cuts are statewide, 40 percent of those affected will come from the central part of the state.
When the crisis became evident over the summer, Mr. Warner asked state agencies to propose by Sept. 20 cuts at 7 percent, 11 percent and 15 percent rates. State law permits the governor to cut up to 15 percent from the budget on his own when the General Assembly is not in session.
Republican lawmakers, who acknowledged Mr. Warner had a difficult task, have asked the governor for a copy of the agencies' recommendations so they can review the budget-cutting decisions.
"Since the General Assembly will ultimately have to make important decisions that will directly affect the everyday lives of all Virginians, [the] Appropriations Committee and other members must have full and accurate information on which to base those decisions, just as the governor has had for the last month in formulating his proposals," House Speaker-designate William J. Howell and House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan, both Republicans, said in a joint statement after the address.
Mr. Bennett said the governor, a Democrat, is under no obligation to share that information and may be reluctant to do so. "Some of the agencies have been very candid," he said. "I am not sure what the impact on morale will be when [workers see that their agencies] considered [them] expendable."
Some of the cuts are expected to produce significant savings. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) budget was cut by $86.4 million, including large-scale reductions such as the closure of 12 branch locations throughout the state.
DMV also aims to save $1.1 million annually by charging customers who pay by credit card the 3 percent fee tacked on by credit-card companies. "It's not that the service won't be available, it's that you won't have the convenience," Mr. Bennett said. "In the past, DMV absorbed this fee that's a [convenience] the DMV can't afford."
Officials said no longer providing tax forms at libraries will produce some savings. The forms will be available online at www.tax. state.va.us/site.cfm?alias=downloadforms and at the State Treasurer's Office. They will no longer be provided at libraries because many people take large stacks of them, which costs the state money.
"I go in and take the wads myself," said Richard D. Brown, director of the Department of Planning and Budget, who participated in the briefing with Mr. Bennett.
Virginia's colleges and universities were perhaps hardest hit, with $302 million trimmed from their budgets. Virginia Tech lost the most, with a $36.5 million reduction in state aid. George Mason University in Fairfax County lost $21.6 million.

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