- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

Criticism and support for Virginia Gov. Mark Warner’s budget are splitting along party lines, with Democrats calling it truthful and Republicans saying it should be tossed out with the empty Christmas boxes.

The $60 million, two-year budget is coupled with the Democratic governor’s plan to raise $1 billion with a 1-cent-sales-tax increase. Republicans say the pairing is a break from tradition that renders the budget nearly useless.

Members of the Republican-controlled legislature said yesterday they will tear the budget apart and reassemble it without the governor’s tax plan, creating something with little resemblance to what Mr. Warner presented to them Wednesday.

“I thought it took a lot of chutzpah for the governor to include the assumptions of his tax proposal in the budget. … It’s awfully presumptuous,” said state Sen. James “Jay” O’Brien, Fairfax Station Republican. “The budget does not have the value that it would have if he had left those presumptions out. It’s almost a pie-in-the-sky, candy-cane budget, as if the governor is saying, ‘If I get everything I want from Santa, this is my budget.’ But maybe there will be a chunk of coal under the governor’s tree.”

However, some are applauding Mr. Warner for devising a budget they call fair.

“I thought it was a good budget for the times. The governor is trying to restore some stability to the finances of Virginia,” said Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, Richmond Democrat and a member of the Senate Finance Committee. “It elevates him because of the fact that he had the guts to come up and tell the truth about what the commonwealth really needed.”

Mr. Lambert praised Mr. Warner for budgeting more money for education and health care.

Republican lawmakers stopped short of calling the budget irrelevant and were skeptical of its chances, saying they will likely use Mr. Warner’s budget as a template for their plans.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said the governor has no plans to split the budget from the tax-reform proposal because Mr. Warner feels the complete plan is the best solution to Virginia’s fiscal situation without cutting services.

“It’s his role to submit a balanced budget, and he also presented the plan for tax reform. Our hope is the General Assembly will approve both,” Miss Qualls said, noting the governor is meeting with legislators to rally support.

Some lawmakers said that if Mr. Warner doesn’t split apart the plan, they will do it for him.

“We are not going to build a budget or do our work based on any of those revenue projections until a bill has been passed and we know the money is going to be there,” said Delegate Lacey E. Putney, a Bedford independent who serves on the budget review subcommittee.

“I don’t want to say it’s not worth anything, but I wish there had been some discussion between the executive and legislative branches. It’s just not the way we normally do business in the legislative process,” said Mr. Putney. “I think a lot of water has to go under the bridge before that document will find approval, at least on the House side.”

The budget calls for $2.3 billion in new spending, mostly for education and health and human services. Most of the increase comes from federal outlays that weren’t listed in previous budgets. The budget includes $180 million in savings and reductions.

Mr. Warner’s tax-reform plan would create $1 billion in revenue in the next two years by increasing the sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent and the cigarette tax from 2.5 cents per pack to 25 cents. It also would raise the income tax on households that earn more than $100,000 a year and phase out the car tax.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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