- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

RICHMOND At noon one year ago today, Mark R. Warner took the oath of office as governor, the only elected office he's ever held.
Since then, the businessman and Democrat has faced a succession of crises. The budget came up $6 billion short. A crop-killing drought dried up reservoirs at the same time flash floods wiped out homes and businesses in Southwest Virginia.
A fire at a 139-acre illegal tire dump blackened a huge swath of sky near Roanoke. A strain of avian flu devastated the state's sizable poultry industry. And sniper shootings overwhelmed police agencies and terrified residents in several of Virginia's most populous metropolitan areas.
"You mean I haven't had this job for five years?" Mr. Warner said in an interview with the Associated Press.
As 2003 dawned, the lines seemed deeper in the face of Mr. Warner, a telecommunications tycoon who in November 2001 broke the grip Republicans had held on every office and institution of state government. Even political rivals give him his due for perseverance and his efforts to accommodate the legislature's Republican majority.
"I give him high marks on his appointments and on a lot of what he's done in his budget to trim the size of state government," said Delegate William J. Howell, the new speaker of the House of Delegates.
Neither Mr. Warner nor the Republicans had much choice. Both began 2002 with revenues in a free fall from a recession, corporate failures tied to accounting scandals and the lingering shock from the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. At the same time, spending commitments soared, driven by programs such as Medicaid.
By mid-March, the governor and the legislature had largely agreed on reconciling a $3.8 billion budget shortfall without catastrophic cuts. By August, they discovered that the sharpest state revenue downturn on record had opened a new budget fissure $2.1 billion deep.
"You take the budget issues as a whole. I would say that, in a strange way, our biggest success the past year was our grappling with the budget," Mr. Warner said.
Where the governor and the legislature parted was his support for a referendum on a sales-tax increase to provide additional funding for public elementary and secondary schools. House Republicans buried that idea on the final day of the session, voting to adjourn rather than debate such legislation.
"He had campaigned on nothing but regional referendums for transportation, but then he came out in favor of more taxes for education. If you're going to do something like that, you need to start it in your campaign or during the summer and get your facts together," said House Republican Leader H. Morgan Griffith of Salem.
Without additional revenue, it was clear that Mr. Warner couldn't begin to make good on a key campaign pledge to raise the pay of Virginia public school teachers to the national average, a difference of about $3,000 per teacher annually.

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