- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

RICHMOND Errol Iachini never could have attended college without the state's tuition-assistance-grant program, and without it Sadie Simmons likely would have quit.
So yesterday, Mr. Iachini and Miss Simmons asked an Appropriations subcommittee to keep the program despite one of the worst budget crunches in state history.
Miss Simmons' plight began after her freshman year, when her parents divorced and said getting an education was her responsibility.
"Studying at the University of Richmond has been a wonderful experience," said Miss Simmons, a 21-year-old senior. "If I had not had that grant, I don't think I would have had the opportunity to stay."
But the state faces a $2.1 billion budget shortfall so lawmakers are looking everywhere to make cuts, especially since Gov. Mark R. Warner has pledged no new taxes.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, announced his budget plan last month, and lawmakers filed 651 amendments to it before the Friday deadline.
Now the Appropriations Committee must review and decide which amendments to pass and which programs should continue to get money.
The tuition-assistance program costs Virginia about $37 million a year.
The money goes to Virginia private-school students to limit overcrowding in the commonwealth's public schools.
Funding for the program has decreased over the past year, and each student now receives about $2,200 instead of $2,900.
Mr. Warner's budget plan calls for reducing the amount to $2,075.
Mr. Iachini, a senior at Hampden-Sydney College in Farmville said his family has struggled since his father left when he was 22 months old. He told legislators he got a job at 13, started paying rent to his mother at 16, then moved out at 18.
"I worry about my younger brother," said Mr. Iachini, 22. "Without the assistance it will just be another hardship."
Mr. Warner's budget relies heavily on such one-time fixes as taking money from rainy-day and general funds, which concerns legislators.
"We will muddle through this fiscal period and face serious problems next year," House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. said last week.
Mr. Callahan, a Fairfax Republican, said even if the $2.1 budget gap is closed, lawmakers will still face a $900 million shortfall before they begin working later this year on the 2004-2006 budget.
"The ironic part is [former Gov. James S.] Gilmore's administration was accused of one-time fixes also," Mr. Callahan said.
Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Mr. Warner, said the administration is doing everything to resolve the budget problem and thinks the economy will soon do its part.
"The economists we are talking to are cautiously optimistic that the financial situation has bottomed out and that we are in for some good economic news," he said.
The entire General Assembly is up for re-election, so lawmakers would like to pass the college-assistance program and other legislation that will win votes in home districts.
However, not every bill will pass.
"Everyone of these legislators have bills that cost money," a Warner staffer said. "Yet they all come to us and say, 'Look at this. My $50,000 proposal is different than his.'"
Mr. Callahan thinks some of the proposals will pass but none as they were presented.
He has submitted an amendment to keep funding for the tuition-assistance program at the current level.
Lawmakers have until Feb. 4 to present a final budget proposal, which then goes to a full House debate.

The House returned a bill yesterday to a committee that would have allowed local jurisdictions to install red-light cameras. The move was intended to kill the bill this year. Delegate Michele McQuigg, Prince William County Republican and the primary sponsor, has failed twice to get the bill before a full House vote.

Legislation that would have required motorists to secure all children younger than 16 in seat belts and passengers under 6 in child-restraint devices died an early death yesterday.
A bill intended to force drivers to secure children who ride in the cargo areas of sport utility vehicles failed on a 39-60 vote to advance to its third and final reading in the House of Delegates.
"We're talking about a bill here that will save the lives of the children of the commonwealth," said Delegate James H. Dillard Jr., Fairfax County Republican.
"Maybe this is just someone who puts a few extra kids into their SUV, but imagine the chagrin of those parents when that vehicle is rear-ended and those children are killed," he said.
Delegate Charles W. Carrico Sr., Grayson Republican and a former Virginia State Police trooper, spoke for the bill, recalling scenes of children killed in car crashes.
Support and opposition to the bill transcended party lines.
Delegate Jackie T. Stump, Buchanan Democrat, said the bill was an unwarranted intrusion into personal liberties similar to legislation passed and signed into law in 2000 that requires children 16 and younger riding in a pickup truck bed to wear seat belts or other restraints. The law is unpopular in his rural, southwestern Virginia district.
"I told you all then that it wouldn't be long before we'd do something to people riding in SUVs," Mr. Stump said. He also questioned why the bill applies to children riding in SUVs while passengers in taxis, executive sedans, school buses and limousines are exempt.


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