- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2005

RICHMOND — Gov. Mark Warner yesterday outlined his final budget, proposing using the state’s $1.5 billion surplus for one-time expenditures on transportation, deposits to the rainy day fund and pay raises for state employees.

“In approaching this budget, our most important objective has been to maintain the commonwealth’s fiscal stability over the long term,” Mr. Warner, a Democrat, told a joint meeting of the legislature’s finance committees. “We will not casually assume that Virginia’s revenue growth will continue to grow at extraordinary rates the way it has in the past.”

Mr. Warner leaves office next month, and his lieutenant governor — Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine — will be inaugurated Jan. 14 in Williamsburg.

His $72 billion, two-year budget is the largest in state history. Among its proposals:

• A one-time, $625 million expenditure for transportation projects, such as widening of Interstate 66 westbound inside the Capital Beltway, mass transit routes and buying new buses.

• A $402 million deposit in the rainy day fund, which would lift the emergency contingency fund to its constitutional maximum of $1.07 billion for the first time in state history.

• A 3 percent pay raise for teachers and state workers.

Virginia has enjoyed a billion-dollar surplus since the Republican-led General Assembly passed a $1.38 billion tax increase in May 2004, the largest in state history.

“We’re not going to go off and spend money willy-nilly,” Mr. Warner, a tax-increase supporter, said after the budget briefing. “I was committed to leaving the next governor with a sounder budget than the one I inherited.”

Mr. Warner faced a $6 billion deficit when he succeeded Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, in 2002.

The governor said he briefed Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, on the budget, which does not include funds for Mr. Kaine’s campaign promise to offer prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds. The Kaine proposal is estimated to cost $300 million.

Instead, the budget includes $8.6 million to create the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. Mr. Warner said the prekindergarten proposal is “complementary” to his plan, which would help communities and private groups build and improve programs.

Mr. Kaine said the Warner budget will ensure Virginia’s “continued strong economic health.”

Some lawmakers who opposed the tax increase were skeptical.

“The governor is going to spend [the surplus] all on the way out the door,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican.

Mr. Griffith said he is concerned that spending for research and development will become an ongoing commitment. “You can’t claim that it’s one-time money,” he said.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester, Stafford Republican, said Mr. Warner “has shown constraint” by suggesting “nonhabit-forming” spending.

Mr. Chichester supported last year’s tax increase and is expected to seek higher taxes for transportation next year.

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