Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday offered 36 amendments to the legislature’s two-year $72 billion budget proposal, just three days before the end of the state’s fiscal year.

“Over 80 percent of the spending proposed by my amendments is to preserve our natural resources or enhance our educational system,” Mr. Kaine said in a letter to the House of Delegates.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, suggested using unanticipated lottery revenues and money left over in the current state budget to allocate $6.3 million for public education, $3.75 million for a federally mandated sewer overflow upgrade in Lynchburg, $3.6 million to conserve 4,800 acres of land in Washington County and $1.8 million for projects in the Virginia Community College System.

Other amendments include allocations of $200,000 for the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Public Policy, an extra $2 million to attract a research-related facility along the Interstate 81 corridor, about $1.1 million toward the Office of Commonwealth Preparedness to pay for six new positions and money to help pay for child care programs in Northern Virginia that are affected by federal funding cuts.

Another technical amendment allows George Mason University to enter into private-public agreements to develop cheaper faculty and staff housing.

Today, the Republican-controlled General Assembly is expected to consider the governor’s amendments, before approving a final two-year budget. The fiscal year begins July 1.

The budget proposal establishes record spending for education and health care and sets aside $1 billion for building and renovating state buildings. The spending plan also includes 4 percent raises for state employees, teachers, college faculty and sheriffs’ deputies. The raises would kick in later this year.

This week, the General Assembly also is expected to pass a measure that would ax the estate tax and cap the state’s conservation tax credit program at $50 million.

Mr. Kaine supports eliminating the estate tax, which is imposed on $2 million properties willed to family members, but does not want to sacrifice the conservation program.

“I’m not going to grievously wound our state’s best environmental program in order to get rid of the estate tax,” Mr. Kaine said yesterday on WTWP Radio. “I do believe that a tax credit program is the best environmental thing we do in Virginia. We don’t buy a lot of open space, and so the way we preserve open space is through this tax credit.”

Proponents of capping the tax credit say the program has ballooned because it has been abused by wealthy landowners who never planned on selling their land for development in the first place.

While most Virginia governors have enjoyed several weeks to offer amendments, Mr. Kaine was given the tentative budget about 10 days before the end of the fiscal year.

The more than 150-day budget deadlock centered on how to generate new money for the state’s overcrowded roads and mass transit system. The House wanted to use part of the state’s projected $1.4 billion surplus and free up additional money in the General Fund through long-term borrowing. The Senate and Mr. Kaine wanted to raise as much as $1 billion a year in new taxes.

In the end, the two-year proposal provides $568 million in new money for roads — $339 million of that is contingent upon a long-term revenue source being established before Nov. 1.

The General Assembly agreed to take up transportation in a special session this fall.

Yesterday, Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, told The Washington Times he is working on a regional transportation plan for Northern Virginia that would ensure that certain fees or taxes imposed to raise money for roads would stay in Northern Virginia under a reformed Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

The tentative $578 million plan raises money through a variety of increased fees, including a $5,000 construction impact fee on new houses, $30 for car registration, an additional 5 percent charge for hotel rooms and a 2 percent charge on rental cars.

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