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Budget Flap Is Gilmore's Legacy in Va.

Former governor James S. Gilmore hopes to succeed John W. Warner in the Senate.
Former governor James S. Gilmore hopes to succeed John W. Warner in the Senate. (James S. "Jim" Gilmore Iii)
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For the first few years of Gilmore's term, the economy fueled record increases in state spending, even while the car tax was being phased out. In his four years in office, the budget grew 43 percent, one of the fastest rates in the nation during that period.

Gilmore focused much of the increase on education.

His administration paid for 4,000 new teachers to reduce class sizes and developed the Standards of Quality program established under his predecessor, George Allen (R). He cut college tuition by 20 percent while reimbursing schools for their revenue losses. He boosted funding to the state's historically black universities, Norfolk State University and Virginia State University, and to George Mason University.

Alan G. Merten, GMU president since 1996, said Gilmore called him after he was elected, eager to learn more about a school that he wanted to better reflect Northern Virginia's booming technology industry.

"Sometimes governors from down south don't understand Northern Virginia," Merten said. "He was from Richmond. He wasn't a tech person. But he wanted to learn."

Gilmore said he came to appreciate Northern Virginia's unique role in the state and wanted the region to receive the recognition it deserved.

"This was a very successful community . . . and it was not getting the support and the attention it deserved," Gilmore said.

A conservative who talked about limited government, Gilmore nevertheless created programs and championed a variety of issues other than education and technology.

He started an educational campaign to combat teen pregnancy and promote marriage. He overhauled Virginia's drug laws and looked for new ways to combat school violence. He expanded long-term care and services for the elderly and put money into the state's neglected mental health care system. He began cleaning up Bayview, a poor Eastern Shore community that had attracted worldwide attention.

But Northern Virginia leaders were frustrated with his failure to spend significant portions of the record budget surpluses on roads and mass transit.

He defends his record on transportation, saying he managed significant projects, including the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Springfield Mixing Bowl. Documents show that the federal government threatened to withhold money for the Mixing Bowl project because the Gilmore administration purchased the wrong parcel for a construction staging area. But Gilmore downplayed the trouble, saying he revamped a mismanaged and politicized transportation department plagued by lengthy delays and budget overruns.

Gilmore made headlines when he reached out to the African American community, condemning slavery and proposing a separate holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.


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