Gilmore Tops Off Budget's Goody Bag
By R.H. Melton
Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III put the finishing touches today on a budget proposal that would send new money to every corner of the state, even as he acknowledged that a possible slowdown in the state's booming economy could reduce revenue next year.
Gilmore (R), making the governor's annual address to the legislature's money committees, said there is $868 million in new money to add to the second year of the state's $40 billion, two-year budget. With state revenue chugging along at a 12 percent annual growth rate, "Virginia's forecast remains exceptionally bright," he added.
But later, speaking with reporters, Gilmore and his senior aides noted that more than $200 million in the new spending the governor is seeking from the General Assembly reflects one-time-only expenses, in anticipation of a dip in state revenue.
"Twelve percent growth in revenues cannot go on perpetually," Gilmore said.
His chief of staff, M. Boyd Marcus Jr., predicted "some softening" in the state's economy next year.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers said that Gilmore had swiped some of their best political ideas, allocating millions to trim the sales tax on groceries, help state colleges and reduce college tuition.
"He is adopting a number of Democratic initiatives," said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria). "But as long as it gets done, it's good government."
Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax), agreed: "Sure, the governor's taking some Democratic ideas, but the other side of that coin is the Democrats had control of the state for years and years and didn't do some of these things, and now we're getting them done.
"What we're doing is good for Virginians, and Republicans are doing it," Dillard said.
For the past two weeks Gilmore has crisscrossed the state, doling out money to colleges -- including more than $11 million in new money for George Mason University -- and announcing new programs such as the cuts in tuition and the food tax. Today, he announced his final budget measures, including a $4.7 million tax break on the first $15,000 of base pay for military employees stationed in Virginia.
Gilmore also announced $7.2 million in corporate tax breaks, $8 million for new teachers, $7.8 million to boost education standards and reading programs and $119,000 to open a Virginia film office in Los Angeles.
An additional $46.8 million is earmarked to prevent problems with state computers associated with the year 2000, the governor said.
Gilmore press secretary Mark A. Miner, referring to the political character of the budget plan, said the governor was using his spending plan to "place an exclamation point on his policies."
Miner's boss agreed, saying that the budget proposal incorporated his promised tax relief and "unfettered and flexible" spending for local school districts through lottery profits.
"The vision I put forth at the beginning of my administration is becoming a reality," Gilmore said.
Some Northern Virginians complained that Gilmore had not offered more relief for the region's transit woes. "I'm shocked that not one dime went for transportation," said state Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax).
But other Democrats marveled at Gilmore's largess in good economic times.
"It's like Christmastime when you're a millionaire," said House Speaker Thomas W. Moss Jr. (D-Norfolk). "I mean, you can give some nice presents to your children.
"He's a very lucky man," Moss said of Gilmore. "He's spending money like there's no tomorrow."
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