The Virginia General Assembly, in actions that illustrated the sharply different moods of its House and Senate, today gave final approval to revisions in the state's $7.6 billion biennial budget that grant state workers a "conditional' pay increase, yet avoid a general tax increase.
Senate approval was unanimous, but in the House it came after 75 minutes of hositle questions and by a 72-to-22 vote, an unusually large negative vote for a budget measure.
The budget measure also restores to the state's budget a $10 million appropriation for Metro Subway consturction in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, an item Gov. Mills E. Godwin vetoed last year. This year's version of the budget contains a provision that allows Godwin to spend the money if he is satisfied the subway's overall costs are "acceptable," a provision Northern Virginia legislators say should make the appropriation accepatable to the governor.
Within minutes of approval of he budget revisions, the House rejected a separate Senate plan to raise $6 million of he $33.6 million needed for the pay increase. Unless reversed by a conference report between the Senate and House, the second vote will decrease what some House members said was the already dubious chance the state's 70,000 workers will get the proposed 4.8 per cent pay increase next year.
But as Del. Edward E. Lane (D. Richmond), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, repeatedly warned the House today, the pay increase plan is "conditional" and can be granted state workers only if Godwin finds the state has adequate revenues. Under the budget plan approved today, Godwin cannot cut aid to the state's localities, as he did last year, and then grant the pay increase. Lane made it clear he and many members of his committee dispute the Senate's belief that an additional $23 million in added revenue will materialize to help fund the pay increase. The Senate, despite its insistence the money will be available by the end of he current biennuim on June 30, 1978, had "no hard evidence" to support its claim, Lane told the House.
He said in response to questions that the Senate is banking on higher - not lower - state receipts because of the energy problems this winter. This is because the Senate believes higher fuel bills will boost the state's utility tax receipts, he said.
But many House members, remembering the faulty revenue projections that had put the state's budget $220 million short of planned revenue at the outset of the current legislative session, were only alarmed further by Lane's comments. "We just got bit by that snak," claimed Del A. L. Philpott (D-Henry), chairman of the House Democratic caucus and one of the most influential members of the House.
The legislature made up the revenue shortage by a combination of spending cuts in all state agencies, borrowing money from unused state funds and accelerating payments of sales tax receipts from large merchants.
Philpott said the questionable revenue estimates threw the entire pay raise question in doubt. "Are we really sincere when we do this, or are we just holding out a cherry to the state employees?" he asked Lane.
"I agree wholeheartedly," Lane replied, saying the Senate had placed the pay raise plan into the budget and depended on added revenues that are not shown in the budget document. State revenue officials have not revised their estimates up to the Senate's projections, he said. "The Senate said, 'we guess'" that the added revenues will appear, he said.
The Senate, which had previously approved the pay plan after considerable debate, today approved the budget conference report with virtually no discussion, making it what Sen. Edward E. Willem Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, later called one of the most "Harmonious" budget measures ever approved by the Senate.
Although the budget changes are subject to final approval by Godwin he indicated at a news conference here yesterday he is generally happy with the changes and is not likely to veto terms of the pay plan.
If the additional revenues do not materialize, Godwin is authorized under the bill to grant a partial increase to the workers.
Not long after the budget revisions were adopted, the Assembly began the process of advancing five bills from Godwin proposing a $125 million bond issue to finance college, prison, port and park and mental health facility construction. The bond proposals, if approved by the Assembly as expected, would be submitted to voters in a referendum Nov. 8.
The Senate Finance Committee cleared the bills after turning down an amendment offered by Northern Virginia members to add another $9.4 million building at George Mason University.
Sen. Adelard L. Bault (D-Fairfax) warned that the $13.4 million for George Mason and Northern Virginia Community College now in the bond issue may not be enough "to assure success of the referendum in Northern Virginia."
Brault, majority leader of the Senate, has joined Del. James M. Thomson (D-Alexandria), majority leader of the House, in criticizing the absence of more Northern Virginia projects in the proposed issue. However, Del. Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax), chairman of the joint Republican caucus of the Assembly and a member of the subcommittee that firmulated the issue, said he is "delighted" with the proposal.