Last week in a column about Gov. Gerald Baliles' 1988-90 spending plan, a budget item listed as "salt water sport fishing vehicle" was misidentified. The $18,000 vehicle is a four-wheel drive Jeep that Baliles requsted for his Department of Economic Development. A spokeswoman for the governor said the Jeep would be used in the promotion of fishing tournaments and vacation spots along Virginia beaches. (Published 1/21/88)
RICHMOND -- The $22.5 billion state budget that Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles unveiled yesterday ought to be rushed to a plastic surgeon for liposuction. There's fat aplenty in the fine print of this record spending plan: political paybacks, bureaucratic perks and plums to please even the most jaundiced state official.
Baliles certainly is not the first governor to draft a two-year budget that rewards political allies or hands out goodies to favored state agencies, and the General Assembly has a full two months to work over the fiscal proposal. Nonetheless, Baliles is apt to get legislative approval for the bulk of his requests, including one for an $18,000 boat -- or a "salt water sport fishing vehicle," in the peculiar language of the number-crunchers.
That little item, included in the budget at the request of the Department of Economic Development, may set a record for audacity.
And what about the cool $564,500 that Baliles earmarked for the renaming of the Jamestown Festival Park? Believe it or not, the old name "can no longer convey an adequate meaning of the museum and educational programs being offered at Jamestown and Yorktown," according to an official budget summary. So a half-million bucks may be spent on an "image campaign" to promote the new name, the Jamestown Settlement.
Some of the plums have an international flavor. The Virginia Port Authority asked for -- and got from Baliles -- $304,300 to open an office in Seoul, joining other port authority branches in Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Baliles, who went on three overseas trade missions last year, seems bent on going again before the end of his term in 1990. The budget includes about $71,500 for this year and nearly $63,000 in 1989 for "logistical and clerical support" for further visits abroad.
Baliles delved deep into the political pork barrel for two gems of public spending totaling $11 million. State Del. C. Richard Cranwell (D-Vinton), who has played a pivotal role in shepherding many Baliles initiatives through the House of Delegates, was rewarded for those efforts with a $6 million line-item for the Roanoke River Foundation.
Cranwell has pushed the idea of this combination zoo-parkway-steam train showcase for some time, saying it would help revitalize his home district and the rest of the Roanoke River valley. Critics promptly dubbed the project "Dickie World."
Baliles also asked the legislature to approve $5 million for the first phase of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, a facility that happens to be located in the home district of Democratic House Speaker A.L. Philpott, a political powerhouse long courted by Baliles. The official budget book neatly sidestepped the politics of this budget request, calling the museum a "recognized" institution offering "statewide educational programs."
Elsewhere in the fine type is the governor's present to the many Northern Virginia legislators who have marched in virtual lockstep behind the governor. Automobile owners in the suburbs outside Washington stand to receive more than $5.5 mllion in upgraded services and offices at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Arlington will be getting a new DMV branch office after 1990; hours at several of the Northern Virginia branches will be extended; and the chronically crowded branches in Franconia, Annandale and Alexandria would be doubled in size under the governor's plan.
Another beneficiary of Baliles' largess is the State Corporation Commission, which won a request for a new $23 million headquarters. The SCC, Virginia's most powerful regulatory agency, says it has outgrown its 13-story headquarters near the Capitol here; one of its divisions has already had to move several blocks away to share space in the Federal Reserve building. The Baliles administration said the new edifice will meet the SCC's needs beyond the year 2010.
On the other hand, the construction needs of some other state agencies are barely met by this budget; the section outlining new projects at state mental hospitals, for instance, still reads like something out of Dickens. To fix a 30-year-old heating system at Western State Hospital, which "has numerous leaks and is unresponsive to changes in temperature," the governor set aside $112,500.
At the Central Virginia Training Center, window air-conditioning units "do not have adequate capacity to maintain cool temperatures," according to the budget summary. Baliles calls for $54,750 to fix them.