RICHMOND, MARCH 1 -- The House of Delegates, following the lead of 39 other states despite the objections of Northern Virginia lawmakers, approved legislation today that would grant thousands of nonresident military families a break on state college tuition.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, who in January endorsed the concept of in-state tuition rates for the children and spouses of active-duty military personnel stationed in Virginia, said the governor soon will sign the legislation, which earlier had cleared the state Senate.

The support of Baliles and the large House delegation from the Hampton Roads port area, home to the Navy's Atlantic Fleet, were decisive factors in the 62-to-33 vote in favor of the measure, which for one year would entitle military families to the lower tuition and fee rates paid by Virginia residents. After that first year, nonresident military families would have to establish instate residency or lose the tuition break.

Northern Virginia lawmakers, led by Del. Warren G. Stambaugh, a Democrat whose district includes the Pentagon, unsuccessfully opposed the bill, trying vainly to amend the measure so that out-of-state students alone, rather than all students at Virginia's universities and colleges, would absorb the cost of the program.

State officials estimate that the program of tuition breaks will cost Virginia institutions $988,000 a year until 1993, when the law is scheduled to lapse without legislative renewal.

The difference between resident and nonresident rates is wide, about $4,000 a year in the case of a full-time undergraduate at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg and $1,800 a year for students at George Mason University in Fairfax County.

Stambaugh said that although he understands the importance of the military's place in Virginia -- the Defense Department has awarded more than $5 billion in contracts to businesses in the state -- it is unfair for taxpaying residents to subsidize military families who maintain legal residences in other states with a program of tuition breaks.

"This is not an antimilitary vote, not an anti-Tidewater vote, but there are a heck of a lot of taxpayers in Northern Virginia, Tidewater and every place else who are going to have to absorb this cost of nontaxpayers now," Stambaugh said.

Del. James H. Dillard II of Fairfax, one of several Republicans who spoke and voted against the measure, called it a "very, very bad" bill, essentially for the same reasons Stambaugh raised.

After Stambaugh's amendment failed on a 49-to-44 vote, the Northern Virginia delegation split during the final vote, with nine delegates from the Washington suburbs voting for, and 12 against.

The prevailing side included Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-McLean), who last month received a letter from Army Maj. Gen. William H. Reno, the commanding officer at Fort Belvoir, urging his support for the tuition bill.

"The frequent moves and disruptions which attend military service members automatically restrict the education opportunities available for family members," Reno wrote.