RICHMOND, AUG. 15 -- Fearing that Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder plans to lay off state workers, alarmed leaders of a government employees association today urged the governor to find other solutions to the state's $1.4 billion shortfall.
A telegram and a letter from the Virginia Governmental Employees Association warned of the "overall effect on morale if there is a layoff program," said Pleasant C. Shields, a top official of the 14,000-member group.
Wilder administration officials have said that various state agencies are drawing plans for layoffs -- numbering at least several hundred workers -- for the governor's consideration as he searches for ways to trim spending.
Wilder is going on statewide television at 7 p.m. Thursday to give an overview of his budget proposals, in an address awaited by legislators, local officials and beneficiaries of state programs with as much interest as any governor's speech in years.
Wilder's spokeswoman, Laura Dillard, would not comment on the likelihood of layoffs. She said Wilder's 25-minute live speech would be the public's first opportunity to learn "the governor's comprehensive plan" for balancing the budget -- as he is required to do by state law -- in the face of a severe drop in projected tax revenue.
Although general in nature, the speech will offer "some real specific examples to back up the general plan," Dillard said. The speech will be broadcast locally at 7 p.m. on WNVC (Channel 56) and WNVT (Channel 53).
"Everyone is looking to this with bated breath," said Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington), adding that he and other legislators already are being besieged by local government officials, housing and mental health advocates and other groups worried about Wilder's possible cuts.
Wilder repeatedly has vowed that "everything is on the table" -- except for a tax increase -- as he searches for savings.
While Wilder seeks to court public opinion during his Thursday speech, an event arguably more pivotal to his success will come the next morning, when the governor and his top financial aides appear before the "money committees" of the General Assembly to present the budget plan. Key legislators said they are eager for specifics.
"I'd expect that they'll put some flesh on the bones," said Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton), probably the most influential voice in the assembly on fiscal matters and a person who has clashed with Wilder in the past. "Where is the money going to come from?"
Andrews today raised the same question that Republican critics have raised in recent days: Why have the adminstration's targets for expected tax revenue moved so often and so dramatically in recent months?
"I would hope we would get an explanation," Andrews said.
Like others awaiting Wilder's speech, Andrews said he knew no details of Wilder's plans, but he agreed that some layoffs seem likely. "I don't know how you can cut $1.4 billion and not have it affect personnel," he said.
Shields, of the employees association, said his group was not eager for confrontation with the governor, and would offer other ways of cutting the payroll, such as an early-retirement program. For now, though, most state employees are braced for bad news.
"We've heard rumors" of layoffs, Shields said. "We're operating on rumors, because we have no facts."