Northern Virginia is approaching the 1991 General Assembly session with one hand guarding its wallet and the other outstretched, palm up, hoping to minimize any additional cuts in state aid to the area and perhaps even to restore some money that has been lost.

Area officials said they hope to recoup some school money that recently was cut, and they want to work out a deal with lawmakers from other parts of the state to make good on a promise -- broken last year -- to give local governments a portion of the fees paid on real estate filings.

But the state's ailing budget isn't the only thing on the minds of local officials. They also want to protect tough new development restrictions designed to limit pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. The rules are under attack by some in the building industry, who say the regulations are economically unsound and violate property rights.

And Loudoun County officials want the state to adopt an incentive package to encourage United Airlines to build a $700 million maintenance center near Dulles International Airport.

But broader money issues are expected to dominate the 45-day session, which begins Wednesday. Northern Virginia's fight for revenue is expected to be all the more difficult because the area lost one of its most influential and effective spokesmen with the death last November of Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington).

Traditionally, Northern Virginia politicians have viewed the General Assembly with trepidation, believing it frequently takes more from the Washington suburbs than it gives back.

With the state facing a $1.9 billion revenue shortfall and local governments grappling with their own deficits, area politicians and the local delegation to the General Assembly are particularly apprehensive about how the region will fare this year.

Just last week, the state's secretary of education announced more than $32 million in aid cuts to Northern Virginia school systems, including a $21.7 million reduction to Fairfax County schools.

"It's obvious we're playing defense again, and the big issue is money," said Fairfax County Board Chairman Audrey Moore. "As long as we take no more than our fair share of cuts, okay, but $21.7 million is too high. The reason the state is in trouble financially is that this region's economy is sputtering, and when an engine sputters, you don't remove the fuel."

Two other themes are expected to play a role in virtually every issue addressed by the legislature: Every delegate and senator faces reelection in November, and political boundaries statewide are to be redrawn this spring based on new census data.

"This is not a fun time to be a state legislator," said a Northern Virginia lobbyist. "You're $2 billion in the hole, you have no idea what your district will look like next fall and you face reelection. Everybody is looking to hang on to as much of what they already have as they can, and basically keep their heads low."

Legislators said they are particularly concerned about the cuts in public school funding and aid to higher education. Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Mount Vernon) said a package of major public improvements that could be financed with voter-approved general obligation bonds might be put together.

Such a package could include money for a new business school building at George Mason University and a major expansion of Northern Virginia Community College's Manassas campus. Both projects were to be financed by proceeds from the state lottery that have been diverted to the budget shortfall.

Sen. Clive L. DuVal 2d (D-McLean), dean of the Northern Virginia delegation, said returning fees levied at local courthouses for recording real estate transactions to local governments will be the delegation's top priority. The 1989 legislature agreed to return a part of the tax revenue ($40 million a year statewide, about half of which would go to Northern Virginia), but the 1990 legislature decided to hold on to the money because of the state's budget crisis.

The move infuriated Northern Virginia legislators, who said it violated a deal they struck in 1989 to support an annual appropriation of $40 million to improve Route 58 across the southern part of the state in exchange for a share of the filing fees.

DuVal said he hopes a compromise can be reached this year. The Route 58 project, he said, needs only about $16 million a year to cover debt service on bonds sold for its construction. As a result, he said, about $24 million of the annual Route 58 appropriation is accumulating in a special fund and could be paid to local governments in the place of the filing fees until the state's budget picture improves.

"We've talked to the Route 58 proponents, and it's a big gulp for them," DuVal said.

On another issue, Prince William County officials said that, despite lean times, they hope the state honors a 1989 commitment to pay 50 percent of the cost of regional jail construction. Under that agreement, the county should be reimbursed for half the cost of a $7 million, 200-bed minimum-security jail that opened in May.

Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun) said he will introduce a bill allowing all Northern Virginia counties to impose a 5-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes, which currently can be levied only by cities and by Fairfax and Arlington counties. Such a tax would raise $500,000 in Loudoun, Waddell said.

He said he also is considering a proposal to allow local governments to increase the tax to 10 cents a pack. The increase would raise an additional $2.6 million in Fairfax and $700,000 in Arlington.

Waddell said he will introduce legislation to allow Loudoun County to establish a special reduced property tax rate for airline maintenance facilities to help attract a United Airlines maintenance center to the Dulles area. The company also is considering locating the facility, which would employ 5,000 people, in Denver, Oklahoma City, Louisville or in the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati.

Waddell said the state is exploring ways to help the airline reduce the cost of building the facility, which the state estimates could generate $11 million a year in individual income and sales tax revenue.

"We hope this two-pronged effort by Loudoun County and the state will put us over the hump, or at least near the top of the list," Waddell said.

Del. David G. Brickley (D-Woodbridge) said a subcommittee he leads will propose a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to impose a limit on annual real estate assessment increases. If approved by this year's legislature, the bill also would have to be approved by next year's General Assembly, then voted on in a statewide referendum.

If approved by voters, the legislature then could approve laws limiting assessment increases. The earliest that such laws could be enacted would be during the 1993 session.

Del. Leslie L. Byrne (D-Fairfax) said her subcommittee will recommend a bill to allow local governments to shift development from rural areas into locations where greater building density is desired, a process known as transferable development rights.

In what is likely to be a difficult battle to retain the area's one seat on the state's highest court, the Northern Virginia delegation is rallying behind state Court of Appeals Judge Barbara M. Keenan, of Fairfax, to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Charles S. Russell, of Arlington.

In the end, the most encouraging thing about the 1991 session from Northern Virginia's perspective may be that it is one year closer to 1992. Because of redistricting, the area is likely to pick up one new Senate seat and three additonal seats in the House of Delegates at that time.

"The most interesting thing in 200 years of Virginia legislatures will come in 1992, when we switch from a rural-dominated legislature to an urban one," Byrne said. "It means those things that concern urban areas are going to be in the forefront of the legislative agenda: land use, the environment, education, certainly transportation, and local powers.

"People aren't going to be beating up on Northern Virginia this year because they don't want Northern Virginia feeling put-upon when it becomes an 800-pound gorilla next year."