RICHMOND, JAN. 14 -- Teachers, public employees and human services activists advised legislators today to support two things that Gov. L. Douglas Wilder has said he is against: new taxes and dipping into the $200 million reserve fund the legislature passed last year at Wilder's urging.
While lobbyists for various interest groups flocked to a public hearing to bemoan the nearly $2 billion in reductions to the $25 billion biennial budget proposed by the governor, Democrats in the House of Delegates offered to do their part by supporting legislation to cut their own salaries by 2 percent.
At another hearing, House Finance Chairman C. Richard Cranwell (D-Vinton) heard officials from Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach -- two wealthy areas that in the last decade funneled billions into state coffers -- testify that the recession and cuts in state aid are forcing them to freeze hiring and salaries and scale back services.
Cranwell said the "major culprit" in the slowdown in state revenue appeared to be the souring of Northern Virginia's real estate market.
Noting the economic hardships localities are facing, Cranwell said he hopes the state can give jurisidictions a greater share of proceeds from real estate filing fees. A plan to return as much as $60 million in those fees to the localities, passed two years ago, has been scuttled by Wilder as part of his budget cutting.
House Majority Leader Thomas W. Moss (D-Norfolk) said the offer to cut $360 from legislators' $18,000 annual salary is "a first step in a series of actions . . . to keep the state operating free from deficit." The suggested reduction in salaries would save about $50,000.
The pay cut idea was immediately ridiculed by Steve Haner, spokesman for the Joint Republican Caucus, as "the 99-cent sacrifice." The proposal works out to about $1 day.
Sen. Dudley J. "Buzz" Emick Jr. (Botetourt) dismissed the 2 percent cut as political showboating and said he would "test the sincerity" of his fellow Democrats by offering a bill to eliminate salaries of legislators.
In the hearing before the Senate Finance and House Appropriations panels, speakers warned of grim consequences for students and poor people if the General Assembly doesn't intervene to block the cuts.
Wilder has proposed more than $100 million in state aid cuts for school districts next year. Most state agencies have been targeted for cuts of 10 percent or more.
"Cuts of this magnitude mean that in many localities staff will be laid off, class sizes will increase, instructional programs will be eliminated, and compensation and benefits for school employees will be threatened," said Madeline Wade, president of the Virginia Education Association.
"We cannot put the children on hold while we put our fiscal house in order," added Maureen Daniels, a Fairfax County sixth-grade teacher and head of the local chapter of the education association. Daniels said she supports giving localities the right to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to fund education.
Daniels agreed with Emick that most local school districts are top-heavy with administrators, but she said that Fairfax Superintendent Robert R. Spillane "is blind to that."
Stephen M. Colecchi, co-chairman of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, a coalition of churches, said the need for better housing and welfare services for "the most vulnerable members of the commonwealth" is increasing because of the weak economy.
Staff writer John Ward Anderson contributed to this report.