Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) today proposed spending more than $20 million to expand long-term care and services for the elderly, including creation of an Elder Rights Center to combat fraud against senior citizens.

Gilmore, developing a biennial spending plan for the state that includes the roughly $1 billion a year needed to finance his promised repeal of the car tax, said he was bolstering a "comprehensive support system" for Virginia's oldest citizens that "prevents a downward spiral toward government dependency."

Advocates for elder care across the state hailed the infusion of money, a relatively tiny piece of Gilmore's $40 billion state budget for two years through June 2002. Some said they were especially heartened by the proposed Elder Rights Center, designed to help the elderly with legal and consumer problems, such as high-pressure marketing scams, through a toll-free hot line.

"Fantastic!" said E. Harris Spindle, chief executive officer of the Virginia Association of Area Agencies on Aging, which covers the state with 25 member chapters.

"There's just never enough legal services for the elderly," Spindle said. "Aging needs money in all categories. He's not wasting any money with this. It's a good beginning."

Added Terri Lynch, director of the aging agency in Arlington County, home to more than 25,000 people 65 and older: "Funding for these services is always, always, always a good thing."

Much of the new spending would cover increased reimbursements to nursing homes for Medicaid clients. The new spending for the elderly includes $500,000 to help the aged remain independent; $200,000 for three rehabilitation teachers for the blind; $75,000 for a Safe Return program serving those afflicted with dementia; and $75,000 to conduct a conference on aging in 2001.

Lynch said her county's needs and those of other jurisdictions cry out for more state assistance. Of the $500,000 Gilmore is proposing for caregiving, Arlington could expect to get about $7,800 and Alexandria a little more than $6,000 under current formulas.

Still, "it is wonderful to have more, because we are so far behind," Lynch said. According to the 1990 Census, Arlington has 17,038 residents 85 and older.

Virginia's restrictive rules on Medicaid services make Gilmore's budget help especially welcome, Lynch said. "The bar is exceedingly high," she said of the stringent state standards for care.

Gilmore is presenting his budget in bits and pieces. He started Tuesday by announcing a special redevelopment project to breathe new life into downtown Richmond, and will soon follow with announcements about new money for public education, from kindergarten through universities; helicopter services; historically black colleges; airports; tourism; and high technology.

The budget preview culminates late next week with an address to the powerful money committees of the General Assembly, which came under Republican control in last month's legislative elections.

Gilmore, chairman of a national commission on electronic commerce, hopes to make technology the thread that binds together the disparate parts of his budget, closing a "digital divide" between all Virginians, rich and poor, black and white.

At the same time, he will be paying handsomely to fulfill his 1997 campaign pledge to phase out the annual tax on trucks and cars, a bill that when combined with other reductions runs about $1.5 billion annually. There are no other major tax cuts in the forthcoming budget, Gilmore aides said today.

"It's a continuation of all of our tax-reduction strategies," said Ronald L. Tillett, the state finance secretary who is Gilmore's main money man.

"It continues the promises," Tillett said.