Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) will propose $10 million in tax incentives to prod employers into letting workers do their jobs from home computers rather than contributing to rush-hour traffic congestion.
The program of employer income tax credits for telecommuting is a new element of the two-year budget Gilmore will unveil Friday and is closely related to the additional $55 million he will ask the legislature to spend on high technology during his final two years in office.
Gilmore has been in California all week chairing a national commission on electronic commerce and is scheduled to present his budget to the money committees of the General Assembly, which is certain to amend the $48.1 billion spending plan for the years 2000-02.
The governor's telecommuting credits appear to be a direct outgrowth of a report prepared for him last summer by 45 business leaders, most from Northern Virginia, that listed ways to add to the 250,000 Washington area workers who already avoid maddening--and time-wasting--traffic by staying home.
"It addresses the two most important issues in Northern Virginia: transportation and the work force shortage," said Todd J. Stottlemyer, a Fairfax County business executive and Gilmore adviser who chaired the task force.
"It's not going to solve our transportation problems, but it is part of the solution," Stottlemyer said.
Some recent studies estimate that an additional 470,000 people could telework in the suburbs outside Washington, eliminating hundreds of thousands of "vehicle trips" every day and relieving congestion.
Yet while "employees are ready, willing and able to telework, the incentives are still needed for employers to do it," said Stottlemyer, who has one employee who commutes by computer from Pittsburgh.
The task force urged Gilmore to encourage telecommuting by granting companies an income tax credit for the purchase and installation of new or used equipment, including computers, fax machines, modems, phones, printers, software, copiers and other work-related expenses.
For nonprofit organizations and firms not paying Virginia income taxes, the state should consider offering direct grants equal to a tax credit they could otherwise claim for those investments, the task force said.
It was unclear tonight whether Gilmore would include such grants in his presentation to the legislature on Friday.
Gilmore has been a champion of the high-technology business community, especially its ever-growing presence in Northern Virginia, from his first days in office, when he created the nation's first Cabinet-level secretariat to nurture the home-grown industry.
Like his counterparts in Maryland and other states, the governor is using a robust economy, fueled statewide by the Washington suburban business base, to help keep the good times going.
Major pieces of his $55 million technology program include $20 million to link 17 state universities to the industry; $16.6 million to use computers for testing new learning standards in schools; and $8.7 million for community-based access centers.
Donald W. Upson, the state technology secretary, said Gilmore's administration is committed to narrowing the "digital divide" between rich and poor with its classroom- and community-based programs.
Upson said details of the tax credits are still being worked out, as the state surveys Virginia companies to learn precisely what the firms are already doing to encourage telework.
Gilmore also wants to spend $410,000 to enhance two education Web sites for parents and teachers, one of which is the "Commonwealth of Knowledge" promoted by first lady Roxane Gilmore. The governor also announced that his budget provides $21.6 million for 46 cultural sites around the state.
Six of them would receive at least $1 million, which must be matched locally, including the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Vienna and the National Slavery Museum in Jamestown.