Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) on Thursday proposed a series of adjustments to the budget passed last month by the legislature that would increase spending for transportation, police, tourism, prosecutors and minority programs.
Warner declared victory last month when the General Assembly agreed to a tax and budget package that was even larger than the one he proposed in November. But under state law, governors get one last chance to tinker with the spending plan before it becomes law.
The amendments Warner proposed Thursday can be accepted or rejected by the legislature when it meets for a final, one-day session June 16. The state's $60 billion budget will go into effect July 1.
Lawmakers approved the budget last month after agreeing to increase taxes by $1.5 billion over the next two years. The compromise, reached after a record 118-day session, will increase the sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5 percent. The cigarette tax will increase over two years, from 2.5 cents per pack to 30 cents. Taxes on income and groceries will be cut, and some corporate tax breaks will end. Taxes on real estate deeds will go up. The state's car tax relief program will be frozen.
None of the $1.5 billion in higher taxes is slated to be spent on the crowded transportation network, a fact that Warner and many lawmakers have said leaves a serious financial problem unresolved.
One of Warner's amendments would shift about $19 million from the general fund to the transportation fund. A second amendment would give the governor some limited flexibility to designate an additional $50 million for road and transit projects.
"That's the next priority for any new revenues," Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said.
Warner also proposed to spend $1.7 million to hire more prosecutors and to form a state police task force to deal with teenage gangs. And he said the state should use $1.25 million for emergency response with the hope of obtaining matching federal funds and allocate $1.15 million for programs to promote the state's racetracks and the 2007 celebration in Jamestown.
Warner also said the legislature made a mistake when it eliminated $1.3 million aimed at helping female- and minority-owned businesses. Last year, a study indicated that Virginia has one of the worst procurement records in the nation when it comes to those businesses.
"For years, concerns about small and women- and minority-owned businesses having access to state contracts have not been adequately addressed," Warner's budget statement said.
And he said the legislature should spend $1 million for scholarships for black Virginians who were denied an education from 1954 to 1964 when many school systems in the state closed their doors rather than abide by court-ordered integration.
G. Paul Nardo, a spokesman for House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), said he believes the legislature will support several of Warner's amendments. But he said Republicans in the House are eager to see whether Warner proposes any cost-saving measures.
"I hope we see with the same fanfare the spending reductions," Nardo said. "All we are seeing here are the spending increases."