The Virginia General Assembly approved amendments to the state budget Wednesday that will increase spending for transportation projects, anti-gang programs and a scholarship fund for people denied an education when the state resisted school integration.
The legislature held the special one-day session to act on the proposals by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) to alter the $60 billion, two-year budget before it becomes law July 1.
Lawmakers approved the budget last month after agreeing to increase taxes by $1.5 billion over the next two years.
None of the money from higher taxes was earmarked for state transportation programs, which disappointed many lawmakers and local officials.
With that in mind, the legislators approved a pair of amendments submitted by Warner that will allow some additional spending on transportation. One amendment will shift about $19 million from the general fund to the transportation fund, and another will give the governor some leeway to designate an additional $50 million for road and transit projects.
Lawmakers also agreed to spend $1.7 million to hire more prosecutors and to form a state police task force to deal with teenage gangs, a strong concern in many Northern Virginia communities.
Democrats said they were surprised that the Republican-controlled legislature did not put up more of a fight against some of the governor's 43 amendments, many of which were technical in nature.
Several Republicans had said they would be looking to see whether the governor offered any proposals to save money, in addition to the amendments on spending.
"The bottom line is that many of the governor's amendments weren't all that dramatic," House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said Wednesday.
"We would have liked to see more of an attempt to do some cost-cutting and savings rather than spending, but firefighters and commonwealth's attorneys need these extra funds," Griffith said.
In addition to shifting money among budget categories, the legislature approved $13.7 million of the $15 million in new spending the governor had proposed. The money comes largely from Medicaid savings.
Republicans in the House did reject several Warner amendments that would have strengthened the governor's budget authority relative to the legislature.
Overall, Warner said, he was "very pleased" by the legislature's actions.
"It reinforced the commitments, particularly in public safety for commonwealth's attorneys, firefighters, strengthening our activities against gangs," he said at a late-afternoon news conference.
Earlier in the day, some Republicans cited state reports showing that revenue had increased in recent months. They questioned whether the tax increases approved this spring were necessary.
The assembly agreed to raise revenue by increasing the sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5 percent. Also, 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, while the state's car tax relief program will be frozen in 2006. The tax increases will support more spending on state services.
Meanwhile, tax revenue is growing at an annual rate of 9.3 percent because of higher sales tax and corporate tax receipts, according to state officials. The state had predicted last year that revenue would grow by 6.7 percent.
"I hate to be the one who said Dave Albo told you so," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who voted against the tax increases in April. "But, I told you so. . . . If we had stayed a few extra days, we would have found that there was $300 million out there that we just didn't know about."
Other delegates who voted against the tax increases said the Warner administration should have offered more accurate revenue projections.
"There was something missing in the picture the last couple of months," said Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "Two days after we passed the budget, these new figures just popped up. They should have been more careful."
But legislators who supported the tax increases, as well as Warner administration officials, said lawmakers were given the improving revenue projections during the legislative session.
The day's most emotional debate took place as legislators reviewed the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Fund, which will help black residents of several counties who were denied an education when their schools closed. Public schools in several parts of the state shut down between 1954 and 1964 during the "massive resistance" movement that followed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Brown case.
During the regular legislative session this year, the assembly provided $50,000 for the scholarship fund, but Warner amended the budget to increase the funding to $1 million. That amount will be matched by a contribution from a Virginia philanthropist.
"It is not possible for one generation to compensate for the past," said Del. R. Lee Ware Jr. (R-Powhatan). "All history is full of strife."
Other lawmakers said the scholarship fund showed the "sensibilities of the commonwealth" in trying to correct a past wrong, said Del. Kenneth R. Melvin (D-Portsmouth).
About 100 former students from Prince Edward County, where schools were shuttered for five years, sat in the gallery of the House and erupted into cheers after the chamber approved the funding, 94 to 4.
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.