Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) chided legislators and the state's gubernatorial candidates Monday for making wild spending promises that go far beyond what the state can afford.
He also announced the creation of four task forces to help the state deal with the massive shifts of military and civilian jobs in Northern Virginia and elsewhere that are likely to result from the recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
In a speech to lawmakers and in comments afterward, Warner said the state's treasury is flush with the fruits of a swiftly growing economy. But he warned that the double-digit revenue growth, which led to a $544 million surplus last year, will not continue.
"If we learned anything from the technology and stock market boom of the late 1990s, it should be that we can't . . . assume that extraordinary revenue growth will simply continue to roll and the good times will last forever," Warner told members of House and Senate committees.
And in fact, he told reporters later, that's exactly what lawmakers and candidates are doing.
"The expectations about what we are going to be able to fund are totally unrealistic," Warner said after his 42-minute speech. "It's campaign season. Candidates love to promise. They're not always willing to say how they'll pay for it."
Warner did not specifically mention Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine or independent H. Russell Potts Jr., the three men who are vying to succeed him in the governor's mansion.
But he said Kaine's pledge to spend $300 million a year on preschool for every 4-year-old is the kind of promise that will have to be balanced against the state's other obligations. He said state spending will have to grow by $2.8 billion in the next two-year budget just to pay for school enrollment growth, higher health care costs and other inflation.
"Those are the kinds of choices that the next governor is going to have to sort through. It's a very worthy program," Warner said of Kaine's preschool proposal. He said the last budget he proposes in December, "while maybe not lean, sure is not going to be full of a wish list that a lot of legislators have been asking for."
Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said Kaine is proposing to phase the preschool program in over four years. That makes the proposal affordable and fiscally responsible, she said.
"We're not making promises that can't be kept," she said. "Jerry Kilgore is engaging in exactly the kind of fiscal irresponsibility that Governor Warner talked about today."
Kilgore press secretary Tim Murtaugh said: "The things that we have proposed can be fully funded without a tax increase. If you prioritize your budget and do things that encourage the growth of the economy, economic growth is absolutely a realistic goal."
Some lawmakers criticized Warner for not including tax cuts among the state's priorities. House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said the good economic times raise questions about whether the tax increases passed last year were necessary.
"The taxpayers of Virginia ought to be on the list," Griffith said. "Where we get that money is out of the taxpayer pockets. They, too, have needs."
Others praised Warner for talking about fiscal restraint even during good economic times.
"What he is saying is absolutely correct," said Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland), who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "During campaigns, you will hear hyperbole and great speculations."
Chichester said the biggest unknown is how to finance improvements to the state's transportation network. Unlike general fund revenue, which grew almost 15 percent during the last budget year, money for transportation grew only 3.3 percent.
"Is it doable? Is it necessary? Then you balance those two things," Chichester said.
Warner also told lawmakers that he would create the four task forces on military bases within the next few days. He said the base closure recommendations would result in the shifting of 100,000 jobs into or out of Virginia or from one place to another inside the state. In Northern Virginia, the commission voted to move 20,000 jobs out of leased space in Arlington and Alexandria. Fort Belvoir, in Fairfax County, would receive some of those jobs and thousands of others.
"These major shifts have enormous implications for communities across the commonwealth," Warner told lawmakers. "They will influence development patterns, transportation, schools, housing, local economies and a host of other conditions."
Several lawmakers indicated that they plan to support efforts to help the affected communities.