TWO DAYS after his inauguration, Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder spotted clouds on the state's financial horizon and called for a $200 million "rainy day" fund. Now he's looking at a thunderstorm -- the worst fiscal revenue situation since World War II -- and is calling for deep cuts in spending and a shift of more than $300 million in lottery profits from construction projects to government services. While the governor's sudden moves won't exactly win the hearts of Northern Virginia, where the fiscal cuts and bruises may be the most severe, his prudence in the face of harder times makes sense.

Mr. Wilder says he remains opposed to a tax increase and that to make up the shortfall resulting from a slowed national economy, most state spending may be subject to cutting -- though he hopes to avoid cuts affecting schoolchildren and people in need. He also promises more specific recommendations by mid-month. Projections now show Virginia expecting $1.4 billion less in tax revenues during the next two fiscal years -- most of it affecting the state's two-year general fund budget of $13.1 billion.

The changes could seriously delay projects at George Mason University, including two new $10-million buildings. At Northern Virginia Community College, Gov. Wilder's action will postpone two $5-million projects. Though this is disappointing news, officials at these institutions agree that if delaying capital projects is preferable to undoing education of Arlington observed, "Given a choice, I'll choose flesh and blood over bricks and mortar."