Gov. Mills E. Godwin told the opening session of the Virginia General Assembly today that the state faces a $103 million budget deficit and a long list of unmet critical, public needs, but he offered no proposals to pay for either.
Godwin thus left it up to the General Assembly, whose 100 House members are up for reelection this year, to come up with solutions to the state's financial problems.
Holding up his hand in the shape of a zero, Del. James M. Thomson (DAlexandria) the House majority leader, said of the governor's speech, "I rated it zip. We knew what the problems were before we came down here. What we need is some proposed solution. That speech was absurd. You are never going to get a legislative program without a proposal from the governor."
Godwin repeated his warning to legislators that if it is left to him to cut the budget without new revenues, he will reduce state aid to local governments by about $80 million. He said this is only fair because local governments get about 56 per cent of the state's general fund revenues. The cut in local aid "would be most severe," he said.
Godwin, describing his own speech as "somber," said, "Our charge now is reassessment and even the possibility of retrenchment."
Godwin recited for the Assembly the history of how the state's optimistic revenue projections for the current two-year $3.6 billion general fund budget have proved - in less than a year - to be unrealistic. The projected budget deficit - originally estimated at $120 million - has been reduced to $102.6 million by cuts in state spending, but is expected to changed further before the end of the biennium.
He asked the taxwriting and appropriations committees of the Assembly to reach a consensus on how to close the budget gap before he makes a proposal on specific tax increases or budget cuts. In his most explicit statement of support for a tax increase today, he said, "If your assessment of the needs of Virginia is such as to indicate that additional revenues are required, you will find me amenable to any responsibly proposals in that respect."
He responded negatively, however, to suggestions by some legislators that part of the revenue gap be closed by tapping the highway construction fund, fed by gasoline taxes, to pay the $35 million biennial cost of State Police highway patrolling.
Godwin said he opposes any outright transfer of highway funds to pay for a general fund program, but he said he would consider approval of a short term loan of $35 million to meet the "current financial crisis."
Reaction to the governor's message ranged from sharp criticism to subdued praise. He was not interrupted once by applause.
Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairrax), the Senate majority leader, said, "He didn't give us any new proposals, but I didn't expect any. He said the same thing we have been bearing for the past two months except he has not said before that he would oppose transfers from the highway fund. Up to now, he has said he would consider anything we come up with."
One Northern Virginian, Del. Carrington Williams (D-Fairfax), a senior member of the tax writing House Finance Committee, said he prefers to see the Assembly come up with the budget balancing proposal. "I'm inclined to doubt that the Assembly will approve any tax increase until the members are satisfied no more cuts can be absorbed. I'm willing to let the Appropriations Committee exercise its powers over the budget and then let our Finance Committee come up with a way to close the gap."
Several legislators expressed dismay at Godwin's extensive listing of problems without solutions. Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arllington) said, have to be done and then said, 'Well, guys, there it is.' Is that what you call executive leadership?"
Godwin listed the problems without solutions, this way:
". . . there has emerged the growing problem of mass transit. The perplexing problem of Metrorail (in Northern Virginia) likewise remains."
"You will have before you at this session reports by various committees on the inadequacy of our treatment of juveniles (who have committed crimes). You will have the latent requirements . . . to separate young . . . offenders and other juveniles from more hardened criminals."
". . . adequate funding for real (drug) rehabilitation results is yet to be provided."
There remain before us the concern of our school teachers and our college faculty members over the cost of living, (the budget problems have apparently precluded the usual across-the-board pay increases for state employees) the planned but unbuilt libraries, laboratories and other facilities at our colleges and universities. Such concerns will become more critical until we properly address them. The same can be said about other agencies of government."
"Beyond these is the question, still to be settled and now in the courts, of the scope of our obligation to provide appropriate education for the physically and mentally disabled."
"Still pressing is the need to be certain that our mental hospital are adequately staffed . . ."
"Let no one assume that we have addressed the full scope of our responsibilities to the mentally retarded and mentally ill citizens."
In explaining the postponement of solutions to these problems, Godwin said: "I am acutely aware that these items of unfinished business are real, but that few of them indeed can be addressed in any depth within the confines of our present revenue. I mention them only to indicate that the decisions you make at this session are necessarily a prelude to our next bienneal budget."
The only optimistic appraisal given to the Assembly by the governor was about prisons. He said the state is reducing prison crowding despite a nationwide increase in the inmate population. He also praised prison management improvements which he said have been reflected in steadily dropping escape rates and short: times between parole eligibility and release.
He said that Fred Wilkinson, former deputy director of the U.S. Burcau of Prisons and now a consultant to Virginia prison system "one of the better corrections programs in the nation."
As part of the program to control escapes and abuses of prison programs three years ago, Godwin instituted sharp restrictions on work release programs. In a statement certain to disturb advoca as of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] achievement by saying, "In the three years of his administration so far, we have reduced the number of inmates on work release by more than one-half . . ."
The only legislative proposals in Godwin's message were calls for imposition of mandatory sentences for prison escape, repeated crimes of violence and for manufacture, importation or distribution of "the more dangerous drugs." He made all these proposals last year but none was approved by the Assembly.