Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb submitted a $238 million spending package to the state legislature today, but some key legislators balked at his proposal to give increases as high as 19.5 percent to some guards in the state's troubled prison system.
"Nobody should get any more money until we know they can perform the jobs that ought to be performed . . . ," said Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax).
"Somebody's going to get a raise without any more training," said Del. Richard M. Bagley (D-Hampton), the influential chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who also was skeptical of the proposal. "If problems are caused by poorly trained and incompetent people, I don't think it makes sense to pay them more," said Del. Franklin M. Slayton (D-Halifax).
The developing dispute came as the legislature got its first look at Robb's proposed amendments to the state's two-year budget, a spending package that includes $53 million for elementary and secondary education but has sharp cuts of $15 million to the state's community college system, which is suffering from declining enrollments.
The governor also proposed relatively small increases in welfare spending, adding $9 million a year to finance a 5 percent increase in the state's Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program. Robb has said the increase is necessary to help the state's poorest families.
Under his proposal, the typical ADC family -- a mother and two small children living in a moderate cost-of-living area -- would receive a monthly increase of $13, for a total of $282, well under the 15 percent increase that the State Board of Social Services recommended this week.
A recent state study showed that Virginia pays less than half of the basic needs of ADC recipients and that it would take $400 million a year to close the gap, a sum most state officials say is unrealistic.
Robb proposed spending $400,000 for programs to help curb violence in families, $100,000 on programs for missing children and $1 million to increase at-home care for the elderly.
Robb urged that all state employes receive a 6 percent increase July 1. The employes would receive an additional 4.5 percent increase on their employment anniversary date.
Community college officials had hoped to avoid the Robb cuts, which would make it possible for them to lower tuition and thereby attract more students. That strategy was rejected by Robb and Secretary of Education John T. Casteen.
"Tuition levels are higher than they should be," Casteen told a joint meeting of Senate and House money committees today. He said falling enrollment at community colleges is a nationwide phenomenon and the product of an improving economy and fewer college-age students.
"You ought to tell them community colleges to be quiet," said State Sen. Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond), chairman of the Senate Finance panel.
Casteen joked: "My success in telling people in higher education to be quiet hasn't been good."
The exchange was one of the few light moments during several hours of hearings on the budget amendments. The governor's budget package is funded largely from higher-than-expected increases in state sales tax revenues, about $64 million in budget cuts and a surplus of about $123 million from last fiscal year.
Gartlan, chairman of the committee that oversees prisons, said he was disturbed that the raises for guards would go into effect before the Department of Corrections can increase training and improve supervision of guards in the prisons.
The raises "might even go to some guards on watch at Mecklenburg," Gartlan said, a reference to the May 31 escape of six death row inmates that touched off a year-long prison crisis Robb calls his "number one problem." Robb, as well as several reports on the escape, have said that it occurred largely because guards were inattentive and did not know how to respond to the crisis. Frank White, state secretary of public safety, and Robb's budget officials insist that the guards will receive increased training and that all new guards will pass tougher examinations before being placed on duty.
The average salary of the state's 6,500 guards is about $15,000, officials said. The typical guard would get an increase of 15 percent under Robb's proposal.
The comments today about guards' salaries seemed to confirm that the prison issue will get close scrutiny by both Democrats and Republicans in a year in which there will be elections for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
The sharp salary increases for guards -- in some cases twice as much as those proposed for regular state employes -- and prison costs generally also drew fire from Willey and Senate Minority Leader William A. Truban (R-Shenandoah).
"Robb said it cost $20,000 a year to house an inmate," Willey told White during the committee meeting, "that's more than it costs us to send a kid to college."
Truban, who generally praised Robb's State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night and his acceptance of responsibility for the prison problems, indicated the raises would compound the pressure for more money later. "We're going to have to come up with more money every year," said Truban.