Warner to announce budget cuts tonight

All eyes will be on Gov. Mark R. Warner for his 7 p.m. address tonight when he announces his proposed cuts to help address the state’s projected $2 billion shortfall.

Expected to be on the chopping block are 1,000 to 2,500 state employee jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid for local programs, and state aid to colleges and universities, which are somewhat buffered with their ability to raise tuition.

Will lawmakers share in the pain? Both parties have competing proposals to cut legislative expenses.

Off the table are salary cuts for lawmakers since they have not had a pay raise since the 1980s. The House in 1991 took a pay cut when the recession hit, but not the Senate, said Delegate Harry J. Parrish, R-50th District, chairman of the House Finance Committee.

Delegates earn $17,640 a year, plus a per-day living per diem of $115 during the General Assembly’s winter session, as well as office budgets and travel reimbursement.

“If you add up the hours you’re working, you get paid really low. Nobody can do it for the pay,” Parrish said.

Republicans have proposed $1.2 million in cuts, and Democrats have proposed $3 million in cuts.

Parrish has said monthly office allowances for supplies could be cut by $250 to save $440,000. Republicans have also proposed cutting the $200 per diem for out-of-session meetings to $170.

Democrats have called for that per diem to be completely eliminated, and also for a halt to out-of-state travel for legislators.

Parrish points out that Democrats won’t be hurt by a halt in travel because the majority controls who can travel, a position democrats had for years before 2000.

Carolyn Fiddler with the Democratic Party of Virginia said it would still save a lot — in years past travel expenses topped $100,000.

“If they want to save the state money by canceling their travel, that’s their business,” she said.

“The democrats are trying to play politics with it. The Democrats would say don’t go to Richmond to do committee meetings that are the people’s business,” said Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-31st District. Democrats want the session to run through weekends, but that is a bad example to work on Sunday and lawmakers need time to rest, he said.

“All of us are going to be expected to provide the same level of support to our constituents, and it just means we won’t be reimbursed for it. But my view is, so be it,” he said.

In other discussions in Richmond:

Some Republicans have criticized Warner for being slow to make his proposed cuts, the most vocal being House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, R-8th District.

Parrish disagrees with that assessment.

“It’s easy for people to say that he hasn’t moved fast enough but he has kept the leadership, House and Senate, republicans and democrats, informed all the time,” he said.

Parrish said he has been in office with five different governors and “I have met with this one more times than any of the others when they were there.”

Since Warner is limited by law to 15 percent cuts without the legislature, the worst announcements will come in his amended budget later this year.

”There will still be problems to solve when he submits his budget in December because the 15 percent cuts will only get us about halfway there,” Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls told the Associated Press on Monday.

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