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Wilder Budget Cutting Seen As Political Move

August 18, 1990

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s announcement that he would impose broad spending cuts without raising taxes is seen as further evidence he plans to run for national office, possibly as early as 1992.

″Anybody who thinks the governor is not looking at 1992, in spite of what he’s said, is extraordinarily naive,″ said Sen. Dudley J. Emick Jr., a fellow Democrat.

Wilder, who has received widespread publicity since he became the nation’s first elected black governor in January, has said he has no plans to seek national office before his term ends in 1994.

But his cost-cutting plans are seen as a way to contrast his record with that of President Bush, who is considering a tax increase to balance the federal budget.

Wilder thinks if he can ″contrast himself with both George Bush and with so-called tax-and-spend Democrats, he’s well positioned for a national race,″ said Robert Holsworth, a Virginia Commonwealth University political analyst.

″He’s positioned himself for the kind of race he would have to run whether it’s in ’92 or ’96, that of a fiscal conservative,″ said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist.

In a statewide televised address Thursday night, Wilder said he would freeze state employee salaries, slash state agency spending, eliminate some minor agencies and cut aid to schools to make up a projected $1.4 billion budget shortfall. He blamed an economic slump for the expected drop in tax revenues to fund the state’s $26 billion, two-year budget.

The governor said he would propose no new taxes and would maintain services for the poor and medically needy.

″That plays well among the pragmatists of the Democratic Party,″ Sabato said.

Holsworth said the speech was Wilder’s latest success in portraying himself as a fiscal conservative while still holding on to his core black and liberal constituency.

But he said Wilder may have jeopardized his relationship with state legislators, some of whom were angry about not being consulted on the cuts.

Holsworth also said Wilder could be hurt in the long run by cutting education funding, which is particularly needed in poor, rural schools that he has pledged to improve.

Holsworth likened Wilder to Democrat Jimmy Carter, who launched himself to the presidency by emphasizing his budget cutting and social compassion during one term as governor of Georgia.

Sabato said he saw similarities to Republican Ronald Reagan, who blamed Carter for the fiscal problems that he inherited in the early 1980s.

Sabato said Wilder has taken the same approach by blaming his Democratic predecessor, Gerald L. Baliles, for leaving behind fiscal problems. Wilder took his latest dig at the former governor by saying he would abolish the Department of World Trade that Baliles created.

Despite his denial of national ambitions in 1992, Wilder may have betrayed himself when he announced the revenue shortfall at a news conference Aug. 1.

The governor said he wanted to reveal the budget problems to ″the American people″ before quickly correcting himself.

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