- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2006

RICHMOND — Budget negotiations did not budge yesterday as the Senate continued to work on regional self-help plans for the state’s most congested areas.

The Senate hopes to create regional transportation authorities in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia that would raise money for road projects using local taxes and perhaps tolls.

Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he expects the issue to be addressed again next week.

The self-help ideas surfaced this month, but the concerns of some lawmakers have kept the proposals from reaching a full vote in the Senate.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly adjourned from its regular 60-day session March 11 without a budget in place. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, called a special session that began March 27.

The House leadership reiterated its message yesterday that $1.3 billion should be set aside in a reserve fund, the remainder of the budget should be passed and that transportation should be taken up later.

The Senate wants to raise about $1 billion a year in new taxes and fees to pay for a statewide transportation solution, and it appears that the chamber wants to add on the regional self-help mechanisms.

The 11 lawmakers charged with crafting the budget met briefly yesterday. The meeting, the first of its kind in several weeks, lasted about 20 minutes and included some snacking on Girl Scout cookies.

Also yesterday, four House Republicans criticized Mr. Kaine for a list generated by the Virginia Department of Transportation that shows state projects that could be in jeopardy if a two-year budget is not adopted by June 1. Most of the projects are in Republican districts, and Republicans see political motivations.

“For the governor now to claim the reason we are now cutting projects on that introduced list — that are [primarily] in Republican districts — is because of the [budget] impasse is misleading,” said Delegate Bill Janis, Glen Allen Republican.

Secretary of Transportation Pierce R. Homer said the proposed cuts in the state’s long-term transportation program are not the fault of Mr. Kaine, but rather the result of federal deadlines and the higher cost of steel, asphalt and gasoline.

“The issue of projects being delayed or canceled is a simple function of arithmetic,” Mr. Homer said, adding that if a budget is passed by June 1 the projects likely will stay on track. “The reductions are scattered pretty evenly across the state.”

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