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Virginia House to try budget do-over after Senate’s deadlock

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2012

RICHMOND The Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday agreed by unanimous consent to introduce another budget in hopes of staving off a potential fiscal catastrophe and the prospects of gaveling out the 2012 session without the legislature having passed a spending plan.

Delegate Lacey E. Putney, Bedford independent and the House's most senior member, made the request.

"The responsibility of the state's finances ultimately and constitutionally belongs to the General Assembly," said Mr. Putney, who has been a member of the House since 1962. "The Constitution is very clear."

The budget is the same as the amended version the House approved Feb. 23. That means even if the body pushed it through quickly as planned, it still would end up in the hands of the Senate, which deadlocked on a budget vote Wednesday.

House Minority Leader David J. Toscano, Charlottesville Democrat, asked the fellow members of his caucus to accede to Mr. Putney's request.

"We cannot get to a budget without a vehicle," he said. "That's not to say we're going to agree with the vehicle."

The House approved its version of the two-year, $85 billion budget on a bipartisan 79-21 vote. The state Senate, however, blocked its own budget bill as well as the House version, which was amended in committee to reflect the Senate budget.

The Senate is evenly split, with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. But the budget requires 21 votes to pass, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's tie-breaking authority does not extend to budget matters. Democrats voted in lock step against both versions of the budget, saying they inadequately fund services such as education, health care and transportation.

Mr. Bolling, a Republican, used his tie-breaking authority on the first day of the session to help the GOP organize as a working majority as Republicans rejected a power-sharing agreement from Democrats. Democrats also have called for more equitable representation on committees, a proposition that Republican leaders have flatly rejected.

"They're solid. They're solid as a rock," Sen. Charles J. Colgan, Prince William Democrat, said of his caucus. Mr. Colgan would be made co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee under a proposal from the Democrats. "Nobody's blinking."

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday afternoon quickly approved the plan, as well as a measure identical to its version of the "caboose budget" to amend the spending plan that funds operations for the fiscal year ending June 30, which the Senate blocked as well.

House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, said he hopes the House can debate the budget Friday and have it over to the Senate Monday.

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