- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

RICHMOND — Its not a new budget, but the Virginia House and Senate agreed last night on a rules change that will allow for consideration of a new budget.
Under the agreement, struck yesterday by House and Senate Republicans, lawmakers have until May 3 to introduce new budget measures and have until May 11 to complete action on them. The changes came in the form of a procedural resolution governing what business can come before the General Assembly during the current special session on redistricting.
The agreement had temporarily bogged down over whether to replace the word "and" or "or" at one place in the resolution. The matter devolved into a 20-minute debate in the House over whether to allow a recess to discuss the proper wording with senators — a debate that several legislators said encapsulated the frustrations of the current budget impasse.
Still, lawmakers succeeded in setting a deadline by which a budget agreement, if there is going to be one, must be reached. The assembly adjourned two months ago without approving amendments to the two-year budget it passed last year, leaving public employees without pay raises and many cultural institutions without state support for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Now there is at least a window of opportunity to introduce budget measures, and there is also a budget plan pending in each house. The House plan delivers the car-tax rebate on schedule at 70 percent this year, while the Senate plan guarantees only a 55 percent rebate this year and makes the other 15 percent contingent on state revenue growing faster than projected. Both plans would fund pay raises for public employees and partially fund state-supported cultural institutions.
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to pass its budget in committee today, while the House Appropriations Committee will hold hearings around the state next week before passing its own budget. Then the process of hammering out the differences will begin again.
Several House Democrats opposed yesterdays rules changes. They argued that if the two houses leaders wanted to put together a budget they could do it a lot sooner, and any delay just means the legislature spends more money by staying in session longer.
"We are looking like fools down here. Some of us are looking like more fools than others," said Barnie K. Day, Patrick Democrat.
Democrats blamed Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who has said he would veto anything less than a 70 percent car-tax rebate this year, for derailing the process.
Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. said options must be preserved at least until May 11.
"The likelihood may not be too great, but there may be some things we can do," he said.
Those things are piecemeal or partial appropriations to take care of the pay raises or funding state-supported cultural institutions.
House Minority Leader C. Richard Cranwell, Roanoke Democrat, yesterday said he already has a partial appropriations bill he plans to file to fund cultural institutions. His bill would take part of the money set aside to open new ABC stores and buy ABC inventory.
But as of yesterday evening the House Appropriations Committee staff had not seen such a bill, and Mr. Cranwells funding source has been rejected before. Administration officials said there is no cash available from ABC stores; the money Mr. Cranwell is eyeing is slated for inventory, and without buying and then selling that inventory there is no money. In other words, the state has to buy alcohol in order to sell it and include it in the budget.
And even if delegates or senators come up with partial appropriations plans that work, theres no assurance the other house will be receptive.

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