Thursday, May 10, 2001

RICHMOND — Virginia lawmakers gave up on the state budget last night and returned home after a flurry of last-minute activity and a final proposal fell through.
It marks the first time in state history that lawmakers have been unable to reach agreement on amendments to the two-year budget, which they passed last year. Even Republicans said its bound to be a black mark on the party, which just gained control of the General Assembly last year.
Leaving without a revised budget means the car-tax rebate remains on schedule at 70 percent instead of a smaller rebate, as most senators wanted. But it also means the second year of the budget, which begins July 1, has no money for public-employee pay raises, loses out on millions of dollars of federal-matching funds for health and social services, and has no money for state-supported cultural institutions, such as museums and parks.
The late-evening proposal House members thought they had an agreement on would have guaranteed a 70 percent rebate this year by taking money from the car tax next year. Then it would have been up to the new governor, who will be elected in November, to find enough money to set the car-tax rebate level next year. But senators said they couldnt get enough support among their members to pass the plan.
The assembly adjourned Feb. 24 at the end of the regular session without a new budget, but promised to come back to work on it while also redrawing the states political districts to the 2000 census numbers. But more than a months worth of off-and-on meetings resulted in stalemate again last night.
Throughout, a majority of House members had demanded that any budget include a 70 percent rebate to car owners on the personal property taxes they pay to localities. Gov. James S. Gilmore III said he would veto anything less than 70 percent. But senators said there wasnt enough money for more than a 55 percent rebate this year.
In the end, that same inflexibility sank the last-gasp proposal and sent members of both houses home angry.
“The Senate has left the building,” House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith of Salem said on the House floor after talks broke down. “I am sorry that they have left the building. We are here, prepared as we indicated to them, if need be to work until 3 a.m. this morning or tomorrow morning, and to work to resolve this.”
But senators said they had made it clear to House Republicans there wasnt enough support for the deal and they said House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, Amherst Republican, knew that.
Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City County Republican, said they never surveyed the Republican caucus, but he didnt think enough Republicans would go along with the proposal to pass it. He said they also couldnt count on support from Senate Democrats, who stood firm on 55 percent.
Democrats in the House blamed their Republican counterparts for the months-long breakdown.
“This is the low point of my legislative career, and Ill say to you it rings hollow to say to me that youve done everything that you could do,” said House Minority Leader C. Richard Cranwell, Roanoke Democrat.
“The numbers in the budget are not political pawns, theyre real people,” Mr. Cranwell said. “Theyre little children that go to our public schools. Theyre teen-agers and kids in their early 20s that go to our colleges. Theyre people with handicaps — physical and mental. Theyre people who are interested in water and clean air. Theyre real people, folks, and tonight we abandoned them with a cloak of silence because we were unwilling to talk to the Senate.”
Yesterday was the deadline lawmakers had imposed on themselves for any final attempts to resolve the budget. The late-evening proposal that fell through was one of two rays of hope.
The other was a proposal by Delegate John H. “Jack” Rust Jr., Fairfax Republican, which would have delayed reimbursement payments on the car tax to localities.

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