- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

RICHMOND — House budget negotiators last night signaled that they might be ready today to offer a compromise solution to resolve an historic budget standoff with the state Senate.The negotiators and House Republican leaders refused to offer any details of the plan, which they will reveal to Senate negotiators at 1 p.m. today. The conferees, tasked with crafting a new two-year tax-and-spending plan for the state, have been at an impasse since the negotiations began. The House proposal is the first sign of movement.”Everything we do is an attempt to make sure we get a budget,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith after the negotiators announced they have a new plan.”I don’t know that we’ll ever completely agree, but we’ve got to find a bridge. … We’ll make every effort to try to find a way to work things out without having a massive tax increase.”Mr. Griffith, Salem Republican, and the five budget negotiators would not say whether the plan will raise taxes or fees for state services. He also said the plan has been in the works for about a week.The two budgets are more than $3.5 billion apart, with the Senate proposing to raise gasoline, sales and income taxes and the House standing firm against higher taxes.Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican, said last night he didn’t know anything about the House proposal, which negotiators sprung on him for the first time last night.”I stay encouraged,” Mr. Chichester said. “I hope they will see we have significant revenue problems in Virginia.”He added that he hopes the nine negotiators “can have an honest dialogue on how we can have enough revenue to move Virginia forward.” Mr. Chichester said the negotiators announced they had a plan, but said the proposal was not ready.House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican, told reporters that the proposal “could be dramatic.” Before the House side announced its proposal, the four Senate negotiators presented detailed spreadsheets on how counties, cities and towns will be affected negatively if the state does not raise taxes.The lawmakers on Saturday voted to extend their 60-day legislative session through tomorrow at midnight.A new two-year budget is the only business left on the table for the session, and the budget conferees now face a Tuesday noon deadline for a compromise after failing to meet two earlier deadlines. This is the first time in history that the legislature failed to come up with a new two-year budget within the regular-session deadline.One more concern is that if an agreement is forged, budget staffers won’t have enough time to get the 300-plus-page budget document printed for lawmakers to review before a final vote.If that is the case, lawmakers will have to extend the session one more time, pushing an already-scheduled April 21 veto session out for the first time in the legislature’s history.Mr. Griffith said he’d be “tickled pink” to have to worry about such a problem.”It’s a problem I would welcome,” he said.The state is constitutionally bound to produce a balanced budget by June 30 or the government shuts down.

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