- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

RICHMOND — The General Assembly began this week much like each of the past four weeks — with little, if any, indication of when lawmakers will agree on a new two-year state budget.

For roughly five minutes yesterday, lawmakers met and set the table for the rest of this week during which the House is expected to reject the Senate’s two-year spending plan and the Senate is expected to return the favor.

Such actions would thrust the 11 delegates and senators tasked with crafting a new budget back into negotiations.

With that, the House adjourned until this evening, and the Senate plans to return tomorrow.

The two Republican-controlled chambers can’t agree on how to pay for road improvements.

The House leadership wants to put $1.3 billion — a combination of the state’s projected $1.4 billion surplus and debt — into a transportation reserve fund, pass the rest of the budget and take up transportation later. The House wants to concentrate most of the transportation funds into Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, the most congested areas in the state.

The Senate wants use about $1 billion a year in new taxes to pay for road upgrades statewide.

“I think there are those that have no interest in a statewide effort,” said Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “Clearly, a statewide effort is the only way we can move forward and provide an answer to what most feel are statewide problems.”

House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford County Republican, repeated the House leadership’s mantra, saying, “If the local governments get concerned about not knowing how much money they’ll get for their budget, it is because the Senate is holding the budget bill hostage for their tax increases.”

So far, the only sign of a possible agreement centers on the idea of creating a regional transportation authority in Hampton Roads.

Mr. Chichester said he has heard that there are regional proposals floating around and that there’s a chance lawmakers could consider them tomorrow.

“If they are reasonably simple, we would like for them to move forward and complement the statewide effort that we expect to put back out,” he said. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, called the General Assembly back for a special session after lawmakers failed to agree on a two-year $72 billion budget before the Assembly adjourned from its regular 60-day session March 11.

In 2004, the budget impasse lasted through May 7.



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