- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

RICHMOND — The House Appropriations Committee yesterday unanimously passed a revised spending plan that would encourage the General Assembly to deal with transportation issues after the rest of the state budget has been adopted.

House leaders presented the committee’s plan as a compromise in the legislature’s stalled budget negotiations, noting that it would create a special fund that could not be tapped until the Republican-controlled General Assembly agreed to a transportation deal.

But the proposal otherwise resembled the plan the House had submitted earlier this session, and the Senate rejected it.

At a press conference yesterday, House Speaker William J. Howell and other Republican leaders said the proposal would give budget negotiators the chance to agree on all areas of spending except transportation and ensure that local governments know how much state money they will receive.

“I am pleased with the resolve and determination of our caucus and our [budget] conferees to fulfill our obligation to the people of commonwealth and deliver them a sound budget,” said Mr. Howell, Stafford Republican.

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 it adjourned from its regular 60-day session March 11.

The Senate and Mr. Kaine want to raise nearly $1 billion a year in new revenue for transportation improvements statewide through increased taxes and fees.

The House wants to dip into the state’s projected $1.4 billion surplus and use long-term debt to fund transportation projects primarily in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

The entire House is expected to consider the committee’s proposal Monday, but it doesn’t appear that the plan will get much fanfare.

When House budget negotiators first introduced the idea last month, Senate Finance Chairman John H. Chichester, Stafford Republican, told The Washington Times that the proposal was “humorous” because it looked like the budget proposal the Senate rejected.

Mr. Kaine’s office shared that view.

“We certainly don’t see how a further delay brings any promise of transportation relief to millions of Virginians especially those in Northern Virginia,” said Kevin Hall, Mr. Kaine’s spokesman. “That’s their compromise? That we adopt their plan, and put off the hard choices until later? That’s not leadership.”

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