- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

The Virginia Senate yesterday unanimously approved a $72 billion spending plan that contains record spending for public schools, repeals the “death tax” and sets aside a small amount of money for roads and mass transit projects.

The move signaled an end to the state’s longest budget impasse. It also allayed concerns that state services would be jeopardized if a budget were not in place by June 30, the end of the state’s fiscal year.

The Senate approved the plan 37-0. The House is expected to approve the same plan today.

After that, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, will have seven days to offer amendments or vetoes for the legislature to consider before it approves the final budget. If all goes as planned, Mr. Kaine’s amendments would be ready for the General Assembly to consider on June 28, said Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the governor.

The budget proposal provides a 4 percent pay increase in the coming year for all state employees, state-supported local employees and public school teachers. In the second year, state workers and state-subsidized local workers would get a 3 percent raise, and teachers would see a 1.5 percent increase.

The budget also caps the state’s conservation tax credits and sets aside $1 billion for capital projects — the most in state history. It also repeals the death tax on estates willed to family members. The repeal would take effect July 1, 2007.

Potential winners in Northern Virginia include George Mason University, which would receive $25 million for a new research building, $4 million for a project on its Fairfax campus and $4 million for a performing arts center at its Prince William County campus.

Under the tentative agreement, Northern Virginia Community College would receive $27.6 million for construction on its Loudoun County campus and $27.4 million for projects at its Annandale campus.

The plan also sets aside more than $63 million for a forensics laboratory in Prince William County.

The debate over new taxes and fees for transportation ran through the regular 60-day legislative session, which ended March 11.

Mr. Kaine then called a special session, which began March 27. Budget negotiations dragged on until late last month, when the Senate gave in to the House’s request to set aside the transportation issue, pass the rest of the budget and take up transportation talks later.

House Republicans are satisfied because the budget does not include new taxes. Senate Republicans are satisfied because the plan does not include any new long-term debt.

The tentative budget deal falls short of Mr. Kaine’s and the Senate’s push for as much as $1 billion a year in new revenue for transportation. The two-year proposal provides $568 million in new money for roads — $339 million of which is contingent on approval of a statewide plan in an autumn special session.

“The governor congratulates the budget conferees for reaching a deal on a two-year budget, and the governor is pleased the House leadership has made a commitment that we will continue to discuss and look for long-range solutions to our transportation challenges,” Mr. Hall said. “We expect them to keep their word.”

This is the third time in the past six years that lawmakers could not agree on a spending plan by the end of the annual legislative session.

The current special session has cost taxpayers more than $200,000.

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