- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a new two-year $72 billion state budget yesterday, setting the stage for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to weigh in before it returns to the General Assembly for final approval.

The 91-to-2 vote in the House came a day after the Senate unanimously approved the same spending plan.

The budget establishes record spending for education and health care and sets aside $1 billion for building and renovating state buildings. The spending plan also includes 4 percent raises for state employees, teachers, college faculty and sheriffs’ deputies. The raises would kick in later this year.

The plan also establishes pay increases of at least 3 percent for state workers, faculty and deputies and 1.5 percent for teachers. Those increases will take effect next year.

As for transportation — the focal point of the longest session in state history — the budget allocates $568 million, which falls shy of what both Republican-controlled chambers initially proposed.

The allocation includes $339 million that only would go to transportation if the General Assembly approves a “long-range transportation funding plan” before Nov. 1. Late last month, lawmakers agreed to delay those discussions until sometime this fall.

“I think we have a compromise we can live with. There are no new taxes,” said House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican.

“We now have a fiscally responsible budget that relies upon existing revenues to make substantial investments in core services,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican.

The House also voted 63-25 to repeal the estate tax and to cap total state tax credits for committing farm land to conservation use. The Senate on Monday approved the same measures.

Now, Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, has a week to offer vetoes and amendments to the proposal. Next week, the General Assembly is expected to take up the governor’s suggestions and approve a final budget.

The new spending plan would take effect July 1.

The opposing philosophies between the conservative, anti-tax House Republicans and the more centrist Senate Republicans over how to pay for transportation improvements fueled the budget impasse, which lasted more than 155 days.

The House wanted to use part of the state’s projected $1.4 billion budget surplus and borrow money to improve roads and mass transit. The Senate and Mr. Kaine wanted long-term revenue solutions, but failed to push through a variety of tax increases estimated to pull in as much as $1 billion a year.

“Hopefully, when we return this fall, House Republicans will be more willing to recognize our transportation crisis and commit to long-term sustainable funding solutions that strengthen our economy and improve quality of life,” said Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat.

Under the capital-improvements plan, George Mason University will receive $4 million for an addition to a performing-arts building at its Fairfax campus and $4 million for the construction of a performing-arts center at its Prince William County campus.

There also is nearly $1.7 million set aside for the Jamestown 400th anniversary celebration next year, $4.5 million from the general fund for the Virginia Horse Center Foundation in Lexington, Va., and $63.5 million for a new Northern Virginia regional forensic laboratory and medical examiner’s office.

The spending plan also includes almost $2 million the first year and more than $4 million the second year to implement expanded monitoring of sex offenders using global positioning systems or other similar tracking devices, and more than $10 million for the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation and a new 300-bed facility for sexually violent predators. The facility would be built in Nottoway County.

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