- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

RICHMOND — The struggle that began in December over a $72 billion state spending blueprint concludes tomorrow, months late and with just two days to spare before a new budget year starts.

Virginia’s feuding House and Senate return for one final time tomorrow to examine changes Gov. Timothy M. Kaine made to a delicate budget compromise, then vote to accept or reject them.

The Kaine administration discovered a mathematical error of about $7 million in the compromise budget the House and Senate separately approved last week, said press secretary Kevin Hall.

Mr. Kaine also will restore $3.75 million that had been deleted from the compromise to help Lynchburg with federally mandated upgrades to its sanitary sewer and storm drainage system. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered the projects in Lynchburg and Richmond to keep raw sewage from washing into the James River after heavy rainstorms.

The $3.75 million for the Richmond project survived the budget negotiations, but the Lynchburg funding did not. Both cities have sewage systems that, in places, are nearly 100 years old.

Delegate Shannon Valentine, Lynchburg Democrat, said she couldn’t understand why Lynchburg’s funding was deleted.

“When we’re spending historic amounts of money to clean up Chesapeake Bay but we continue to put raw sewage into the James River made no sense to me,” she said in an interview.

“But this is not a nutrient problem; this is a pathogen problem,” she said.

Mr. Hall said Mr. Kaine’s fiscal advisers, with only six days to scrutinize and amend this year’s budget instead of the usual five or six weeks, were forced to use all of a projected $4 million cushion and free up $3 million elsewhere in the budget to cover the math error.

“We will offer amendments that will more than offset that inadvertent math error,” Mr. Hall said.

The administration, however, was silent yesterday on what consideration it has given to legislation related to the budget that would repeal the estate tax and limit the total value of land that can be committed to conservation each year in exchange for tax credits.

“There have been discussions, but the No. 1 priority is to get the two-year budget review done,” Mr. Hall said.

Mr. Kaine supports eliminating the tax levied posthumously on the estates of millionaires, but is a supporter of the conservation tax credits that have put hundreds of thousands of acres of land off-limits to developers in recent years.

In a compromise, however, negotiators agreed to limit to $50 million a year the amount of land that could be committed to conservation easements as a trade-off for repealing the estate tax, which is estimated to cut revenue by $98 million a year.

The use of conservation tax credits has grown wildly in recent years, and legislators fear that it could consume ever larger chunks of state revenue without restrictions.

House and Senate versions of the bill — identical in substance — have not yet won final passage, so the issue is not formally before Mr. Kaine, a Democrat.

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