- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

RICHMOND — State lawmakers again are headed into legislative overtime to hash out a two-year budget, which inevitably will center on how to pay for improvements to the state’s overloaded roadways.

But failing to produce a budget on time for the fourth time in six years will not hurt legislators, who can return to their home districts as heroes who refused to compromise their positions.

“They can go back to their constituency and claim they are working extra hard to get the people’s work done,” said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University. “They can say, ‘It’s everybody else’s fault, and look at how terrible the institution is.’”

The General Assembly is required by state law to produce a biennial budget during its 60-day session, which is scheduled to adjourn at midnight tonight. To operate the legislature during a special session costs taxpayers about $20,000 a day.

Nonetheless, House and Senate budget negotiators have reached an impasse on how to fund transportation initiatives.

Senate Republicans — along with Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and House Democrats — want to raise taxes and user fees, but House Republicans want to use some of the state’s $1.4 billion surplus, increase fines and employ long-term borrowing.

Lawmakers were on edge yesterday as their leaders bickered over whether to adjourn without a budget and call a special session, or to extend the session a few days and allow most of the legislators to return home for a breather.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., Williamsburg Republican, said in a floor speech that a special session is likely, adding that it could begin April 19.

But Mr. Kaine said he will summon lawmakers back to work much earlier because local governments can’t complete their budgets until they know how much money they will get from the state.

Still, a lack of urgency over finishing the budget was apparent yesterday in the Republican-controlled legislature. The 11 House and Senate budget negotiators had no plans to meet, and were not expected to sit down face to face until Wednesday.

“I don’t think it is a big deal at all,” Lt. Gov. William T. Bolling, a Republican and for mer senator, said about the prospect of adjourning without a budget and calling a special session.

Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax Republican and the House’s lead budget negotiator, said he didn’t think lawmakers would be hurt by going past the deadline.

Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford Republican and the Senate’s lead budget negotiator, joked that his biggest concern was missing a dentist appointment Tuesday.

In 2004, Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, called a special session that resulted in a $1.38 billion tax increase. Legislators spent a record 115 days in session before the budget agreement was made May 7.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, said that special session didn’t seem to hurt delegates’ campaigns a year and a half later.

“I don’t think anyone who got elected was hurt by going until May 7,” he said.

In addition, the stalemate gives House Democrats an opportunity to score political points.

“The Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Democrats, the governor — we all recognize the importance of transportation to our economic future and they don’t,” said Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat.

“I think the House Republican Caucus is isolated and out of the mainstream, and for purposes of being the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, it helps me recruit candidates and have a very positive message that resonates throughout the public.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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