- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2006

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday called Virginia lawmakers back to a special session to jump-start stalled negotiations on the budget and proposed transportation-related tax increases.

The Democratic governor recalled the legislature before the Republican-controlled General Assembly adjourned its regular session without passing a spending plan for the third time since 2001. Lawmakers earlier yesterday had agreed to a special session for budget negotiations.

“We sort of have five players in this drama right now, and four — the two Senate caucuses, the House Democratic Caucus, and the governor’s office — are very much in line,” Mr. Kaine said. “In fact, we could finish this budget in three hours if it was just the four of us. Hopefully, the leadership of the House Republican Caucus will be able to be more in line.”

The governor’s recall was similar to those in the 2004 session, when then-Gov. Mark Warner called legislators into a special session after they could not agree on taxes and spending. The stalemate resulted in an unprecedented 115 days of legislative work and the passage of a record $1.38 billion tax increase.

Mr. Kaine, House Democrats and the entire state Senate agree that they need a dedicated source of new revenue to ease the gridlock on the state’s congested roads and to fund mass-transit improvements.

House Republicans think the state should not pass new taxes after the 2004 tax battle and after a multibillion-dollar surplus created by a robust economy.

“Our caucus has come together as a team, showing a solidarity of purpose with an agreed-upon, steadfast resolve to find solutions as a caucus,” said House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican. “Reinforced by the realities of record-setting surpluses and a substantial tax increase passed less than two years ago, this team is and will remain unified.”

The 11 House and Senate budget negotiators plan to remain in Richmond to try to reach a compromise on a new, two-year spending plan, which must be in place by June 30 to prevent a government shutdown.

Most other legislators returned home to their families and jobs yesterday, but they will officially return to the capital on March 27 to start the special session with hopes of approving a deal brokered by the negotiators.

Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch, one of the budget negotiators, said he was frustrated because there was no agreement, but he was committed to continue trying. “The Senate’s focus continues to be [on] finding a long-term solution to our transportation problems, not a short-term fix,” said Mr. Stosch, Henrico Republican, “but that solution must also have the support of our citizens.”

Weary legislators adjourned at about 6:15 p.m. after a long day of wrangling over a few remaining bills and minor details on how the special session would proceed.

Republicans accused the governor of trying to take credit for calling the special session after lawmakers already had agreed to it on their own.

“The public doesn’t care whether we call it or they call it,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican. Democrats spent the day blaming the Republican leadership, which had extended fights about the budget in 2001, 2004 and this year.

“You’re holding the people of Virginia hostage because of your own intransigence,” said Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, Portsmouth Democrat. “We are not at fault. You are in charge.”

The session was dominated with transportation issues, but several other notable measures passed.

The legislature overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman and banning civil unions. Voters will make the final decision in November when the question appears on ballots statewide.

The General Assembly also approved a sales-tax holiday for school supplies. Parents will be able to buy clothes, shoes and such supplies as notebooks or calculators Aug. 4-6 without paying the 5 percent state sales tax.

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