- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

RICHMOND — The lawmakers tasked with carving out a new budget broke off talks yesterday after four days of sporadic discussions, resolved that they will not reach a consensus on a spending proposal before the General Assembly reconvenes for a special session Monday.

“It’s safe to say we’re not going to have anything in place,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester, Fredericksburg Republican, as he left the General Assembly Building after meeting for about an hour with fellow budget negotiators.

Most were not blindsided by the failure of the House and Senate negotiators to cut a deal over transportation funding and tax increases. Before yesterday’s break in talks, lawmakers not involved in the negotiations laughed at the possibility of a joint budget proposal being finished before Monday.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, called a special session after the legislature failed to reach a budget agreement during its regular 60-day session that ended March 11.

The lack of urgency over finishing a deal showed this week with the absence of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax County Republican who traded budget negotiations for a honeymoon overseas with his new wife.

Mr. Kaine’s schedule suggested that he did not expect negotiations to end anytime soon. This week, the governor continued to push his transportation package at two town-hall meetings in Southwest Virginia, and he is expected to do more next week.

Mr. Kaine’s political action committee, Moving Virginia Forward, also pumped up the political pressure by placing automated phone calls and airing radio advertisements that criticize House Republicans and encourage voters to “urge your delegate to get moving.”

“Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate have come together with me to offer real plans to get Virginia moving again,” Mr. Kaine says in the radio ad. “We proposed a long-term statewide solution that provides a reliable source of funding, tackles out-of-control development, increases accountability, invests in public transportation and relieves gridlock in Northern Virginia. House Republicans have a different idea.”

Delegate Joe T. May, Loudoun Republican, whose constituents have received the automated calls, said he was not overly concerned about the governor’s tactics.

“This is politics and not high society,” Mr. May said. “The governor uses whatever tools he has available to him, and we use the tools available to us. … I’m sure the governor wishes to make his point that transportation is key and important, and he certainly doesn’t get any argument out of me.”

Although the Republican-controlled House and Senate agree that there should be transportation improvements, the deadlock between the budget negotiators continues to center on how to achieve that.

The Senate wants to devote about $1 billion a year for transportation upgrades through an assortment of increased taxes and fees.

The House, which opposes tax increases, wants to raise about $500 million a year for transportation through long-term borrowing, dipping into the state’s $1.4 billion surplus and diverting money previously earmarked for education, public safety and health.

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