- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

RICHMOND — When the General Assembly voted to adjourn the final day of its regular session more than two weeks ago, many lawmakers predicted they would return for a special session this week and find themselves with little to do.

They were right.

Yesterday, the Senate and House, as expected, had neither a consensus nor the chance to vote on a new two-year spending plan.

At the end of the day, House Finance Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. said the two chambers had “probably not” moved any closer to a budget deal.

The legislature adjourned March 11 without a new budget in place, and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine called them back for a special session that started yesterday. Over the break, 11 Senate and House lawmakers tasked with negotiating a budget could not broker a deal.

The House wants to allocate about $1 billion over the next two fiscal years for transportation improvements, primarily in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, with long-term borrowing and a one-time cash infusion of money from the state’s projected $1.4 billion surplus. The Senate and Mr. Kaine each favor raising about $1 billion a year for transportation through a combination of taxes and fees.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester, a Stafford Republican, said the chambers are “talking about different views of priorities,” that “extend beyond the next biennium.”

One possibility of common ground was the proposal to establish a regional transportation authority in the Hampton Roads area, which Senate leaders say they are open to as long as there is a statewide transportation solution as well. So far House lawmakers have not decided whether the authority would have the power to raise revenue for road improvements or what its makeup would be.

“You have to have a Christmas tree before you decorate it,” said Delegate Leo C. Wardrup, Virginia Beach Republican.

Yesterday, lawmakers did find something else to argue about.

The House passed the so-called “caboose” budget, which is meant to tie up the loose ends in the budget that covers state spending through June 30. The Senate did not.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, a Salem Republican, said the Senate was delaying action on the caboose budget in an attempt to put more pressure on the Republican-controlled House to vote for a new budget favored by the Senate and Mr. Kaine.

“They want to push that raft we’re on a little closer to the falls,” Mr. Griffith said. “They are playing a calculated game of chicken [and the] people of the commonwealth are in the middle.” Mr. Griffith said if the two sides cannot agree on a caboose budget before May, then state services could suffer.

The House adjourned until Thursday and Mr. Chichester said that the Senate Finance Committee will hold another public hearing on the upcoming two-year budget at 9:30 this morning, and work through tomorrow.

Delegate M. Kirkland “Kirk” Cox, a Colonial Heights Republican, said he was surprised to learn of the public hearing and that it sounded like perhaps the Senate had invited only its “constituents to come.”

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