- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

RICHMOND — Yesterday morning the Senate Finance Committee thought it had solved the budget deadlock by passing a revamped two-year spending proposal that would have allowed regions in Virginia to raise local taxes and fees to generate more money for their own transportation projects.

But by the end of the day, after closed-door meetings involving the Senate’s Republican and Democratic caucuses, the new budget proposal had returned almost entirely to the way it was before the day started.

“We thought what we did had the best intention,” said Senate Finance Chairman John H. Chichester, a Stafford Republican.

However, other senators said the proposal was flawed, though they might revisit it through separate legislation before the special session ends.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, a Salem Republican, said the Senate appears to be in “disarray.”

Mr. Chichester said “there are no frayed nerves” between him and his fellow Senate members.

The Finance Committee’s early-morning adjustments were intended to blend the Republican-controlled House’s apparent desire for regional “self-help” programs in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia with the Senate and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s desire for a broader statewide plan.

It did not have the desired effect.

“It is hard to imagine that the Senate could produce a plan that would impact Virginia’s taxpayers more adversely than those they had previously endorsed,” said House Speaker William J. Howell, a Stafford Republican.

The revised Senate plan included dropping its proposal to repeal a tax exemption on wholesale gas purchases, and instead add a 6-cent fee on each gallon of sold at the 17 oil terminals across the state.

Mr. Griffith said the new gas tax proposal was “the proverbial pig in a different dress,” and that the tax would trickle down to customers at the pump.

The two sides appear as far apart as when the special session started Monday.

Mr. Kaine called the General Assembly back for the special session after lawmakers failed to agree on a new two-year $72 billion spending plan before it adjourned from its regular 60-day-session on March 11.

The Senate still wants to raise nearly $1 billion a year in new revenue for transportation improvements statewide through increased taxes and fees. The House wants to dip into the state’s projected $1.4 billion surplus and use long-term debt to fund transportation projects primarily in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

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