- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

RICHMOND — Budget negotiators last night suggested that the Virginia House and Senate are still far apart on transportation and tax increases, a disposition that is likely to lead to an extended or a special session.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said that the 11 lawmakers negotiating a final compromise on funding transportation improvements and the state’s two-year spending plan should reach an agreement by the scheduled adjournment Saturday.

“There isn’t any reason they shouldn’t be able to finish it in the regulation that the constitution allots them,” Mr. Kaine told reporters. “I feel a sense of urgency and I think the people feel a sense of urgency.” Mr. Kaine, who wants to increase taxes and fees to ease traffic congestion on the state’s roads, said those who agree with him “could probably finish this thing in about 35 minutes.” Mr. Kaine said he has been meeting privately with the negotiators and that he thinks the session can end on time if an agreement is reached by tomorrow morning.

Budget negotiators have held few meetings, but were scheduled to convene last night.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. was not confident that a deal would be forged by deadline.

“There are few things where we’re close, but we can’t resolve this giant big lump that is transportation,” the Fairfax County Republican said.

Several negotiators and budget staffers met last night to go line by line through the capital projects portion of the budget.

Armed with highlighters, the men discussed funding requests for projects at state schools and for items such as the Massey Cancer Center in Richmond.

They said they remain hopeful an agreement can be reached in time for adjournment.

“Time is like pain; it’s all in your head,” said Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican. “We can get it done.”

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith said the Senate is trying to “hold a gun to our heads” to push massive tax increases.

“We can get out of here without changing the status quo, without having a change in Virginia statutes by Saturday, but we can’t do it if the Senate is going to insist on changing things dramatically and putting our budget process and our state government at risk,” the Salem Republican said. “There’s always another year to fight the battle.”

Mr. Kaine called the status quo “intolerable.”

Delegates support a two-year, $888 million transportation spending plan that is funded by debt, part of a multibillion-dollar surplus and higher fines for driving violations.

Eighty percent of the money raised by the House plan would go to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, the state’s most congested areas.

Senators have a two-year, $1.9 billion plan that raises taxes on gasoline and auto sales, as well as the levy on selling property and the fee for registering a car.

“We have much agreement, [but House negotiators] simply do not have the money to do what we need to do,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester, Fredericksburg Republican.

“They’ve chosen a route of fixing for the short-term certain transportation problems with long-term debt.” Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, Pittsylvania Republican, denied that the Senate is holding the budget process hostage and said the House plan is built on “sand,” “swampland” and “assumptions.”

“This Senate has always been willing to work for the betterment of the state,” he said. “Our responsibility … is to do that which is right … and not try to sell that which is behind the circus door tent.”

Mr. Kaine said House Republicans are the only ones opposed to higher taxes for transportation, and he is willing to call a special session if they don’t work out a deal on time.

“We’re going to stay here until we get the people’s business done,” he said.

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