- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

RICHMOND — Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester yesterday couldn’t wait to congratulate his colleague for striking down a proposal that some say could have jump-started the stalled budget negotiations.

From his seat in front of the Senate chamber, Mr. Chichester tried to get the attention of Sen. Marty E. Williams, chairman of the chamber’s Transportation Committee, by whispering his name.

When Mr. Williams turned, Mr. Chichester raised his left fist and praised the Newport News Republican for having a “lot of guts” for successfully leading the charge to quash a proposal that would have created a transportation authority in the Hampton Roads area. Some delegates began touting the proposal as a potential key to the stalled negotiations over transportation.

Mr. Chichester finds himself in a familiar spot these days in what should be the final days of the legislative session.

The 68-year-old Stafford County Republican has been in the middle of the state’s budget negotiations since 1992. He was first elected to the Senate in 1977.

Yesterday’s action by the Senate Transportation Committeewas one of many signs that the Senate, like the House, isn’t willing to back off its transportation plan.

Yesterday, Mr. Chichester strolled into his office shortly before 8:30 a.m. in a gray suit, gold-colored tie and thin gray-rimmed glasses.

First, he met with staff in the Senate Finance Office on the 10th floor of the General Assembly building. Then, he met with the Senate Republican Leadership Trust, the fundraising arm of some centrist senators who have supported higher taxes.

An hour later, Mr. Chichester walked into the Senate chamber, where he was honored with a resolution that had to be reworked because the House refused to act on the measure for several weeks.

“Obviously Thomas Jefferson has very little to fear with my ability to write a resolution because it obviously was neither articulate or substantive enough to deserve the consideration of the other body and I accept that personal inadequacy,” Sen. Thomas K. Norment, James City County Republican, told the chamber.

“Leading this body particularly in the area in of budgetary issues requires a constant shoulder to the yoke and extraordinary thick skin,” Mr. Norment said.

By 1:30 p.m., Mr. Chichester and the other senators attended a press conference where they explained that the differences between the House and Senate budget plans are wider than House Republican leadership portrayed earlier in the day.

The Senate wants to pay for transportation improvements through increased taxes and fees, while the House wants to dig into the state’s projected $1.4 billion surplus and long-term borrowing.

Unlike the House leadership, Mr. Chichester didn’t have a prepared statement. “I’m going to chat with you, fireside type,” he said.

“I’m sorry that our friends from across the hall attempted to mislead a few about what the Senate is attempting to do,” he said. “Our divisions are not minuscule.”

Like House Republicans, Mr. Chichester said the end product must come through compromise.

“We have always compromised with the House of Delegates. … Has there ever been a budget produced that I’m in love with? That I’m really thrilled about? Not really,” he said. “But it’s a compromise and good for Virginia. But we must solve the transportation problem over the long term.”

Later, Mr. Chichester returned to the 10th floor, where while an NCAA basketball game played in the background, he worked on a strategy to move forward with the negotiations.

A few minutes later, Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch, Henrico Republican, closed the door and inside baseball continued in what became one of the longest days of the 60-day legislative session.

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