- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007



Budget revisions pass on session’s final day

The General Assembly voted unanimously yesterday to approve a package of state budget amendments providing more money for public employees, mental health care and a Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Midcourse revisions to the two-year state budget sailed through the Senate and the House of Delegates without debate on the final day of the 46-day session.

The final product includes a four percent raise for state employees, college faculty and state-supported local employees. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s introduced budget had set the raise at three percent.

The budget provides the state’s share of a three percent raise for public school teachers, who had pressed for a larger raise to bring their salaries closer to the national average. Virginia’s average teacher salary of $47,248 is $1,861 below the national average, according to the Virginia Education Association.

The package provides a one-time general fund appropriation of $500 million for transportation projects — one element of a separate, broader transportation plan that also passed yesterday.

Also included in the budget: $9.3 million to provide services to an additional 430 mentally retarded or developmentally disabled citizens; $26.1 million to upgrade sewage treatment facilities as part of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup; $9.2 million to increase compensation for lawyers representing indigent defendants; and $12 million in incentives to bring pharmaceutical and biomedical research company SRI International to the Interstate 81 corridor.


Tax holiday declared for storm preparedness

Items used to prepare for a hurricane would be exempt from the state’s five percent sales tax under legislation that got final passage yesterday.

The exemption would be in effect only during the last week of May each year.

Sales tax wouldn’t be collected on portable generators costing up to $1,000 and other hurricane preparedness items priced up to $60. They include carbon monoxide detectors, batteries, cell phone chargers, gas tanks, radios, tarps and other items to be determined by the state tax department.

The House voted 88-8 on the measure Friday. The Senate voted unanimously to pass the bill yesterday.


Legislature expresses ‘regret’ for slavery

The Virginia House of Delegates yesterday voted to express “profound regret” for the state’s role in slavery.

Meeting on the grounds of the former Confederate Capitol, the House passed the resolution 96-0. The measure later cleared the Senate on a unanimous voice vote on the final day of the 2007 General Assembly session.

Sponsors of the resolution said they know of no other state that has apologized for slavery, although Missouri lawmakers are considering such a measure.

Supporters said the resolution does not carry the weight of law but sends an important symbolic message.

The slavery apology resolution was introduced as Virginia begins its celebration of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, where the first Africans arrived in 1619.


IRS examines AU’s tax returns

The Internal Revenue Service has begun looking at three years of American University tax returns after a spending scandal led to the ouster of the university’s president.

Former President Benjamin Ladner was forced out of office in 2005 with a multimillion-dollar severance package after an audit questioned hundreds of thousands of dollars of his spending. He had led the university for 11 years.

Interim President Cornelius Kerwin said the IRS is scrutinizing tax records from 2004 through 2006. He said the review was anticipated.

Members of Congress also have questioned the university’s compensation for executives after Mr. Ladner’s removal.



Soybean facility proposed for county

A Colorado-based consultant said a soybean facility that could produce 30 million gallons of biodiesel fuel a year would make a nice fit in Washington County.

The feasibility study by BBI International found that the Hagerstown area produces enough soybeans to support the facility. The Washington County commissioners are expected to discuss the study at a meeting Tuesday.

County officials said in August that a group of investors called Chesapeake Bio-Energy has been looking at the county as a possible site for a plant.

The BBI International study found the plant would require 21 million bushels of soybeans per year.

Robin Ferree, a business development specialist for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, said the plant would cost $80 million to $100 million and would create about 25 jobs.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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