- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2008

RICHMOND — House and Senate budget negotiators yesterday were resigned to the likelihood that an ongoing budget impasse would drive the regular 60-day legislative session beyond today”s scheduled adjournment.

Perhaps the most telling sign that the General Assembly was headed for overtime came from Delegate Philip A. Hamilton.

He acknowledged yesterday that he had extended his Richmond hotel reservations.

“Just from a mechanical standing — and I don”t want to be too pessimistic — but it”s almost to the point where we probably can”t get done on time,” said Mr. Hamilton, Newport News Republican. Mr. Hamilton sits on the conference committee charged with shaping a compromise version of the $78 billion two-year budgets passed last month by the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“We only agreed to seven or eight things — period,” he said. “There are still a lot of issues out there.”



When asked if the session would run long, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles J. Colgan Sr., who is also on the conference committee, said, “Safe to say.”

“But … if we start to work in earnest and things begin to break and we want to work until about 3 in the morning, which I am willing to do, we could get it done tonight,” said Mr. Colgan, Prince William Democrat.

Lawmakers said it takes roughly 12 hours to print the budget in preparation for a floor vote.

Some held out hope that an agreement would be reached by this morning, allowing a vote by this evening.

Mr. Colgan suggested the General Assembly would adopt a resolution to extend the session five days. That would give the budget teams time to iron out their differences and the rest of the General Assembly time to return home, he said.

The remarks came between a series of meetings yesterday, including an early morning breakfast with Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, at the governor”s mansion.

House Republicans continue to push to add 800 Medicaid waivers that would allow mentally disabled persons community-based services. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, hope to expand income eligibility for pre-kindergarten. The two sides also disagree about teacher pay raises.

Other points of contention include a plan by Senate Democrats to funnel roughly $4 million into programs that help prisoners re-enter society and the House’s lack of funding for drug courts.

“We”re not up against a deadline where the commonwealth has to turn off the lights, so we want to do it right,” Mr. Hamilton said.

Doubts started to rise about whether the General Assembly would meet its scheduled adjournment after the six-person House and Senate budget teams traded accusations during dueling press conferences Thursday.

The attacks, including one in which Sen. R. Edward Houck, Spotsylvania Democrat, accused Republicans of putting “their grimy boots” on poor kids, made for good political theater, but apparently did little to advance negotiations.

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