- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2009

Virginia lawmakers approved the state’s $77 billion budget Saturday evening, assuring an on-time adjournment of the legislative session and returning a spending proposal infused with federal dollars to Gov. Tim Kaine.

“That’s the No. 1 responsibility we have, and we met the responsibility,” said Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican and vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Disputes about Virginia’s biennial spending plan took the state’s 12 budget conferees until roughly midnight Friday to resolve, threatening to push the winter legislative session past Saturday’s scheduled adjournment.

But with the sixth overtime session in the past eight years looming, members of the Republican-controlled House voted 90-8 in the evening to pass a spending proposal containing key compromises between the General Assembly’s two divergent chambers.

The Democratic-controlled Senate followed suit shortly afterward, passing the budget on a 35-5 vote. Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, will have 30 days to review and veto portions of the plan.

“The budget … is as close to the budget I introduced as any of the years that I’ve been governor,” Mr. Kaine said.

Virginia had been facing a nearly $4 billion revenue shortfall, but the Associated Press reported that the budget passed Saturday uses $1.5 billion in federal economic-stimulus money to restore many of the cuts to core services such as education, health care and public safety that Mr. Kaine made in December.

Mr. Hamilton said the budget includes more than $2 billion in stimulus funding. The budget also sets aside $160 million in case of future economic weakness.

In the House, some lawmakers lamented having to rely on funds from the $787 billion stimulus act to prop up state finances. Virginia is the first state to pass a budget incorporating the federal dollars.

“I don’t want anyone to think … that my vote for the budget today is in any way support for what’s going on in Washington, D.C., right now,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican.

Other lawmakers said the stimulus funding was a savior that prevented further cuts in an already austere budget.

“I thank the Lord for the stimulus money, because without it the cuts would be truly draconian, and I think it would be a pain that would be almost unbearable,” said Delegate Albert C. Pollard Jr., Lancaster Democrat.

In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Charles J. Colgan stressed that the stimulus funding was temporary.

“You would be surprised how hard it was to fit the stimulus funds into the general funds and to make it work,” said Mr. Colgan, Prince William Democrat. “I think we did that.”

The budget approved by the two chambers scraps an early-retirement plan for teachers backed by the House and a provision providing for 90-day early release of some prisoners, pushed by the Senate and Mr. Kaine.

It compromises on Mr. Kaine’s proposal to save money by placing a cap on school support staff, with lawmakers agreeing to use the cap on a temporary basis, and restores funding to Virginia’s sheriffs and commonwealth’s attorneys.

The budget also expands Medicaid services for the state’s mentally disabled and scraps Mr. Kaine’s plan to prohibit retailers from keeping a portion of the sales taxes they collect.

“I think we put out a good budget, given the tough circumstances we were in,” Mr. Hamilton said.

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