- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2012

RICHMOND — An amended budget that provides $300 million in additional funds for the Dulles Metrorail project and millions more for K-12 and pre-K education passed the Senate Finance Committee unanimously Thursday as a lingering stalemate took a step closer to resolution.

The full Senate could vote on its budget Monday, after which it would return to the House for a vote there. A small group of conferees from both chambers would then meet to hash out differences between the Senate version of the budget and the House version.

“I remain hopeful that in fairly short order they will have this resolved,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said Thursday on his monthly appearance on WRVA radio in Richmond. “I’m optimistic that maybe in a week or so it’ll be done.”

Lawmakers, hampered by a dispute over power and policy, did not pass a new two-year, $85 billion budget during the 60-day regular session that ended on March 10.

While some Republicans bristled at Democrats’ demands to increase state spending on items like Medicaid and K-12 education without specifying where cuts would be made elsewhere, the Senate proposal did not add any new dollars to the budget, said Finance Committee Chairman Walter A. Stosch, Henrico Republican. It simply diverts money that had gone to other items, such as $20 million that was to serve as a contingency for potential cutbacks in federal spending and $60 million from a national mortgage settlement case that was transferred from general aid to localities into more specifically targeted funding in K-12 and pre-K programs.

Mr. Stosch said he and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican, delivered the list of items Wednesday to Delegate Lacey E. Putney, Bedford independent, and House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, two of the House budget conferees.

One controversial issue — whether the state will cover ultrasound imaging that will now be required of women electing to undergo abortions — remains outstanding.

Senate Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin, Henrico Democrat, said he expects a floor amendment to be introduced Monday on the matter.

“That amendment will mandate insurance coverage for those who aren’t insured,” he said. “The state will pick up the cost.”

The amount would total about $3 million over two years, he said.

Facilities that perform more than five abortions per month would not have access to that money, he said — a concession to Republicans who do not want to see state money go toward Planned Parenthood.

Most of the new amendments, which also restored funding for teen pregnancy prevention and poison control centers, passed without debate. But one proposal that attempted to delay the implementation of tolls in Hampton Roads rankled Mr. Norment, who said that if such an amendment passed, they might as well get rid of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which sets the administrative policies for the state’s transportation system.

Sen. John C. Watkins, Powhatan Republican, said he would support the amendment [-] if only to demonstrate how woefully inadequate the state’s funding for transportation has become.

“We cannot keep doing this,” he said. “I think I’m going to pass this because I want it handed right back to the executive branch of government. We need some leadership here.”

Mr. Norment said after the vote that he was sympathetic to such arguments, but to allow the delay would set a dangerous precedent.

“I have been in those fights for many, many years, and I’m not reluctant to engage in them again,” he said. “But there is a certain frustration where you don’t have an expectation of success. And that’s frustrating.”

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