Negotiators from the House and Senate are beginning to try to work out a compromise on the two-year $85 billion state budget.
The move follows the Senate’s failure to pass a budget when all 20 Democrats voted against the spending plan in a bid for more committee power and increased state spending.
But the pair of Democrats who are part of the Senate negotiating team said their caucus still opposes the budget.
“We can negotiate the budget, even though its not in front of us,” said Sen. Charles Colgan (D-Prince William), former chairman of the Finance Committee.
Senate Republicans say they have offered to let Colgan co-chair the Finance Committee along with Sen. Walter Stosch (R-Henrico). But Colgan said Tuesday: “That’s only one piece.’’
Senate Democrats expect to send a new list of budget requests to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) as soon as Wednesday.
Colgan joined Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), Thomas K. Norment (R-James City), John Watkins (R-Powhatan), Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) and Stosch at a meeting Tuesday.
“We are all eager for there to be a budget,’’ Howell said.
Republicans need to flip only one Senate Democrat in the 40-member chamber to win passage. Earlier in the session, Democrats sometimes broke ranks to vote with Republicans on pro-gun and antiabortion legislation. But they’ve stuck together on the budget, despite overtures made to Colgan and some other Democrats.
“We assume we will get there one day, so we assembled our team together so we can negotiate in good faith,’’ Stosch said.
Using the prospect of a deadlocked Senate as leverage, Democrats have been pressing Republicans to revamp some committees, adding more Democrats to certain panels and restructuring the Finance Committee so that it is co-chaired by a Republican and a Democrat.
Republicans have refused and accused Democrats of trying to turn the budget process into a power grab. Democrats say they are only trying to correct a power grab pulled off by Republicans at the start of the session, when the GOP changed Senate rules and enlisted the tie-breaking votes of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) to help them stack crucial committees with Republicans. Bolling does not have authority to vote on the budget.
The House passed a third budget late last week, which is awaiting Senate action, but legislators say it’s unlikely a spending plan would be approved before the General Assembly’s scheduled adjournment Saturday.
“We both know where we want to go,” said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “It’s a great step. We’re not going to get to 21 without both sides talking.’’
The House named six conferees: Dels. Lacey Putney (I-Bedford), Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Beverly Sherwood (R-Frederick), Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) Steve Landes (R-Augusta) and Johnny S. Joannou (D-Portsmouth).
“It is my belief that today’s attendance by all parties certainly should be an omen of good things to come,’’ Putney said.
McDonnell issued a statement saying he was encouraged that the House and Senate had begun meeting. “While most Senate Democrats continue their politically motivated obstruction of the budget process, I am pleased that the outcry from citizens, local governments, first responders, and elected officials statewide has influenced this important step toward reconciling policy differences in the budget,’’ the governor said.