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Virginia Politics
Posted at 07:38 PM ET, 04/05/2012

State budget deal reached in Richmond

State budget negotiators reached a deal Thursday on a two-year, $85 billion spending plan.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said the House and Senate reached a deal Thursday after negotiating during a special session. But Saslaw said Senate Democrats, whose votes are needed for the budget to pass, will oppose the spending plan because it does not include transportation money for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

The Senate had sought $300 million for the Metrorail line to Dulles International Airport as well as $125 million in toll relief for Hampton Roads.

State Sen. Charles Colgan (D-Prince William), a member of the negotiating team, signed off on the deal, according to Robert Vaughn, director of the House Appropriations Committee.

Colgan’s support suggests Republicans have the 21 votes needed for passage in the Senate, which is evenly divided.

Colgan, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) and House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) did not immediately returns calls seeking comment Thursday evening.

Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton visited with negotiators earlier Thursday and said Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) would not agree to the additional money for rail to Dulles.

Legislators do not plan to return for further negotiations but the budget bill will be voted on April 17, Saslaw said.


From left, Sen. Walter A Stosch (R-Henrico) chairman of the Senate Finance committee, Del. Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford) back to camera, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Sen. Charles J. Colgan ( D-Prince William), and Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) speak during a budget conference committee meeting at the General Assembly Building in Richmond. (Bob Brown - AP)
Earlier this week, House and Senate budget conferees had reported progress on most areas of the spending plan, with the exception of transportation. They came to an agreement on so-called cost-of-competing funds, said Sen. Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The funds are usually provided to Northern Virginia schools to help them attract staff in that expensive job market.

McDonnell’s proposed budget includes the funds for teachers but cut the $65 million normally provided for support staff. The budget plan passed by the Senate restores $60 million of that, while the House proposal includes $24 million.

Negotiators have agreed to include $40 million in the budget for cost-of-competing, with $28 million of that devoted to the first year, Stosch said. Legislators could come back in the second year of the budget to request more funds, he said.

Budget conferees also have agreed to direct state auditors to study how cost-of-competing payments are calculated and what school districts should receive the funds, Stosch said. The funds are currently distributed across an area stretching from Culpeper to the Washington suburbs.

Negotiators also said they were close to working out their differences related to higher education.

McDonnell’s budget added $12.7 million over two years for need-based financial aid for undergraduates at state institutions, on top of the $141 million currently provided. The House zeroed out that funding boost. But the Senate nearly doubled it, to $24.2 million, and added $1.8 million for graduate students.

Negotiators had not said how they expected to settle that issue, but reported that they were making progress.

By and  |  07:38 PM ET, 04/05/2012

 
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