Updated, 12:05 p.m.: Virginia budget negotiators have called it quits for the week but will be back Monday to continue hashing out details of a two-year, $85 billion spending plan.
House and Senate negotiators have been meeting in Capitol Square offices this week, sometimes jointly, sometimes separately, considering offers and counter-offers on rival budget proposals passed by the two chambers.
They decided late Thursday to take a break until after the weekend, said Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), a member of the Senate Finance Committee and one of budget conferees.
“[Dels.] Lacey Putney and Kirk Cox came up to the 10th floor and asked to speak to [Sens.] Walter [Stosch] and to John Watkins in private,” Colgan said. “We all got up and left. They were in there about an hour and came out and said they have decided they’re going to take the day off tomorrow and were not going to come back until Monday.”
Putney and Cox indicated that they are “not satisfied with what we’ve offered them,” Colgan said.
Colgan said one major sticking point is transportation, including the $300 million for Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport that is part of the Senate budget proposal, but not in the House plan.
“Yesterday there was quite a bit of discussion about transportation,” Colgan said. “That’s going to be difficult to resolve.”
Even so, Colgan said the tenor of negotiations has been fairly positive. When House negotiators said they intended to take Friday off, it seemed to Colgan that they truly needed a break, not that they were taking their ball and going home.
“There was no animosity,” he said. “There was no anger.”
Watkins (R-Powhatan) agreed with that assessment, though he said there was “acute disagreement” not only on transportation, but on funding for K-12 education and Department of Health and Human Resources programs. He said K-12 and HHR were the main focus of negotiations Thursday.
“Things kind of fell apart yesterday afternoon,” he said. “They really did. It’s probably not an unusual happening. We have sort of stepped back and everybody, the House and the Senate, both are going to re-look at HHR and K-12. That’s where the blow-up, if you can call it a blow-up — the disagreement — seems to rest. So we will get back together on Monday and try to deal with that.”
When it comes to HHR funding in the House and Senate plans, Watkins said, “There’s probably a $10 [million] to $15 million difference there.”
The two sides are even farther apart when it comes to school funding, he said. One issue is the so-called cost-of-competing money, which has been provided in the past to Northern Virginia schools to help them hire staff in the region’s expensive job market. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R)’s budget plan eliminated those funds for non-teaching staff, costing schools $65 million.
The Senate’s budget proposal restores $60 million of that funding. The House budget includes $24 million for it.
An earlier version of the Senate budget, which Democrats voted down in a dispute over committee power in the evenly divided chamber, had provided $42 million for cost-of-competing funds. After Democrats divorced their power-sharing push from the budget process, the Senate on Monday passed a budget that added $18 million to that figure.
House negotiators have been urging their Senate counterparts to return to the lower cost-of-compete figure in the upper chamber’s first budget plan,Watkins said.
“They say, ‘You had a budget before [with lower funding],’ ” Watkins said. “They can say that if they want to, but that one didn’t pass. They have to deal with what we have to deal with, the budget that passed the Senate.”
Watkins said the impasse over K-12 and HHR funding are what prompted negotiators to throw in the towel for the week, but he warned that transportation looms as an even bigger bone of contention.
“The reason everybody went home was because of those items, but there’s a much bigger piece sitting out there,” he said. “We haven’t gotten down to the nitty gritty with transportation yet. That’s when it’s going to get kind of gnarly.”
This post has been updated since it was first published.