Each of Virginia’s 134 localities — affluent and not so affluent — is bracing for the worstafter the General Assembly ended its session this month without approving a two-year state budget because of partisan disputes over spending and power.
With their own deadlines to meet, many local officials are now planning budgets in the dark: They don’t know when or how much funding will come from Richmond, which spends half its general fund on localities.
“Without a budget, you’re guessing,” Campbell Sheriff Steve A. Hutcherson said. “I think it’s crazy they can’t just sit down and come up with a budget. They’re playing politics.”
Legislators will return to Richmond for a special session this week as they attempt to adopt an $85 billion spending plan before July 1, the start of the fiscal year. Failure to do so could result in a partial government shutdown for the first time in Virginia history — not just for the state, but for its 95 counties and 39 cities, too.
Campbell receives more money from the state than it does from local coffers— $60 million, nearly half of its $127 million budget, according to an annual report by the Virginia auditor of public accounts. Prince William gets nearly $500 million from the state, about 35 percent of its $1.4 billion budget.
A dozen negotiators from the House of Delegates and the Senate will try to hash out a compromise starting Wednesday before all 140 lawmakers return for a vote. Legislators must agree on a two-year state spending plan that would help pay for everything from prisons, road maintenance and colleges on the state level to courts, registrars and health care locally.
“I think after a week of rest and being reunited with their families and hearing from constituents, I think they’ll be in a lot better frame of mind to get down to the important work,” Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) told reporters after lawmakers failed to agree on a plan.
It’s not the first time lawmakers have had trouble agreeing on a spending plan, but it is the first time that one of the chambers couldn’t muster enough votes to pass its own version.
Senate Democrats have voted down two budgets and threatened to scuttle a third after Republicans failed to give them more power on committees and increase spending in certain areas. November’s elections left the Senate equally divided between the parties, but Republicans took control because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) has the power to break some tie votes. He cannot, however, vote on the budget.
“By and large, I think the two bodies are closer now than they were in ’04 and ’06,” Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said. “I think this thing can be resolved fairly quickly. It won’t happen in two hours or anything like that, but it won’t take two months.”