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Competing Budget Plans Advance in Va.

House and Senate Agree on State Salaries but Diverge on Transportation

By Rosalind S. Helderman and Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 11, 2005; Page B09

RICHMOND, Feb. 10 -- The Virginia House and Senate adopted rival budget plans Thursday, advancing spending proposals that would raise salaries for state employees and cut taxes on groceries, while differing on how to improve the state's transportation system.

The two chambers are trying to decide how best to spend $1.2 billion in unexpected tax revenue generated by Virginia's booming economy. The result will be an updated version of the two-year, nearly $60 billion budget they agreed upon last year.

_____Virginia Taxes_____
Va. House, Senate Panels Split on Rail, Roads Funds (The Washington Post, Feb 7, 2005)
Overhaul Sought on Va. Telecom Taxes (The Washington Post, Feb 2, 2005)
Va.'s Excess Tax Revenue Could Top $1 Billion (The Washington Post, Feb 1, 2005)
Chichester Seeks to Earmark Insurance Tax for Road Projects (The Washington Post, Jan 22, 2005)
More on Taxes

Last year, the House and Senate fought bitterly for weeks over a plan to raise taxes by $1.5 billion. Although lawmakers are confident that a similar battle will be avoided this year, they said the rival budgets again offer divergent views about how to spend state money.

The Senate has emphasized spending on one-time expenses, rather than on new programs that would have to be funded in the future, when the economy has cooled. By contrast, the House -- in which all 100 seats are contested in the fall elections -- has offered a more aggressive spending plan, with hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation projects.

Senators proposed $670 million for transportation, contending that a real fix for underfunded road projects and transit must come later.

"We must be prepared to come back next year, ready to take the bold actions to address transportation for the long haul," said Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Stafford), chairman of the Finance Committee, as he introduced the budget on the Senate floor.

The Senate adopted its budget with no dissent and virtually no discussion. As the vote concluded, Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) turned to desk mate James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax) and remarked with amusement, "That's a record for the budget -- 38 minutes!"

Chichester said the unusual unanimity indicated solid support for the plan. But he noted that "significant differences" with the House remain.

The House budget that was passed Thursday contained more than $1 billion for transportation, including $40 million for public-private road construction partnerships, more than $100 million for other capital and operating uses and about $530 million for new roads.

Senators, however, would spend more on social service initiatives and environmental programs. The two chambers differ in other areas. The House would spend $45 million on grants for museums and cultural institutions, such as the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation in Richmond. The Senate has allocated $20.2 million to those groups. Several signature projects of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) were eliminated from the House budget but spared by the Senate.

In contrast to the placid Senate, the House floor session lasted about three hours. Democrats tried to save several Warner initiatives that Republicans deleted.

The House Democrats focused particularly on the GOP's decision to remove money for Virginia Works, Warner's signature economic development plan for southwest Virginia. House Republicans also denied funding to develop a university in that area, an idea supported by Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, considered to be the likely Democratic nominee for governor.

"They are ignoring an area that is suffering a loss of jobs," said Del. Franklin P. Hall (D-Richmond), who added that Republicans removed money for pregnant women on Medicaid and school breakfast programs. The efforts by Democrats to block the GOP moves were unsuccessful.

Republican delegates said that though they removed some of Warner's initiatives, they intend to fund other programs.

Negotiators will be appointed by each chamber to work out differences between the two documents. They will produce a single set of changes to the state's budget that will be sent to Warner for his signature or line-item veto.


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