Assembly Is Poised To Approve Va. Budget

Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) with a copy of the budget proposal, which would raise teacher pay.
Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) with a copy of the budget proposal, which would raise teacher pay. (By Bob Brown -- Richmond Times-dispatch Via Associated Press)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

RICHMOND, March 12 -- Virginia House and Senate negotiators completed work on a new state budget Wednesday, which could end an overtime session of the General Assembly on Thursday night.

After two weeks of often harsh negotiations, which forced lawmakers to extend their regular 60-day session past its Saturday deadline, the negotiators agreed to give teachers and state employees a pay raise, increase spending on the mentally retarded and expand courts that direct drug addicts into treatment instead of prison.

The two-year $77 billion spending plan, which goes into effect July 1, includes more money for environmental protection, human services and health care. But it scales back or eliminates many of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's proposals.

The full Senate and House of Delegates are scheduled to consider the budget proposal Thursday night and adjourn. But last night, negotiators were still trying to finalize an agreement on borrowing more than $1 billion for construction at colleges, universities and other state entities.

The dispute was complicated by a slowdown in the economy, which forced lawmakers and Kaine (D) to cut about $2 billion from the proposal the governor submitted in December.

"It took some time, but we were able to fashion a budget that will help all Virginians," said Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said he looked forward to the legislature approving the agreement Thursday.

The budget talks stalled last week over teacher pay, pre-kindergarten spending and higher education. Lawmakers settled those issues Monday, but negotiators then dug in over public safety matters such as funding for two regional programs to catch people who use the Internet to arrange sex with children.

As they completed the budget deal Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats battled over several issues that underscore each party's priorities.

Senate Democrats persuaded House Republicans to strip language that prohibited funds for Planned Parenthood of Virginia, which performs abortions, and groups that conduct stem cell research.

In exchange, Senate Democrats agreed to abandon a program that Republicans feared could have led to collective bargaining and undermined the state's right-to-work laws.

To make up for the shortfall in the current year's budget, House and Senate leaders agreed to take about $296 million from the state's reserve fund.

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