Virginia lawmakers approve competing budget plans

By Rosalind S. Helderman and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 26, 2010; B04

RICHMOND -- The two chambers of the Virginia General Assembly passed competing two-year budget proposals Thursday that include deep cuts to education, health care and public safety designed to close a two-year, $4 billion shortfall.

Both plans would shrink state spending in response to revenue decline caused by the economic downturn. But the budgets have significant differences that legislative leaders must negotiate before adjourning the session.

The Republican-led House passed its version of the budget along party lines, 61 to 38. For the first time in years, Democrats voted en masse against it instead of following their usual practice of debating and opposing individual amendments. They said it cut too deeply and decried a proposal to eliminate funding for the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

Del. Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry), the House minority leader, said he would rather "rather resign my seat than vote for this budget." He received a standing ovation from fellow Democrats.

Appropriations Chairman Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford) defended the document, saying it was the best that could be developed during the toughest economic times in his 49 years in the House.

"I believe that the budget before us today strikes a sensible balance between meeting the core commitments that we as politicians like to talk about and the burden placed on the taxpayers who must foot the bill," he said.

In the Democratic-led Senate, eight leading Republicans joined all 22 Democrats in supporting the budget, which would raise fees by more than $300 million to cushion the impact of cuts to education. House leaders have said they will resist the fees, which they say are no different from tax increases.

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said he was "elated" by the bipartisan vote.

"It says that, by and large, in the end, we forged a pretty good compromise," he said.

Both chambers agreed to underfund pension plans for state and local employees by $508 million over the next two years. The Senate agreed that the money should be paid back over 10 years at $74 million a year starting in 2013.

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