Virginia legislators foresee session overtime to wrap up budget tweaks

Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 25, 2011; 11:02 PM

RICHMOND - The Virginia General Assembly is unlikely to complete revisions to the state's two-year budget Saturday and probably will have to extend its annual legislative session by at least one day.

House and Senate negotiators inched closer to a budget deal late Friday, but key differences on spending for education, public safety and social services still remained.

The Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate have agreed to pump $75 million in new money into K-12 education, $114 million into the state's rainy day fund and $32 million from the general fund into transportation, according to some senators and delegates.

In response to a scathing Department of Justice report of the state's five training centers, lawmakers also are working toward a compromise in which the state would set aside $30 million to move developmentally disabled residents from institutions to community-based care.

"I'm encouraged,'' Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) said. "We've made some progress." But he called the notion that the assembly could finish Saturday, as scheduled, "unduly optimistic."

Robert Vaughn, staff director for the House Appropriations Committee, said the dozen negotiators hope to hash out a compromise by noon Saturday.

It would then take hours for staff members to review and print the budget. Lawmakers could have it on their desks by late Saturday night or Sunday morning.

If the session went into overtime, at a cost of about $20,000 a day, it would be the sixth session extension in a decade.

Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) said he had not given up hope - holding up his crossed fingers when asked about leaving Richmond on time. But Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) suggested that the legislature may not leave town until Monday or Tuesday.

The two chambers voted Wednesday to extend the deadline for budget negotiators to reach a deal on the state budget until midnight Thursday after their original Tuesday deadline passed with no compromise.

Last year, it extended its session by one day to finish work on the state's two-year, $78-billion budget.

Budget conferees began meeting Feb. 14 as they looked to make hundreds of changes to the state's $78-billion two-year budget. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has met with them twice.

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