Budget Compromise a Frustrating Ordeal; Details Divide House, Senate
Byline: Seth McLaughlin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
RICHMOND - With the clock ticking before the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn tomorrow, lawmakers negotiating a final budget were still far apart yesterday on several contentious issues.
Six-person teams from the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have been meeting for six days in an attempt to shape a compromise version of the $78 billion two-year budgets passed last month by each chamber.
Disagreements persist over what once appeared to be relatively minor issues, such as plans to expand pre-kindergarten eligibility for children from low-income families, to add community-based housing for the mentally disabled and to fund teacher pay raises.
During dueling press conferences yesterday, party leaders accused each other of negotiating in bad faith, increasing the likelihood that for the third time in four years the General Assembly will remain in session past its scheduled adjournment date.
Senate Finance Chairman Charles J. Colgan, Prince William Democrat, said "molehills had turned into mountains" and that it would be a "small miracle" for lawmakers to adjourn on time.
Republican leaders in the House during a morning press conference asserted they, unlike the Democrats who control the Senate, showed a willingness to compromise in negotiations.
They said they relaxed their push to change the state's education-funding formula, known as Standards of Quality, that helps determine among other things pay raises for school employees - including teachers.
"We have a 60-day constitutional session," said Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Chesterfield Republican, on the House floor shortly after the press conference. "We need to do our work. House conferees went into this conference with that in mind. We were willing to draw no lines in the sand. ... Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, Senate Democrats have not done the same thing."
Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, responded at an afternoon press conference by saying he never considered altering the education formula to be a bargaining chip.
"They knew from Day One that wasn't going anywhere," he said. "Other than Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates, there isn't anybody in the Western Hemisphere that's in favor of that proposal. …