June 16, 2006
House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a budget draft. It's not happening a minute too soon. In less than two weeks the state could have faced a fiscal crisis.
The compromise reached Friday evening set up a frantic scramble to push the $72 billion spending plan through by the end of June. The agreement is nearly 100 days late, but Virginia's Attorney General was optimistic.
"Because of the opinion I issued, and some of the things governor Kaine has done to encourage (negotiators), they understand it's critical that they get this done immediately," said Bob McDonnell.
After weeks of false starts and abrupt halts, the deal fell into place just before seven this Friday evening in Richmond.
"The prospect of getting to June 30 without a budget, and the prospect of maybe having to shut down government, tends to focus the mind wonderfully," joked Delegate Bob Brink, a democrat from Virginia's 48th district.
But there is one very big issue still out of focus. Friday's deal did not include funding for Governor Kaine's transportation initiatives.
House and senate negotiators will continue with that funding later in the year, but transportation in itself is huge.
It includes $339 million for road, rail and transit projects.
"We still have the major issue of this session to deal with and that's transportation," said Brink. "We're going to have to come back and really do some hard work in September of October, or this entire Commonwealth is gonna be gridlocked."
"We are gonna have to deal with it," stated Delegate Kris Amundson, a democrat from Virginia's 44th district. "There is just no question in my mind that we can't ignore it."
The proposal now goes before the full senate for approval on Monday, and before the house on Tuesday. Then Governor Kaine will have up to seven days to amend or veto line items in the budget.
This is the third time in five years that Virginia legislators have been unable to pass a budget on time.