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Virginia legislators offer competing proposals to close $4 billion shortfall

Lawmakers in the House and Senate offered competing two-year spending plans today, setting the stage for a series of partisan clashes during the final three weeks of the legislative session as they try to offset a $4 billion shortfall.

The budgets approved by both chamber's committees include deep cuts to core services including education, health services and public safety. Both agreed to save more than than half a billion dollars over the next two years by reducing payments to the state's pension plans for state and local employees and to oppose a freeze in the adjustment to the school-funding formula that would have cost cash-strapped schools in Northern Virginia nearly $140 million.

The Senate Finance Committee agreed to raise fees to avoid cutting so much from public education, cutting $487 million less in education funding over the over two years than the House Appropriations Committee. House members sided against raising fees in the midst of a recession.

House members proposed cutting $620 million over two years to public education but said they would remove state mandates for local school districts that would help them better cope with the cuts. The House committee reduced funding less dramatically for for health and human resources than Senate, cutting about $200 million instead of the senate's $344 million over two years.

Hundreds of state employees would face layoffs under both budgets and those who keep their jobs will see their pay frozen for the next two years. Both committees rejected Gov. Bob McDonnell's proposal for 10 days furlough days for state employees but accepted his idea that they receive a 3 percent bonus in December of 2011.

More than 100 people gathered outside the General Assembly, where legislators were meeting this afternoon, to protest possible cuts to education. They chanted "save our schools.

In a statement, McDonnell said: "I have laid out three major priorities for this budget: it must be done on time, not contain any general tax increases, and invest, even in a difficult fiscal environment, in job creation and economic development measures imperative to a successful recovery. The budget amendments from both bodies advance two of these priorities, and I am pleased by the common ground our partnership has produced."

Tonight, reaction to the budget proposals began coming in from various interest groups.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness said in a statement that "the House and Senate seem to have gotten the message that reducing access to mental health services is not in the best interest of citizens."

The group said is "very pleased" that there is consensus to restore funding to the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents in Staunton, which serves children and adolescent with psychiatric needs.

Meanwhile, the Virginia chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which introduced its own budget a few weeks ago, applauded the House and blasted the Senate.

Virginia AFP director Ben Marchi called the House budget one of the best Richmond has produced in more than a decade. He pointed out that it still includes "some fee increases and pork-barrell spending: but that they are preferable to what the Senate has offered.

"Senate leaders from both parties, deserve nothing but scorn for raising taxes on hardworking Virginians in these tough economic times,'' he said. "The amendments presented today by the Senate Finance Committee are an insult to any Virginian who pays taxes. We send our Senators to Richmond to act as reponsible stewards of our hard-earned money. Today, they have failed us."

The full House and Senate will approve the budgets this week. A handful of negotiators from both chambers will meet to hash out a compromise before the 60-day legislative session is scheduled to end March. 13.

-- Rosalind S. Helderman, Fredrick Kunkle and Anita Kumar

By Anita Kumar  |  February 21, 2010; 7:15 PM ET
Categories:  2010 legislative session , Anita Kumar , Fredrick Kunkle , General Assembly , General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate  
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"Both agreed to save more than than half a billion dollars over the next two years by reducing payments to the state's pension plans for state and local employees..."

keep kicking that can down the road. hey, while you're at it... why not borrow from future lottery winnings, or beg the fed govt for more money. fiscal responsibility at it's finest.

Posted by: millionea7 | February 22, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

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