House, Senate pass Virginia's two-year spending plan
The General Assembly passed a two-year $82 billion state spending plan tonight that includes deep cuts to education, health care and public safety as legislators struggled to offset a $4 billion budget shortfall.
"I cannot recall a budget that was a tough as this one," Finance Committee Chairman Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) told his colleagues, noting he's been a conferee for 19 years.
The Senate passed the budget 34-6; the House passed it 73-23.
Lawmakers have been dealing the worst economic downturn in decades.
"Despite the fiscal challenges we faced, the House and Senate conferees started the conference committee with a shared commitment to approving a state budget that does not contain a tax increase,'' House Appropriations Chairman Lacey Putney (I-Bedford) said.
Funding for schools will drop $646 million over the next two years; the state will also cut more than $1 billion from health programs. Class sizes will rise. A prison will close, judges who die or retire won't be replaced and funding for local sheriff's office will drop 6 percent.
Only 250 additional mentally disabled adults will receive financial support for community-based services, in a state where the waiting list for such services already numbers 6,000 and is growing. Employees will take a furlough day this year, the state will borrow $620 million in cash from its retirement plan for employees and future hires will be asked to retire later and contribute more to their pensions.
Del. David Englin (D-Alexandria) said he voted against the budget because he can't "justify supporting a budget that balances the books on the backs of children and the poor and that includes a fiscally irresponsible shell game with the state pension trust fund."
The breakthrough on the budget came when Senate negotiators agreed to eliminate 60 percent of fees that they had proposed to preserve some programs. House negotiators had agreed to accept a limited number of fees, arguing that in some instances they are no different from tax increases.
Senate negotiators had insisted that the budget include fewer cuts to elementary and secondary education than were sought by House negotiators, and the senators said they were pleased with their effort given the troubled economic outlook.
The state's two-year budget will include $30 billion in general operating funds, returning state spending to 2006 levels. A dozen negotiators -- six from the Senate and six from the House -- have been meeting for more than a week to resolve budget disputes.
Legislators agreed to extend their annual session one day and to leave today in order to vote on the budget. It is their fifth extension in a decade.
A group of legislators went to inform McDonnell in his Capitol office that were adjourning.
"You've got some good news for me,'' McDonnell said to Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw.
"Yeah. we're getting out of town!'' Saslaw replied. "It's over!"
McDonnell thanked the legislators for their hard work, including funding most of his economic development package.
-- Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman
Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman
March 14, 2010; 5:15 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , State Senate
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