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Posted at 8:43 PM ET, 02/26/2011

State legislators will return Sunday to complete budget

By Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman

State legislators expect to return to the Capitol late Sunday to vote on revisions to Virginia's two-year budget.

House and Senate negotiators continued meeting late Saturday, but differences on public safety, higher education and social services spending still remained. They were hopeful they could complete work on a compromise by midnight.

Legislative staffers would then work throughout the night and morning to review and print the budget before they land on lawmakers' desks early Sunday afternoon. Legislators would likely vote on the budget about 5 p.m.

The 46-day session was scheduled to end Saturday. It will be the sixth session extension in a decade. An extra day of session usually costs $20,000 for each additional day the legislature meets, but the House voted to reject its per diem.

House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said budget negotiators had made "pretty good progress" and were 80 percent done with amendments to the $78-billion budget.

House Democrats, who initially wanted to return Monday instead of Sunday to have more time to review the budget, asked the Republican majority to ensure that they were given at least four hours to review the budget and a briefing on the budget by staff.

In the Senate, Democrats were briefly split over whether to agree to return Sunday or to push the House to accept a Monday return, allowing the 34 senators who will not have negotiated the budget settlement more time to read the document before voting on it.

Huddling in the well of the senate, Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington) quietly pushed Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) to ask the House for a Monday return.

"I don't want to come back Monday -- I just want to get his done!" Saslaw shot back loudly.

"Go in the back!" Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) commanded the two, urging them to continue the discussion where reporters and other senators were not hanging on their every word.

After huddling in a back room, they returned, agreeing that they should accept the House proposal to return Sunday at 5 p.m.

Saslaw told fellow senators that he believed the conference could conclude its work by midnight, allowing budgets to be distributed by 1 p.m. Sunday and ensuring a few hours for members to review the document before the 5 p.m. vote.

But, he added, "no guarantees."

The process left Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Moneta), elected to the senate in a special election earlier this year and watching the process for the first time, baffled. He said he didn't understand why the House would not agree to extend the session by several more days, to allow members more time to read the budget.

"I understand that people want to get back to their lives, but this is why we run," he said. "I'm very frusturated by the process right now."

By Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman  | February 26, 2011; 8:43 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar, General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate  
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Next: Early morning budget deal struck in Virginia General Assembly

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