Conferees Work to Finalize Budget
The House and Senate budget conferee’s are working frantically to reach a compromise by Saturday, but time is running out and there are many issues they have yet to address.
It’s crunch time for the 13 legislators selected as budget conferees, as they now have less than 48 hours until their scheduled adjournment and the House and Senate budgets still have significant differences.
Republican Senator Thomas Norment of James City County:
Norment: Well the House and the Senate have somewhat different priorities. The Senate made a determination that funding K-12 education was our number one priority. On the other hand, the House has determined that their priority is compensation. Consequently, we’ve got K-12 public education matched up against a compensation of the House that’s just practically where it is.
Norment says he believes the three Republican and four Democratic Senate budget conferees have been virtually a unified front in the negotiation process so far.
Norment: We’ve had several preliminary conference meetings and I really have not seen any disagreements between the Senate Republicans and the Senate Democrats on any issue to date. I won’t say that we might not have one later on but it certainly has not manifested itself.
Democratic Senator Janet Howell of Fairfax says that while the two camps have not yet reached an agreement, progress is being made.
Howell: Well, we’ve had a slow beginning but in the last 24 hours there’s been quite a bit of progress. A number of the logjams have been broken. But the really most significant differences haven’t been addressed yet. We’ve been in a negotiation about how much revenue is available, how many resources we have to spend. The Senate is very determined that we adequately fund public education and minimize any cuts. That, they have not yet as we speak addressed that at all.
Senator Norment agreed.
Norment: I would say last week the motor vehicle of the budget conference was stuck in neutral, and the tires were spinning and we were going nowhere. This week the vehicle has been put in gear, we are making some significant movement forward. So I feel very good. It’s just frustrating, my first time doing this, the time that we’ve wasted last week and the first part of this week, we really could have covered a lot of ground. But maybe it’s like that Maneschewitz wine, don’t drink it before its time. Maybe it just wasn’t time. But I’m told that is not uncommon in the early days there’s some posturing and demagoguery and then you get down to work.
House members have been adamant that the legislature should have a completed budget on time for their scheduled adjournment. Senate leaders have said getting the details right is more important. Senator Howell said she doesn’t expect any significant delays.
Howell: There a lot of really big issues outstanding and every minute that ticks by makes it harder to make the deadline. But I am optimistic that we’ll be out by the beginning of the week
Senator Norment says it’s now time for the conferees to roll up their sleeves and get to the serious details.
Norment: What I would like to see is some movement on both of our parts, realizing that no one is going to come out of this conference with everything that they want. Everybody recognizes that, particularly those that are more experienced. So we just need to eliminate very quickly those areas in the budget where there’s no disagreement, boil it down to the core areas of significant disagreement, particularly if there’s a policy issue involved, and solve those policy issues. I think that for the next several days that there are going to be some very long nights. There is a hope that we can continue to wrap this up by the day we’re scheduled to adjourn, but it’s going to take some very intense and long days and nights to do that.
House members were working late on counterproposals last night and unavailable for comment.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square.