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Legislators load up the state budget with amendments
By Chelyen Davis
RICHMOND--With the economy seemingly headed south, lawmakers are making lots of noise about how careful they need to be in writing the next two-year budget. But they've also introduced a total of $8.7 billion in budget amendments.
Some of that is probably redundant, with different legislators putting in similar amendments that cover the same budget item.
And a lot of it is bring-home-the-bacon stuff, items lawmakers put in at the request of constituents, whether they think it'll actually get into the budget or not.
In the Senate, Democrats put in a total of $3.5 billion in spending increases for the two-year budget, while Republicans' total rings up at $1.4 billion.
The Republican number was lowered by some large-scale amendments to cut items out of the budget.
For example, Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax, wants to cut out $50 million for Gov. Tim Kaine's pre-K initiative, as well as eliminating $7 million in funding for public television and public radio.
Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, has a slew of extra funding amendments, but also cuts $180 million out of the second year of the budget to reverse Kaine's proposal to take that money out of last year's transportation package.
Among senators, Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, a candidate for governor in 2009, introduced $1 billion in budget amendments, the highest amount. Much of that--more than $400 million a year--comes from Deeds' proposal to raise teacher salaries to the national average.
Three senators--Sen. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, and Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico--weren't listed as having put in budget amendments at all.
On the House side, delegates proposed $3.8 billion in additional spending amendments; $2.6 billion for Republicans and $1.3 billion for Democrats.
Of the delegates, Del. Phil Hamilton, R-Newport News, had the highest amount--$308 million in the first year and $208 million in the second year. The biggest chunk of that comes from Hamilton's line-item to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for physicians, which would cost $65 million in the first year and $67 million in the second year of the budget.
Hamilton, who chairs the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee and also handles much of the health-related budget items for the House Appropriations Committee, also has an expensive line item to give a 4.2 percent increase to mental retardation waiver programs.
Seven delegates do not have any budget amendments listed on the state budget Web site, while several submitted proposals to cut the budget. Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, would cut $290 million out of the budget by reconfiguring the state formula to distribute education funding, resulting in a decrease of funding to 95 school districts.
Lawmakers from the Fredericksburg region have all put in budget amendments, although none as large as some of the biggest.
For a more complete listing of all proposed budget amendments, go to http://leg2.state.va.us/MoneyWeb .NSF/Bud2008. The story above references HB/SB 30, the new two-year budget that will take effect in July; HB/SB 29 is the "caboose" bill that finishes off the current budget year.
Chelyen Davis: 804/782-9362