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State budget negotiations to begin tonight
"One of the most critical pieces will be where we start, revenue-wise," Houck said. "The starting point is going to be real critical in terms of how quickly we get this settled."
The House, he said, has "robbed the water-quality improvement fund" to pay for other things, something the Senate does not like.
And he, too, noted the House's feelings on a reserve fund. It makes Houck worry that the House will be stingy with federal stimulus money rather than use it to ease budget cuts.
There are several other difference the two sides will have to work out.
The House eliminated all funding for drug courts, while the Senate did not.
The House wants more Medicaid mental retardation waivers, while the Senate didn't budget that.
And the Senate embraced--with some changes--a proposal from Gov. Tim Kaine to extend the period in which some prisoners are eligible for early release. The House opposes that.
Already the two sides have disagreed on when they should even start meeting.
The House negotiators wanted to start meeting Friday and work all weekend.
The Senate representatives said they'd meet with the House starting tonight.
Hamilton said the House negotiators were "very disappointed" that the Senate did not agree to meet with them until Sunday.
"The priority ought to be working on this budget rather than having a weekend off," he said.
Hamilton said the House Appropriations Committee staff already had a side-by-side comparison of the two budgets.
The Senate negotiators were scheduled to meet Friday afternoon to go over their own comparison of the budgets.
Both sides, however, still hope they can reach an agreement and pass a budget bill by the time the legislature is scheduled to adjourn this Saturday.
"We can get out by next Saturday--if we meet," Hamilton said. "We're taking it seriously, it's our desire to get out of here on Feb. 28."
Houck said the same.
"My goal would be that we get out of here on time," he said.
Chelyen Davis: 804/782-9362