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Bills remain, but budget dominates legislature

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Any other year, the half inch thick stack of state budget amendments awaiting House and Senate floor votes Thursday would be twice as hefty.
It would be larded with requests for funding for various state projects, pleas for new equipment and for all sorts of noble private ventures such as museums, parks, nonprofits and the like.
“Usually, I get people coming into my office and asking me, ‘Senator, can you stick this in the budget or in the conference report for me,’” state Sen. Charles J. Colgan observed as he strolled on a springlike Wednesday afternoon outside the Capitol.
“Not this year. It’s like everybody just knows,” said Colgan, D-Prince William, the Senate’s most senior member and chair of the budget-writing Finance Committee.
What they know is that Virginia, like every other state, faces deep spending cuts as the economy shrinks at an alarming rate not seen in decades. Rather than be told no, most lobbyists, trade groups and other interests just aren’t asking.
When the full House and Senate give their approval to the diverse versions of the state’s austere budget, a waiting game like no other begins. Before House and Senate negotiators can begin dickering over their budget differences, they await two critical bits of news:
—How far short are Virginia’s actual general tax collections from the estimated revenues on which budgeted state spending is based?
—How much money will Virginia receive from the $800 billion-plus federal economic stimulus package that can be plugged into the state’s budget to offset a shortfall now $3 billion and growing?
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said Wednesday that he won’t know fully how deep the state revenue shortfall will be until late this week or early next week.
Of special concern, he said, was unexpected weakness in nonwithholding income tax collections. That’s the tax largely paid by the self-employed and on investments. It can account for up to one-fifth of the state general fund, the area of the budget over which legislators have discretion in spending for core services such as health care, support for local schools and public safety.
More murky is how much Richmond can expect to receive from Washington from the stimulus package, now the subject of negotiations between the U.S. House and Senate, and what restrictions Congress may place on the money it approves.
All of which leaves legislators unsure when they will be able to finalize the state’s scaled-back master spending blueprint through June 2010.
If Congress meets the Feb. 16 goal that President Barack Obama set, it’s possible Virginia lawmakers could wrap up their business in the 12 days they would have left until their scheduled adjournment.
But other contingencies are already being discussed. Pushing back the adjournment date a few days into March, for example. Or adjourning on schedule then returning in special session after the new fiscal information is clear, perhaps in the days before the constitutionally set one-day session in April dedicated to acting on the governor’s vetoes and amendments to legislation.
Running late would be nothing new. Unresolved budgets have forced the General Assembly to bust its adjournment deadline five times since 2001.
Not everything of consequence, however, is in the state budget in the final 21?2 weeks of the regular winter session. Important questions still before lawmakers include:
—The extent to which the tobacco-friendly state that is the world’s largest maker of Marlboros will curb smoking in restaurants, or whether the idea will die altogether;
—Whether to enshrine the state’s 58-year-old right-to-work law into the constitution of a state that prides itself on its historic hostility toward organized labor;

—Whether the state second only to Texas in carrying out executions will expand the death penalty to include accomplices in murders who don’t actually do the killing, and to those who kill a fire marshal or auxiliary police officer who is on duty.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Key initiatives that remain alive and those killed as the Virginia General Assembly reached ‘‘crossover day’’ Tuesday — the deadline for each chamber to pass its own bills and advance them to the opposite chamber:
SURVIVED
—Expanding the death penalty to those who assist in a murder but don’t do the actual killing and those who kill a fire marshal or auxiliary police officer who is on duty.
—Barring payday lenders from offering different types of loans in an effort to get around tough new restrictions placed on the short-term, high-interest loans last year.
—A constitutional amendment to allow the General Assembly to set guidelines for restoring civil rights such as voting for felons. Only the governor now restores felons’ rights. The amendment must pass the House of Delegates, clear House and Senate again next year, then win statewide voter approval to be ratified to the state Constitution.
—Allowing early voting from 15 to three days before an election.
—Constitutional amendment that would make Virginia’s 58-year-old right-to-work law part of the state Constitution.
—A bill reversing a State Police administrative order that department chaplains offer ecumenical, non-denominational prayers at official events.
—A bill that would curb smoking in Virginia restaurants, though the measure was substantially diluted by the House of Delegates.

DIED
—Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s proposal to double the state’s tax on cigarettes to 60 cents per pack.
—Efforts to close the so-called ‘‘gun-show loophole,’’ which excuses private sellers at gun shows from the background checks on buyers that licensed dealers must conduct.
—Legislation to cap the annual interest rate that car title lenders can charge at 36 percent. Car title lenders now may hold a borrower’s car as collateral for a loan, charge more than 300 percent interest and then repossess the vehicle when the borrower falls behind on payments.
—A ban on talking on a cell phone while driving unless using a handsfree device.
—Allow in-person absentee voting for any reason before an election. Voters now must meet one of 17 criteria, such as being on vacation, pregnant or taking care of a sick family member, to cast an absentee ballot in person.
—Bills that would end Virginia’s unique prohibition on governors serving two consecutive terms. Both would allow governors elected in 2013 to serve two terms back-to-back.

END GLANCE

AP-ES-02-10-09 2116EST

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Bills remain, but budget dominates legislature

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Any other year, the half inch thick stack of state budget amendments awaiting House and Senate floor votes Thursday would be twice as hefty.
It would be larded with requests for funding for various state projects, pleas for new equipment and for all sorts of noble private ventures such as museums, parks, nonprofits and the like.
“Usually, I get people coming into my office and asking me, ‘Senator, can you stick this in the budget or in the conference report for me,’” state Sen. Charles J. Colgan observed as he strolled on a springlike Wednesday afternoon outside the Capitol.
“Not this year. It’s like everybody just knows,” said Colgan, D-Prince William, the Senate’s most senior member and chair of the budget-writing Finance Committee.
What they know is that Virginia, like every other state, faces deep spending cuts as the economy shrinks at an alarming rate not seen in decades. Rather than be told no, most lobbyists, trade groups and other interests just aren’t asking.
When the full House and Senate give their approval to the diverse versions of the state’s austere budget, a waiting game like no other begins. Before House and Senate negotiators can begin dickering over their budget differences, they await two critical bits of news:
—How far short are Virginia’s actual general tax collections from the estimated revenues on which budgeted state spending is based?
—How much money will Virginia receive from the $800 billion-plus federal economic stimulus package that can be plugged into the state’s budget to offset a shortfall now $3 billion and growing?
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said Wednesday that he won’t know fully how deep the state revenue shortfall will be until late this week or early next week.
Of special concern, he said, was unexpected weakness in nonwithholding income tax collections. That’s the tax largely paid by the self-employed and on investments. It can account for up to one-fifth of the state general fund, the area of the budget over which legislators have discretion in spending for core services such as health care, support for local schools and public safety.
More murky is how much Richmond can expect to receive from Washington from the stimulus package, now the subject of negotiations between the U.S. House and Senate, and what restrictions Congress may place on the money it approves.
All of which leaves legislators unsure when they will be able to finalize the state’s scaled-back master spending blueprint through June 2010.
If Congress meets the Feb. 16 goal that President Barack Obama set, it’s possible Virginia lawmakers could wrap up their business in the 12 days they would have left until their scheduled adjournment.
But other contingencies are already being discussed. Pushing back the adjournment date a few days into March, for example. Or adjourning on schedule then returning in special session after the new fiscal information is clear, perhaps in the days before the constitutionally set one-day session in April dedicated to acting on the governor’s vetoes and amendments to legislation.
Running late would be nothing new. Unresolved budgets have forced the General Assembly to bust its adjournment deadline five times since 2001.
Not everything of consequence, however, is in the state budget in the final 21?2 weeks of the regular winter session. Important questions still before lawmakers include:
—The extent to which the tobacco-friendly state that is the world’s largest maker of Marlboros will curb smoking in restaurants, or whether the idea will die altogether;
—Whether to enshrine the state’s 58-year-old right-to-work law into the constitution of a state that prides itself on its historic hostility toward organized labor;

—Whether the state second only to Texas in carrying out executions will expand the death penalty to include accomplices in murders who don’t actually do the killing, and to those who kill a fire marshal or auxiliary police officer who is on duty.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Key initiatives that remain alive and those killed as the Virginia General Assembly reached ‘‘crossover day’’ Tuesday — the deadline for each chamber to pass its own bills and advance them to the opposite chamber:
SURVIVED
—Expanding the death penalty to those who assist in a murder but don’t do the actual killing and those who kill a fire marshal or auxiliary police officer who is on duty.
—Barring payday lenders from offering different types of loans in an effort to get around tough new restrictions placed on the short-term, high-interest loans last year.
—A constitutional amendment to allow the General Assembly to set guidelines for restoring civil rights such as voting for felons. Only the governor now restores felons’ rights. The amendment must pass the House of Delegates, clear House and Senate again next year, then win statewide voter approval to be ratified to the state Constitution.
—Allowing early voting from 15 to three days before an election.
—Constitutional amendment that would make Virginia’s 58-year-old right-to-work law part of the state Constitution.
—A bill reversing a State Police administrative order that department chaplains offer ecumenical, non-denominational prayers at official events.
—A bill that would curb smoking in Virginia restaurants, though the measure was substantially diluted by the House of Delegates.

DIED
—Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s proposal to double the state’s tax on cigarettes to 60 cents per pack.
—Efforts to close the so-called ‘‘gun-show loophole,’’ which excuses private sellers at gun shows from the background checks on buyers that licensed dealers must conduct.
—Legislation to cap the annual interest rate that car title lenders can charge at 36 percent. Car title lenders now may hold a borrower’s car as collateral for a loan, charge more than 300 percent interest and then repossess the vehicle when the borrower falls behind on payments.
—A ban on talking on a cell phone while driving unless using a handsfree device.
—Allow in-person absentee voting for any reason before an election. Voters now must meet one of 17 criteria, such as being on vacation, pregnant or taking care of a sick family member, to cast an absentee ballot in person.
—Bills that would end Virginia’s unique prohibition on governors serving two consecutive terms. Both would allow governors elected in 2013 to serve two terms back-to-back.

END GLANCE

AP-ES-02-10-09 2116EST

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