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Va. budget impasse leaves local programs with funding worries

Lawmakers are still struggling to come up with a state budget, and it’s impacting how your local government runs.

Inside the Henrico County Administration building, local leaders are trying to plan a budget, but like the state’s 133 other localities, they’re being forced to make some spending decisions in the dark because state lawmakers can’t agree on a budget.

Lawmakers recessed 11 days ago without approving a version of Governor Bob McDonnell’s $85 billion dollar spending plan.

“In this economy that is very frustrating to local governments where all the services are provided to citizens,” said Henrico County Manager Virgil Hazelett.

Hazelett said roughly one-third of the county’s budget comes from the state.  Henrico County leaders will continue to draft a budget this week, but said amendments will more than likely have to be made.

At stake is how the county will fund retirement plans and additional projects for Henrico County schools.

“Obviously any increase in revenues will be very good for us because we are using some federal funds which means it’s one-time funding,” said Hazelett.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers said they’re cautiously optimistic that a compromise can be reached in the coming weeks.

State democrats are demanding $600 million dollars in additional funding for K-12 education, health care services for the poor and to help offset the cost of proposed tolls in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

Democrats are also demanding that the state find a way to help pay for ultrasounds now required by law before a woman can have an abortion.

“That’s a principal stand we’re taking and it’s not politics,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Donald McEachin.

Republican Senator John Watkins, a member of the Senate Finance Committee said he’s optimistic lawmakers can reach a compromise over the next few weeks.

“I think everyone down there recognizes we have got to get this done,” said Watkins.

Watkins said despite positive revenue projections released by the governor last week, he said the budget can’t be re-written now to include additional spending.

“There’s only a certain amount of money,” argued Watkins.  He added, however, “There are other areas we can look into and I think can come up with it (funding).”

Only a handful of lawmakers will be back at the state capitol on Wednesday to begin negotiations.  A full session won’t be called until a vote is taken on a proposed budget.

It costs the state $900 dollars a day per lawmaker during the extended session.

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