UPDATED House Conferees: 'We're close,' Senate: 'No we're not'
"Right now, the obstacle to reaching an agreement is the Senate conferees insistence on including tax increases, including a sales tax on gasoline, in the budget," said Del. Vince Callahan, R-Fairfax, at a press conference earlier today.
Both Houses are all but in agreement on everything but transportation. Education, a sticking point in years past, has been reduced to a debate over whether teachers get a 3 percent or 4 percent raise, he said. Other delegates have suggested today that a special session might be a more proper way to deal with the transportation deadlock.
"Given the minor differences in the core areas of general spending, I feel it is unconscionable to hold the budget hostage to an increase in the gas tax," he said. "In 1986, Gov. Baliles did not hold the budget hostage in order to get a transportation package. He separated the responsibilities of funding public education and mental health and held a special session months later devoted solely to transportation."
UPDATE: Senate holds press conference, says 'vast, inky gulfs' separate two houses
Senators took a break from their session to contradict the statements of 'the more numerous body.' More than 30 members of the Senate stood together behind the podium to knock down any thought that a deal was at hand.
"I'm sorry that our good friends [in the House] have mislead a few people," said Sen. John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg.
The differences between the bodies are "not miniscule by any stretch," he said. He also rejected the idea of passing a budget and coming back to talk about transportation.
Senators will be there to talk "day in, day out, night in, night out," until they can do a deal. While the final spending numbers are close on both sides, where the money comes from is a 'vast, inky gulf' between the two bodies.
"We'll listen to anything they propose," Chichester said. But the Senate simply can't abide using the General Fund as a source of dedicated transportation funding.