The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, June 02, 2006

Late state budget not a worry at local level; B1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Virginia’s current budget runs out in 29 days. Legislators are negotiating, trying to beat the clock and keep the state’s government open.

But in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, local governments are taking it in stride.

It would be great to have a state budget so local governments could plan on their own budgets for the year, said Shenandoah County Administrator Vince Poling. But no one is terribly concerned just yet.

“We’re starting to get used to it,” he said. “The first couple of times [the state budget was late], we got real excited. But we haven’t gotten too excited yet, now.”

“We’ve been here before and done that,” added Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley. “If you call me on July 15 and we don’t have a budget, there may be a different tune.”

Legislators couldn’t hammer out a budget by the March 11 deadline and were forced to go into special session.

Senators relented last week and removed a $1 billion-plus per year tax hike to pay for transportation improvements from their version of the budget, clearing the way for negotiations with the House of Delegates on the basic spending plan with transportation issues to be handled later.

Despite optimism on both sides, the two chambers are still haggling over capital projects to be included in the budget, among other issues.

A testy exchange of letters, a favored method of communication between the two bodies during the session, continued Thursday.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vince Callahan, R-McLean, took the Senate to task for its position on expansion of the state’s community college system.

“The House proposal fully and immediately funds five academic buildings at five of our fastest growing community colleges located in Northern Virginia, Tidewater, Richmond metropolitan area and the Shenandoah Valley,” he wrote. “By contrast, the Senate proposal provides no new facilities, only planning without any commitment to the actual construction.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg, fired back his own letter before the day was out.

“Our commitment to the community college system is un-paralleled,” he wrote. “But as with mental health, the operative word is system. Our thoughtful, methodical approach lets us address statewide capacity. We need to rise above parochial and conferee interests and do what is best for the system as a whole.”

Both sides say they’re aiming to wrap up their work in the coming seven days.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine last week authorized the state to spend $122.3 million to cover the state’s payroll for time worked between June 10 and June 24, and moved the state’s payday up from July 3 to June 30 — just in case.

Even if the state did hit June 30 without a budget, the situation won’t become dire until late summer, according to local government officials.

“I don’t think that’ll happen, because state government functions would cease,” Poling said. “The way the money flows from the state to the county, it’s not like we get what they owe us the first day of the month.”

For places like Winchester, contingencies include making up missing state money for the school system out of fund balances.

“It’s much more [of] concern toward August and September,” said Winchester City Manager Ed Daley. “It’s not a good position, it doesn’t make it anything to overreact to, though.”

And if things go south, there’s always one last resort.

“We could ask West Virginia to annex us, I guess,” Poling joked. “At least they can adopt a budget.”