Finance committees set up budget clash

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The General Assembly’s budget-writing committees passed varying proposals Sunday on how to make up a $1.4 billion projected shortfall.

The House Appropriations and the Senate Finance committees’ budgets differ on everything from the gas tax to funding of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s proposal to expand the state’s pre-kindergarten program.

One of the most proposals controversial proposals is the Senate’s inclusion of a 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax to pay for highway maintenance. Under the plan, the gas tax would rise one cent each year for the next five years.

The Senate’s version mostly follows plans to make up the shortfall that Kaine released last week. Their plan using $420 million from the state’s “rainy day fund.”

The House Appropriations Committee’s bill uses $220 million from the rainy-day fund and converts about $400 million from general fund spending to debt. It trimmed Kaine’s proposal to expand pre-kindergarten classes from $58 million to $25 million. The Senate version includes about $39 million for the initiative.

The proposals also differ on pay raises for teachers and state employees. The House would raise employees’ salaries by 2 percent this December. The Senate’s version would raise teacher salaries by 2.5 percent in 2009 and state employees’ salaries by 2.5 percent in 2010.

Both budgets include $42 million for increased mental health spending following the Virginia Tech shootings that left 32 students and professors dead.

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