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House OK's State Budget, But Virginia Senate Adds a Few Amendments

Jahd Khalil / RADIO IQ

The House of Delegates is moving forward with a massive spending plan to appropriate billions of dollars of stimulus cash.

House Republicans are not happy about being cut out of the conversation about the plan to spend billions of dollars in stimulus money. But, 16 House Republicans voted for the budget anyway. One of those is Republican Delegate Glenn Davis of Virginia Beach.

"At the end of the day, I wasn't going to vote against the monies that I thought were important," Davis says. "I do wish that there was more participation and more transparency."

The spending plan approved by the House would lower taxes for businesses by investing money into the unemployment trust fund, and it would makes a huge investment in expanding broadband. Delegate Mark Levine is a Democrat from Alexandria who says bipartisanship in Richmond actually happens more often than partisan warfare.

"We agree more than we disagree here. It's just that you folks in the news don't find it interesting when we all agree, so you focus on where we disagree. And I get that. I understand that," Levine says. "It's a lot more interesting where we disagree. But the public should know that 80% of the time, we probably get 90 votes for measures."

Out of the 100 members of the House of Delegates, 71 voted in favor of the stimulus spending budget. But the House is only one half of the General Assembly, and the Senate is adding new provisions to create bonuses for sheriff’s deputies and open up DMVs for same-day service. Members of the House will eventually consider all the changes requested by the Senate.

Members of the Virginia Senate say the stimulus spending plan the governor sent them isn't good enough, and they're suggesting a change that would help sheriff’s deputies.

Reporter Michael Pope has this look at the Senate's amendments, including a proposal to fund bonuses for sheriff's deputies.

Senators want to spend $67 million to give $5,000 bonuses to sheriff's deputies across Virginia. Republican Senator Mark Obenshain of Rockingham says Governor Ralph Northam should have included it in his proposal.

"When it comes to our sheriff's deputies, what I hear is they’re not worth it," Obenshain explains. "We're not going to take a penny from this $4 billion fund to take care of our sheriff's deputies."

Senator Barbara Favola is a Democrat from Arlington who says the General Assembly isn't the only source of stimulus money. She says local governments can take some of their stimulus money and use it to give bonuses to sheriff's deputies.

"Our communities are receiving a fair amount of federal dollars," Favola says. "And I believe localities in fact will allocate some of those dollars for one-time bonuses for the sheriffs, and I expect that that will take place throughout many of our jurisdictions."

The Senate ultimately agreed to the amendment, which sets up a conflict with the House. That means either the House agrees to bonuses — and all the other changes the Senate is suggesting — or the bill will go into a secret, closed door conference committee where lawmakers will strike a deal outside of the public spotlight.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.