RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia lawmakers learned Wednesday that they will have a bigger-than-expected budget gap to close as they rush to end a protracted stalemate that had threatened to partially shut down the government.
Lagging revenues and revised projections have increased the shortfall from $1.35 billion to a range of $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion, House Appropriations Committee director Robert Vaughn told the panel.
Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk and chairman of the committee, said House and Senate budget negotiators generally agree on how to plug the gap and will have a proposed two-year budget ready for the General Assembly to consider when it reconvenes Thursday evening. Legislative staffers were ironing out the details of the agreement, which Vaughn said will trim previously proposed new spending by about $900 million. After the budget is enacted, lawmakers will be able to tap into the state’s rainy-day fund — which will grow to about $940 million after the next required deposit — to further close the gap.
Jones said the list of spending cuts will be long.
“There’s going to be a lot for everyone to not like tomorrow night,” he said.
The austerity moves include eliminating pay raises, not accelerating state-retirement-contribution rates and cutting stormwater grants.
The General Assembly ended its regular session in March without passing a budget. Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his fellow Democrats insisted that the budget expand Medicaid to cover more than 400,000 additional low-income Virginians. Republicans who control the House of Delegates refused, arguing that the federal government could not be trusted to fund its share of the initiative in the long run.
The logjam broke Monday when Democratic Sen. Phil Puckett resigned, at least temporarily giving Republicans a one-seat edge in the Senate.
Vaughn said that if legislators approve the budget as expected Thursday evening, it can be on McAuliffe’s desk by the middle of next week. McAuliffe will have seven days to propose any amendments for legislators to consider just ahead of the June 30 end of the fiscal year.
“The clock is not our friend at this point,” Vaughn said.
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