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Budget negotiating teams set as Virginia Senate names conferees

Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City (left), and Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, are among the Senate’s seven budget negotiators. They’ll meet with six delegates.

The lineups are finally set for the budget playoffs to begin.

On Wednesday, the Senate named its seven members on the conference committee to negotiate a bridge over what Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, has described as a $600 million “chasm” between its budget proposal and the one adopted by the House of Delegates.

The Senate team will be led by Norment and Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, who chair the Senate Finance Committee. The other members are Republican Sens. Steve Newman of Lynchburg, Frank Ruff of Mecklenburg County, and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, and Democratic Sens. Dick Saslaw and Janet Howell, both of Fairfax County. Only Saslaw and Howell voted for Medicaid expansion as part of the proposed House budget.

They will face six House members, named by Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, on Tuesday, who supported a budget plan that includes Medicaid expansion and a provider assessment on hospital revenues to pay the state’s share. As a result, the House plan includes almost $400 million in state general fund savings by accepting federal money under the Affordable Care Act, and the Senate budget does not.

As a result, the budgets differ vastly on spending for a wide range of core public services, as well as the amount of money the state ultimately will deposit in a new cash revenue reserve to allay concerns on Wall Street about Virginia’s fiscal outlook because of overuse of the constitutional revenue stabilization fund.

The conference committee report on the budget must be approved by a majority of each chamber’s delegation in order to move on to the floor of the House and Senate.

The House members are: Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, and Dels. Chris Peace, R-Mechanicsville; Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach; Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg; Luke Torian, D-Prince William; and Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax.

The 13 conferees will try to reconcile two budgets — one for the year that ends June 30 and the other for the two years that begin July 1. Both House budget bills include Medicaid expansion and the hospital tax.