The Virginia Senate Finance Committee may have set the stage for a future transportation funding debate by advancing a budget that calls for postponing collection of new tunnel tolls in South Hampton Roads until 2014.
Committee members Thursday moved toward resolving a stalemate over a two-year state spending plan when they met to consider amendments to House budget bills.
Senators were briefed on a plan to reprogram $272 million in spending, but the most involved discussion focused on the Midtown and Downtown tunnels.
The legislation now heads to the full Senate for a vote Monday. At that point, Democrats also plan to push an amendment requiring that state and private insurers pay for pre-abortion ultrasounds mandated under a new law.
Previous budget bills were killed by Democrats during the 60-day legislative session, victims of a partisan dispute over control of the Senate, now divided 20-20 with Republicans.
Democrats made a list of budget demands before the General Assembly adjourned from its regular session earlier this month, and several recently hinted that enough of their requests were met to ease passage of a budget, irrespective of the power dispute.
The appropriation legislation ultimately will go to a select group of delegates and senators to hash out a compromise on the two-year plan inspired by the $85 billion package Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed.
It’s unclear whether the toll delay and other transportation amendments in the Senate plan will survive that process. Dels. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, and Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, will be among the budget deliberators.
Collection of tunnel tolls – of as much as $1.84 during rush hours – is slated to begin later this year, but it would be put off under Portsmouth Democratic Sen. Louise Lucas’ amendment, which won the