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Stakes Are High in Virginia Budget Standoff

Lawmakers flee Capitol, where partisan gridlock reigns.

Many members of Rising Hope tour the State Capitol and receive an on-site history lesson on Feb 2.

Many members of Rising Hope tour the State Capitol and receive an on-site history lesson on Feb 2.

The budget standoff in Richmond could have dramatic consequences in Northern Virginia, where every service from education to transportation is on the line. Legislators fled the Capitol over the weekend without adopting a budget, calling for a special session in March to finish the job. Some say that could be postponed or abandoned altogether unless an agreement breaks the 20-20 partisan deadlock in the Senate.

"I'm not making hotel reservations yet," said Bernard Caton, legislative director for the city of Alexandria.

The last time the General Assembly was unable to adopt a budget was in 2001, during the administration of former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore. Democrats and Republicans were unable to come to a compromise, and the budget reverted to a sort of continuing resolution. This year, though, the stakes are higher because the General Assembly writes two-year budgets.

"Though we have adjourned sine die, we must still pass a budget for the FY 2012-14 biennium that provides for core government services, restores the health care safety net and implements tonight's historic reforms to the VRS," said House Speaker Bill Howell in a written statement.

When the parties were deadlocked during the Gilmore administration, the only budget items up for consideration were amendments to the biennial budget. This year the whole biennial budget is on the line, raising the stakes in the partisan standoff. Trillions of dollars for transportation, social services and education are at stake.

"Wall Street doesn't like uncertainty, and I mean that's that the issue is -- maintaining a AAA bond rating," said George Mason University professor Toni-Michelle Travis. "And that's what usually brings compromise."

Travis suspects the Democrats will blink first

"Maybe not later in March, but April, May or June. They'll hold out as long as they can and then they'll say, 'OK we've made our point. Now we have to have a budget.'"

The final deadline for some kind of compromise is June 30.