Disparity proposal shot down

By Elizabeth Theil

Landmark News Service

RICHMOND_The General Assembly went home Saturday unable to break a House-Senate deadlock on a proposal to put about $20 million in additional state aid into poor school districts in 1994.

Instead, legislators decided to delay additional efforts to close the financial gap between Virginia's poor and rich school systems for another year while they study the problem.

"I'm not prepared to put something this complicated into statute in the waning hours of the session," said Sen. Hunter Andrews, D-Hampton, the measure's primary opponent, as a six-member House-Senate committee tried Saturday afternoon to hammer out an agreement.

Saturday's collapse of the disparity plan capped two days of intense wrangling between delegates looking to secure an election-year promise of extra money for their districts and senators who denounced the late- blooming effort as irresponsible.

The struggle culminated in a standoff between advocates of the proposal and Andrews, who as Senate majority leader and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is one of the state's most powerful legislators.

Andrews, who on Friday blocked efforts to convene a committee to work on a compromise, backed down Saturday and allowed the committee to meet. But he did not drop his opposition to the idea.

The main sticking point was how the $20 million proposed to be returned to localities from the state tax on real estate sales would be divided among school systems.

Andrews said he feared that giving extra money to some relatively well-off school districts, as a House-passed plan proposed, would hurt the state's defense in a lawsuit filed by poor school districts.