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Morning Read: Abortion Ultrasound Funding, Transportation Main Obstacles In Virginia Budget Agreement

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Virginia Senate leaders are reporting that progress has been made in the partisan negotiations to pass a 2-year, $85 billion budget.

The last obstacles to passage of a Senate budget could be transportation funding and a Democrat proposal to finance a new law requiring women to undergo ultrasounds before abortions, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Negotiations were underway Wednesday as General Assembly leaders returned to Richmond to meet for an unofficial meeting to go over specific funding amendments.

An amended budget could be ready for presentation as early as Monday during a special legislative session solely focused on passing the budget.

The Senate failed to pass a budget during the regular session after Democrats refused to vote in favor of Gov. McDonnell's proposed spending plan in the evenly split Senate with 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans.

The Roanoke Times Editorial Board wrote that a lack of proper transportation funding could make it harder to preserve and expand train service.

"But the governor has failed to show leadership in identifying new revenues for roads and rail. The compromise deal offers little other than a cut of future budget surpluses, money now devoted to education and health care, and fees charged for naming rights to Virginia roads and bridges.

Passenger service between Lynchburg and Washington,D.C., is in shape to survive the coming budgetary turmoil. It operates in the black and is in fact the best-performing state-sponsored regional service within the Amtrak system. But its continued success requires state leaders to show their commitment. Rather than bump rail further back in the long line for money, McDonnell and legislators should make it a high priority. And then, they must find the dollars to ensure that status actually means something."

* The Washington Post is reporting that the federal investigation into Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign is now looking into an alleged “shadow campaign”—or a campaign effort that was not publicly reported or recorded.

Former campaign staffers told the Post that field organizer Vernon E. Hawkin was at the helm of these efforts.

At the time, Gray, according to The Post, was considered an underdog, and his fundraising was far behind his opponent's, incumbent mayor Adrian M. Fenty, campaign funding.

Read the Post’s full story here.

* Local governments, school boards and school superintendents are asking Gov. Bob McDonnell to block legislation that would require them to give offsetting raises to teachers and local employees who would have to pay 5 percent of their salaries to their pensions, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Read more here.

* Virginia Senators Marker Warner and James Webb introduced a controversial bill to allow the development of a small plot of land on the Eastern Shore that most of their fellow Democrats objected to.

The measure passed the House Wednesday with a 240-164 vote that fell mostly along party lines, The Washington Post reports.

The bill would lift restrictions on the land originally donated to the county by the federal government for use as parkland.

But, according to the Post, most Democrats objected to it because they said allowing development of the land without making the county pay the federal government fair market value for it, would set a “devastating precedent.”

Supporters of the bill say that the land is unused and the federal government wasn’t asking a fair price for the property.

* The Romney camp’s Etch A Sketch gaffe heard around the country coincided with the presidential candidate’s campaign visit to Maryland.

One of Romney’s top aides made the Etch-A-Sketch comment earlier in the day on CNN when asked whether Romney’s touted conservative policies would hurt him in the general election when he will have to appeal to more moderate voters.

"It's almost like an Etch A Sketch," the aide told CNN when "You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."

At the end of the town hall meeting Romney, according to the Baltimore Sun, addressed the comment that made waves through the media Wednesday.

"Organizationally, a general election campaign takes on a different profile," Romney said. "The issues I'm running on will be exactly the same. I'm running as a conservative Republican. ...The policies and positions are the same."

* With 11 days until the primary, Dr. Milad Pooran, a candidate for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District Democratic primary, just poured $200,000 of his own money into his campaign, according to The Maryland Reporter.

Pooran’s camp said he decided to donate the money after internal polling conducted last week showed that 39 percent of polled voters remain undecided and 55 percent of those who already support a candidate could change their minds.

* Maryland Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. withdrew as a co-sponsor of legislation Wednesday that would provide up to $1.2 million a year to a horseracing track over a possible conflict of interest.

Mathias’ employer helped build a casino on the site of the racetrack, according to the Post.

Although Mathias had a letter from a legislative ethics commission saying that his employment was not a conflict of interest, he opted to withdraw in order to prevent creating an “unnecessary perception,” The Post reports.

*NBC’s Tom Sherwood reports that D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray supports a broad review of city campaign laws but declined to endorse any specific proposals Wednesday.

At a ceremony to open a new recreation department headquarter, Gray, whose 2010 campaign for mayor is under investigation, did not commit to any campaign reform.

Some of the reforms being proposed include a $25 limit on money orders, more investigators for the campaign finance office or banning corporate donations to city campaigns.

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