This story has been updated.
Accused of blocking the state budget for purely political goals, Democrats on Wednesday rolled out a list of demands for the budget
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and Democratic Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), who’ve tried to use the budget to leverage more committee power for Democrats, spelled out what they want in the budget in a letter to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.
They list a range of Democratic priorities, some of which senators have articulated before in floor speeches and comments to the media.
One new request: that the state reimburse the University of Virginia the $576,000 it spent fighting off Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s demand for records related to a former UVA climate researcher’s work. The university used private funds to defend itself from the lawsuit, which the state Supreme Court tossed out last week. ↓
Among the other things Democrats are seeking for the budget: $300 million for the second phase of the Dulles rail project; $65 million for Northern Virginia schools to attract non-teaching staff in that high-dollar job market; revamping the gas tax to allow it to rise with inflation; restoring Medicaid eligibility to 4,500 nursing home residents who would be removed from the rolls under McDonnell’s budget plan; and an unspecified amount to pay for the ultrasounds that women will have to get before abortions under a highly contentious bill passed this session.
The request drew a semi-flippant response from McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin.
“They burnt down the whole house and suddenly they're concerned about what happened to some of the furniture?” Martin said via e-mail. “Still, the longest journeys do often start with a single step. After being asked for 9 weeks for specific proposals, Senate Democrats have finally produced a few ideas, albeit with only 3 days left in the session.
“If they had done this sooner they could be making these proposals in conference, per the usual practice. But this is at least a start, and it is a lot better than hearing more about committee assignments. Senate Democrats do seem to be finally realizing there is an important job to be done in passing a budget in a timely manner, and that's a good thing.”
Senate Democrats have voted down two, two-year, $85 billion budget plans and have threatened to kill a third, making it likely that the General Assembly will not approve a spending plan by its deadline Saturday. They are expected to extend the session or call a new one so they can continue working toward passage of a budget before the start of the fiscal year July 1.
November’s elections left the Senate evenly split, but Republicans were able to take control because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) has the power to break some tie votes. He cannot, however, vote on the budget. Democrats have used the prospect of a deadlocked Senate to renew a push for power-sharing in the chamber. Saslaw and McEachin have asked to have more Democrats placed on Senate committees and to have the powerful Senate Finance Committee be co-chaired by a Republican and Democrat.
Senate Republicans have dismissed demands for power-sharing, saying they are unrelated to the budget.
Other budget demands listed by Saslaw and McEachin include:
* Restoring $34 million in pre-kindergarten funding, which the administration has said was cut to correct for faulty student projections.
* Restoring $2.4 million in child-care subsidies for poor working families.
* Restoring $455,000 a year for teen pregnancy prevention programs.
* Restoring $870,000 in funding for community-based employment support and rehabilitative services.
* Restoring funding for three poison control centers serving Northern Virginia, Richmond, Hampton Roads and the western portion of the state.
* Putting funds from the federal mortgage settlement into a trust fund to provide relief to Virginians in danger of losing their homes. Virginia’s share of the national settlement is $69 million.