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Virginia Politics
Posted at 05:55 PM ET, 04/17/2012

A month behind schedule, Virginia Senate kills state budget again

Update, 5:55 p.m.: The equally divided Senate killed a two-year, $85 billion state budget late Tuesday after all 20 Democrats voted down the spending plan for the third time.

Sen. Charles Colgan (D-Prince William) had signed off on a compromise and had been expected to vote for the spending plan but sided with his party after no additional money for the extension of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport was included.

“It’s not my intention to drag this out,” Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said. “We’re not finished yet.’’

Colgan said he met with Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) earlier Tuesday but that McDonnell refused to give more money to the project.

“He says he believes MWAA has mismanaged everything and at this time he’s not inclined to give them any money at all. Period,” Colgan said.

Failure to pass a budget by July 1, the start of the fiscal year, could result in a partial government shutdown for the first time in Virginia history.

“What we are about to embark on is an initiative of partisan brinksmanship that’s going to lead to some legislative vertigo,” Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) said.

November’s election left the Senate evenly divided, but Republicans took control because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) breaks tie votes. Bolling, however, can’t vote on the budget.

Democrats secured several of their priorities but failed to get House negotiators to provide an additional $300 million for Dulles rail after McDonnell’s administration said it would not spend more than $150 million.

The Senate budget had included bonds to help hold down tolls in Northern Virginia, which are due to be increased to pay for the second phase of Metro’s new Silver Line. That decision could jeopardize the project, according to some, though a more broadly held view is that it will move forward but result in heavy toll increases.

The first phase of the $6 billion Silver Line is under construction from Falls Church to Reston and is expected to open in late 2013 or early 2014. Construction on the second part of the project, which will run to Dulles and into Loudoun, is expected to start in January and be completed in five years.

To help pay for the project, a one-way trip that now costs $2.25 could increase to $4.50 as early as next year. By 2018, tolls for that one-way trip could rise to $6.75.

Update, 4 p.m.: The Republican-led House of Delegates approved a two-year $85 billion state budget on a vote of 77-19.

The proposal pumps tens of millions more into local governments, public schools, hospitals and nursing homes than what Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) recommended in December.

State employees, college faculty and some local workers would get a one-time 3 percent bonus in December and a 2 percent raise — their first since 2007 — in 2013 if revenues remain at projected levels.

“It is time to move forward so that our local governments, public schools, colleges and state agencies can turn their attention to carrying out their responsibilities of providing services to the people of Virginia,’’ Del. Lacey Putney (I-Bedford), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Some House Democrats opposed the spending plan because it did not include additional money for the extension of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.

The Senate has begun to debate after Senate Democrats met with McDonnell.

Sen. Charles Colgan (D-Prince William) said the governor will not give more money to the project. “He says he believes MWAA has mismanaged everything and at this time he’s not inclined to give them any money at all. Period.”

Update, 2 p.m.: McDonnell sent a letter to Senate Democrats on Tuesday afternoon urging them to pass the $85 billion, two-year state budget.

McDonnell (R) reminded senators, who are threatening to vote against the spending plan, of the ramifications that could have on the state.

“Unfortunately, there has recently been discussion by several in the Senate again on not approving a budget without additional funding for two very specific transportation projects in the commonwealth, namely the Dulles Rail extension and the Midtown/Downtown Tunnel improvements,’’ McDonnell said. “This cannot happen and will have disastrous effects on Virginia.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation has notified contractors that they should plan to halt work by May 1 because of the budget impasse in Richmond. A suspension would affect 473 construction and maintenance projects valued at $2.7 billion across the state, including bridges and interstate, primary, urban and secondary roads.

Senate Democrats accused the McDonnell administration of manufacturing a crisis at VDOT, saying this did not happen in 2004 and 2006. But newspaper articles from those years show VDOT did the exact same thing.

“If there is no budget passed on Tuesday, there will be prompt adverse consequences on local governments and schools, as well as VDOT and other state agencies postponing contracts due to the uncertainty of funding,’’ McDonnell wrote in his letter.

Update, 11:05 a.m., April 17: McDonnell again blamed Senate Democrats on Tuesday morning for failing to pass the state’s two-year, $85 billion budget.

“Unfortunately, Senate Democrats put us in this position to start with,’’ McDonnell said on his monthly call-in show on WNIS radio.

McDonnell said it’s disappointing that the Senate would try to hold up the entire bill based on one project — the extension of the Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.

McDonnell said the state can’t afford to provide $300 million for the Metrorail line to Dulles . “We simply cannot borrow more money for that project,’’ he said.

He said he is committed to the project, but that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority needs to be “run better,’’ citing cost overruns and significant concerns with the contract.

But the governor predicts that the budget will pass Tuesday, more than a month late.

Original post:

Virginia’s General Assembly reconvenes Tuesday to vote on a two-year, $85 billion state spending plan hashed out this month by budget negotiators.


Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) appears to be pleased after a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee in March. But which side will he make happy? (Bob Brown - Associated Press)
Normally there’s not much drama once the budget conferees strike a deal. But this time around, it’s not clear that the plan will clear the Senate, which is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Passage is not in doubt in the House, which is dominated by Republicans.

For those of you just tuning in, here’s a quick guide to the action:

How we got here:

Senate Democrats voted down two budget plans during the regular session in a dispute over committee power and spending priorities. Republicans could not overcome the Democrats’ opposition because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who can break most ties in the Senate, lacks authority to vote on the budget.

That forced the General Assembly to call a special session. Democrats eventually divorced their demand for committee seats from the budget process, and Senate Republicans agreed to spend millions more on schools, human services and transportation. So it was all peace and harmony, until it was time to reconcile the Senate budget with the House plan.

The sticking points:

House budget negotiators balked at some of the big-ticket items included in the Senate plan, chiefly in the areas of transportation. They included $300 million for the Metrorail line to Dulles International Airport and $125 million in toll relief for Hampton Roads.

Just before Easter, a majority of negotiators reached a deal that included money for neither, though it upped spending for schools and human services. Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) signed off on the conference report, though other Senate Democrats who served as conferees withheld their signatures.

On Monday, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) tried to appease Hampton Roads legislators, announcing that tolls would be lower than originally planned. He also said he would ask the Commonwealth Transportation Board to spend up to $100 million to delay the tolls, slated to begin this year, until January 2014.

But there has been no movement on Metrorail. And for that reason, despite Colgan’s seeming defection, Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) has said his caucus will stick together to kill the budget.

The man of the hour:

Colgan has been coy, at least publicly, about how he’ll vote on the floor. Democrats continue to hold out hope that he’ll side with them.

“I love Senator Colgan and I trust his instincts,” said Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth). “I still feel very confident that he is going to support his colleagues on this.”

But budget negotiators from across the aisle were equally confident that he’d stick with them.

“It is my understanding that Senator Colgan, being the consummate Virginia statesman that he is, recognizes we must have a budget and he intends to vote for the budget,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City). “I am sure there are those in his caucus who probably are vociferously encouraging him to vote against it.”

Colgan has not returned calls seeking comment since last week. By Monday, his voice mailbox was so full it couldn’t take more messages.

The next step:

If the budget plan clears, it goes to McDonnell, who will have seven days to sign, amend or veto the plan if the General Assembly does not officially close the special session, or 30 days if it opts for sine die.

If the proposed budget fails, it’s back to square one.

If the General Assembly does not pass a spending plan before the start of the fiscal year July 1, a partial government shutdown could occur.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By and  |  05:55 PM ET, 04/17/2012

 
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