The Virginia General Assembly worked into evening Saturday to some major legislation before adjourning its 60-day session.
In the final hours of the session, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) made a last-ditch effort to salvage a pair of his top priorities — pumping more money into the state’s congested roads and reforming the state pension system.
He summoned a handful of Republican and Democratic legislators, including House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), to his nearby office on Capitol Square. Negotiators reached a tentative deal on pension reform, but legislators were not unable to find $100 million to pay for the governor’s transportation initiatives.
“This is my 31st year here, and every last day is like this,” Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Powhatan) said.
The pension bill would create a hybrid retirement plan for new state employees, local employees and teachers, combining a traditional defined-benefit pension plan with a 401(k)-style plan.
Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), said McDonnell would have preferred that employees contribute more, but that Democrats would not have accepted that.
“It should put Virginia in good shape for a generation,” she said.
House Democrats urged that the pension vote be delayed to special session on the budget, but Republican leaders are opposed.
“Every legislative session there are issues that need to be negotiated and major issues that don’t get negotiated until the last day,” Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) said.
On transportation, they were unable to agree on whether to increase the gax tax to the rate of inflation or to divert additional money from the sales tax.
“It is going very deliberately here as the senators reflect on the last two bills dealing with transportation and [the Virginia Retirement System], and hopefully before we have to set the clocks back for the time change, we will be through,” Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) said. “At least we have an extra hour.”
Well no, actually, Norment was reminded. The clocks spring ahead early Sunday morning, not back, so he had one hour less.
“Oh no!” he replied, then turned to senators in the room. “Guys, we gotta speed it up.”
Legislative leaders plan to return to Richmond for a special session to adopt a budget by July 1, the start of the fiscal year. Failure to adopt a budget by then could result in a partial government shutdown.