VIRGINIA ASSEMBLY

Republicans Kill Kaine Amendments

Del. Lionel Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapaeake) could not stop Republican delegates from defeating a pack of spending proposals submitted by the governor.
Del. Lionel Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapaeake) could not stop Republican delegates from defeating a pack of spending proposals submitted by the governor. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 29, 2006

RICHMOND, June 29 -- Virginia's lawmakers spent the 93rd day of a historic special session immersed in frustrating delay, parliamentary infighting and partisan rancor, much of it targeted at Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).

Before finishing the most overdue budget in state history and going home for the summer, the Republican-led House of Delegates voted to reject 20 of 36 amendments proposed by Kaine to the two-year, $72 billion spending plan, removing almost $22 million in additional funding the governor had wanted to divvy up among projects across the state.

The Republican-led House of Delegates and Senate have been fighting over whether to raise taxes for transportation since adjourning their regular session without a budget March 11. The assembly opened a special session two weeks later. Members broke their impasse just in time to pass a budget before the end of the fiscal year Friday.

Among Kaine's rejected amendments was a proposal to let the state spend as much as $6 million on child care for low-income children, compensating localities for a cut in federal spending. In a letter to Kaine in May, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) warned that without the amendment, the county would have to drop 1,900 children from subsidized care.

Another item would have provided money to renovate the library at Norfolk State University, and a third would have appropriated $3.75 million for a sewer project in Lynchburg to clean water flowing into the James River.

"That's raw sewage, and it's going to flow from the James River to the Chesapeake Bay to the ocean," said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). "That's something that's just not right."

Kaine also said he was confused by the vote. "Folks voting against projects in their own district that were really designed to be good for their own constituents and the commonwealth?" he said. "I'm really just scratching my head in wonder at it all."

Both chambers were scheduled to meet at 10 a.m., but Republicans in the House requested recess after recess to consider strategy in taking on Kaine's amendments.

Senators, who could not consider the budget until after the House had voted on the amendments, were left to lounge in their chamber, reading the newspaper, chatting and waiting impatiently for their colleagues to vote.

Not until almost 2 p.m. did delegates declare themselves ready to discuss Kaine's amendments. Then Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) proposed that 16 separate amendments dealing with spending be taken up in a block and rejected, arguing that the money could be better spent on transportation.

"There's nothing in here that I think the governor put in that is not a laudable project," he told colleagues. "They're all good things. The bottom line is that we need to set priorities about what we're going to do with available spending."

Ordinarily, any delegate can move to consider items separately, a rule that would have forced delegates to take votes on each of Kaine's items. But in a long parliamentary debate that drew howls of protest from Democrats, House Republicans forced a vote on all 16 spending items together.

Informed at one point that only a motion to adjourn the session altogether could delay a vote, Del. Lionell Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapeake) angrily sprang to his feet to demand that the legislature go ahead and leave for a week. Doing so would have meant going home without adopting a budget by July 1, risking a government shutdown.

Amid the din of rising voices, Del. Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry) quickly paced over to Spruill and whispered harshly to him, and Spruill rose again.

"I've been advised by my lawyer that I should withdraw that motion," he said.

The House rejected the block of Kaine proposals, 51 to 36.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company