By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2008
RICHMOND, Feb. 27 -- The Virginia Senate voted Wednesday to cut off state funding to Planned Parenthood of Virginia because it offers abortions, an action that could endanger hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid for women's health-care programs.
The decision, a major setback for the Senate's new Democratic majority, marks the first time in more than a decade that the Senate has decided against giving state aid to the organization because of its abortion-related activities.
The GOP-controlled House has long pushed to cut off state aid for Planned Parenthood, but the moderate Republicans who controlled the Senate until this year fought off the effort.
On Thursday, however, all 19 Senate Republicans decided they would vote for the amendment sponsored by Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax), who is considering running for attorney general next year.
Senate Democratic leaders struggled for hours to defeat the amendment, but they were unable to stop Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) from voting for it. Colgan's decision resulted in 20 to 20 tie, which was broken by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who voted for the restrictions.
"It's because of my conscience, and I don't waver from that, as my colleagues found out today," said Colgan, whose district includes western Prince William County. "I ran on a pro-life platform, and most of my constituents are pro-life."
House Republicans have already deleted funding for Planned Parenthood in their version of the budget. With the Senate's vote, it could be up to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to decide whether he wants to try to remove the amendment after the final budget lands on his desk next month.
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) warned that the Senate was setting a bad precedent of singling out organizations because of ideological differences.
"Once we start down this road, there will be no stopping," Saslaw said.
Cuccinelli said there has traditionally been $250,000 to $500,000 in the budget for programs operated by Planned Parenthood that are not related to abortion services. Cuccinelli said, however, that Planned Parenthood was not restricted in how it spends some of the money it receives, which he said could result in funds being used to subsidize abortions.
"What we are doing is financing an abortion-mill operator," Cuccinelli said. "This will deny them that money."
Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) said that Planned Parenthood provides "contraceptive planning which prevents abortions."
"The irony is, Planned Parenthood probably prevents more abortions than any other organization in the country," Howell said.
Planned Parenthood officials could not be immediately reached for comment. Delacey Skinner, Kaine's communications director, said some of the state aid for Planned Parenthood goes for programs that it operates at juvenile correction facilities to teach pregnancy prevention.
Planned Parenthood also gets state aid to run programs to prevent HIV, she said. The organization also gets some funds for providing health care to low-income women.
"The funding that goes to Planned Parenthood is going to fund teen pregnancy programs as well as pass-through for a variety of health-care procedures for low-income women," she said.
Nevertheless, the GOP effort to push the amendment through the Senate represents a major defeat for the Senate Democratic majority as it prepares to battle with the House over the budget in the remaining days before lawmakers adjourn March 8.
Earlier Wednesday, Senate Democrats vowed to stay in session past March 8 unless the House abandons plans to recalculate how public schools are funded.
In developing their proposal to meet the state's Standards of Quality, House Republicans are rewriting some funding formulas to try to save the money, Virginia Education Association officials said.
In its version of the 2008-2010 budget, House Republicans are proposing changes to the formula for the Standards of Quality, a constitutional requirement that requires schools' funding be readjusted every two years.
Teachers unions and local governments oppose the change, saying it will set back a decades-long efforts to better align teachers' salaries statewide with the national average.
If the House plan is approved, there would be $227 million less in state aid for teachers' salaries by the 2010-2012 budget, said Robert B. Rotz, division chief for the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee.
Legislative auditors also raised questions about whether the proposed change violates the state constitution.
"I am geared and ready for battle," Howell said after Rotz's presentation. "I am ready to fight. If this were to pass, this would be the single greatest blow to public education in my 16 years down here."
Del. Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News) countered that House Republicans are trying to save taxpayers money by making local governments pick up more of the share when they decided to give teacher pay raises greater than those approved by the General Assembly.
"Why should the state be reimbursing for what is basically an unfunded obligation from the localities?" Hamilton said.
Hamilton said the proposed 2008-2010 House budget includes an additional $1.1 billion for public education, including a proposed 2 percent increase in teachers' salaries later this year.
"The bottom line is this budget increases funding for education," Hamilton said.
Staff writer Sandhya Somashekar contributed to this report.