Virginia Sen. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (D-Franklin) thought he had the state's budget all figured out today until some of the Senate's power brokers showed him otherwise.
"It's just priorities," protested Goode, a country lawyer with a thick mountain drawl, describing the $11.6 billion spending program for 1980-82 that he and his 39 Senate colleagues scrutinized for about five hours today.
Goode was claiming a right to have a say about the spending decisions already reached by the Senate Finance Committee, whose members had spent days poring over Gov. John N. Dalton's budget and were now unveiling their recommended cuts and additions.
But as senators who had not served on the committee began questioning increased allocations for the General Assembly, cuts in community alcohol and drug abuse programs and a $1.5 million appropriation to lease a new plane for the governor, they learned the recommendations were set in concrete.
If even one item was changed, warned Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton), "we're going to have an unbalanced budget." And since that would mean more work by the committee, Andrews bluntly told those asking all the questions, "we'll take a note of the red votes" against any of the committee's recommendations. The Senate's actions are tabulated on a board on which "no" votes appear as red lights and "yes" votes are green.
State Sen. Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond), the panel's crusty chairman, put it less delicately: "Just put those red lights up there and see what happens . . . we'll be here until July."
"I'm going to vote no," he said of the committee's decision to cut some $3.4 million from community services programs approved in the House of Delegates' version of Dalton's budget. He suggested the Senate could make up the difference by cutting funds the committee approved for Dalton's plane and a pharmacy school.
"Why should the state's top executives live like kings when the average citizens are going to have a gasoline tax slapped on them?" Goode argued.
Several senators, took the floor to tell Andrews and Willey they resented being "threatened," and freshman state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said he thought the budget bill should be open to criticism like any other piece of legislation.
"Why are we supposed to sit here and vote for all the committee amendments?" he complained.
More veteran members of the Senate cautioned other lawmakers against getting too emotionally involved with pet projects.
"My daughter has already called me and said, 'Daddy, don't you mess with my program,'" said state Sen. William E. Fears (D-Accomack), whose daughter works in one of the community treatment facilities that would be affected by the budgetary trims.
Ultimately, Fears and most of the Senate approved the committee's budget recommendations 32 to 7, sending the governor's budget bill to a conference committee to work out spending differences with the House before adjournment on Saturday.
By then, Andrews had risen on the Senate floor to "sincerely and humbly" apologize to any senators he might have offended.
"Who am I to threaten anyone?" asked the man who virtually dominates the Senate's major committees. "I'm just a little old senator from Hampton."
Though Andrews said he was only trying to move through the budget quickly and avoid a long-running session late Saturday night, State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond) said he had not misunderstood the majority leader at all.
"I didn't interpret what he said as a threat -- I knew it was a promise," said Wilder as the rest of the Senate burst into laughter.