Virginia voters will be asked in the general election Nov. 4 to settle a squabble between Republican Gov. John N. Dalton and the predominately Democratic General Assembly over the assembly's power to override gubernatorial votes.
At issue is a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would authorize special General Assembly sessions every year for the purpose of reconsidering vetoed measures. Dalton is portraying the plan as an expensive boondoggle that could cost the taxpayers a minimum of $45,000 every year, while legislative leaders, long frustrated by rules tying their hands on bills rejected after the legislative session ends, are lining up to support it.
"We need this because we have no way now to effectively exercise our legislative prerogative to override a veto on almost 90 percent of our legislation," said Sen. Adelard Brault (D-Fairfax), the amendment's sponsor.
"This measure not only will give the General Assembly its full constitutional right to determine whether or not a bill becomes law, but it will result in the more efficient operation of government."
The veto override question is the most controversial of four proposed constitutional amendments that will appear on Virginia ballots Nov. 4, when voters also will make presidential and congressional choices. The other three proposals would reduce the amount of money cities and towns may borrow, allow localities to offer special tax breaks to some elderly and disabled persons and to offer tax breaks to manufacturers who conserve energy.
A coalition of state organizations has endorsed the veto proposal, which will be state question No. 1 on the ballot. That coalition includes the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP AND THE AFL-CIO. vOpposing it, along with Governor Dalton, is the conservative Virginia Taxpayers' Alliance.
Pat Jensen, president of League of Women Voters, says the veto proposal is the "most important" constitutional revision presented to Virginia voters in a decade, and contends it would make the legislature "more responsive and representative."
Under present Virginia law, the assembly may override vetos by a two-thirds vote of both houses only during regular legislative sessions.
The governor, however, is allowed seven days to consider a bill before signing or rejecting it. Many legislators and observers note that many controversial measures are not decided until the last days of the legislative session, meaning the governor often acts on those bills after delegates and senators have gone home.
The proposed amendment would allow the General Assembly to reconvene on the sixth Wednesday after each regular or special session to consider bills vetoed by the governor. The amendment would not permit the assembly to pass any new legislation during the override sessions.
Dalton maintains the current system allows legislators two options in overriding a veto. If they would speed up action on major legislation, he says, they could get their bills on his desk with time to spare. And, he adds, bill can always be reintroduced at the next session of the General Assembly.
Dalton estimates that such special legislative sessions would cost from $45,000 for a three-day session to more than $150,000 if the session were extended to the maximum of 10 days.
Supporters of the veto override argue that costs would be minimal. They predict that most special sessions would not run more than two days. They add that reintroducing measures after a veto is often more costly, because it costs an average of $1,300 to process a bill through the General Assembly. Dalton vetoed about 35 bills in the 1980 legislative session.
The other constitutional amendments on the ballot are considered "housekeeping" measures and face no serious opposition. The questions, in the order they will appear on the ballot, would:
Reduce the amount of money cities and towns may borrow in the form of long-term general-obligation bonds. Currently, localities may borrow an amount equal to 18 percent of their total assessed real estate value. The proposal, which supporters say is aimed at offsetting the recent trend toward assessing property at full market value, would reduce that limit to 10 percent.
Allow local governments to grant real estate tax exemptions to elderly and disabled persons who live in mobile homes. Currently those exemptions are granted only to owners of permanent residences, such as single-family homes or townhouses.
Permit local governments to grant tax exemptions to manufacturers who convert from oil and natural gas generating equipment to equipment that uses other sources of power, such as coal or solar power. Four Questions On State Issues
1: Shall Sections 6, 11 and 13 of Article IV and Section 6 of Article V of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to authorize the General Assembly to convene for a limited period of time to consider legislation vetoed by the Governor?
2. Shall Section 10 of Article VII of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to decrease the maximum indebtedness a city or town may incur?
3. Shall Section 6 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to authorize the General Assembly to permit certain tax exemptions for personal property which is designed for continous habitation, owned and used by persons not less than 65 or disabled?
4. Shall Section 6 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to authorize the General Assembly to permit certain tax exemptions for property whose purpose is to replace oil or natural gas generating equipment installed after December 31, 1974?