The Virginia Senate moved today toward possible early adjournment this weekend, wrapping up action on dozens of House bills and narrowly sustaining a proposed $15,000 pay raise for the state's next governor.
Budget difference between the House and the Senate are now the few remaining major items that must be settled before the General Assembly concludes the year's 38-day sesssion on Saturday.
It was during debate on the budget that Senate mavericks nearly succeeded in blocking a proposal to increase the governor's salary from the current $60,000 to $75,000. In a Virtual replay of an earlier House debate, opponents argued the pay raise would be unwise when the assembly already has voted down tax relief measures for the people.
After an hour's debate, the Senate defeated a subsitute proposal that would have increased the governor's salary by just $5,000.
"It will be hard to face or people back home," warned Sen. Daniel W. Bird Jr. (D-Wythe), as he read a list of lower salaries paid to governors of neighboring states. The proposed salary increase would make Virginia's the second highest paid governor in the nation. i
Sen. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (D-Franklin) recited 11 "perks" already given the governor -- including the use of a jet, free food and drink and "a rent-free manison loaded with antiques, atmosphere and servants."
But Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton) helped persuade the Senate to agree to the full increase, arguing the General Assembly has only one chance every four years to adjust the governor's salary. a
Another, less volatile, budget debate broke out when Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax) objected to about $4.4 million in cuts in Medicaid and welfare payments for youths aged 18 to 21 who are still in school.
"This might mean the difference between being able to stay in school and having to leave," said Gartlan. He contrasted those cuts with another budget proposal that will increase tuition assistance for children attending private schools.
The proposal passed, 30 to 4, despite Gartlan's efforts.
Senate leaders took turns commending the members for completing their business in record time. But Sen. Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax) called the break-neck speed at which the Assembly had done its work "disgraceful" and warned that he would filibuster any future attempt to hold such a short session.
In another action, the House approved a measure making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, Jan. 15, a state holiday. An earlier attempt to kill the bill, in effect, by sending it to committee was narrowly defeated, 44 to 41.
Should the Senate approve the measure as expected and Gov. John N. Dalton sign it, Virginia would become the third state along with the District of Columbia to so honor the slain civil rights leader.