The state Senate erupted into an angry personal and regional debate today as legislators from Southwest Virginia launched a surprise move to strip millions of dollars in Metro funding for the Washington suburbs from the state budget.
Northern Virginia legislators and their allies turned the effort back by a 22-to-18 vote. "The effort here on the floor is a very sleazy way to sidetrack" the Senate, charged Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun), chairman of the Senate Transportion Committee.
Northern Virginians "have been greedy," scolded Democratic Sen. Dudley J. (Buzz) Emick of rural Botetourt County near Roanoke.
State Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria) dubbed Emick's effort "The Great Train Robbery of 1985." It came as the Senate was expected to approve routinely about $290 million in revisions to the state's biennial budget.
Mitchell rejected one rural senator's characterization of Metro as a "white elephant" and challenged the senators "to come there with me and close it down for a day," a move he said would create chaos in the Washington area.
"We are witnessing a tremendous flow of regional, parochial adrenaline," said Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax). He deplored the move as a "blind, head-in-sand attitude about what makes Virginia work."
The attack on $21 million earmarked for Metro, never a popular item with downstate legislators, was staged by senators from largely rural areas who hoped to hold the funds hostage in an effort to weaken a separate highway funding bill. That measure would shift millions of dollars in state aid from rural to urban areas.
"The state of Virginia has a commitment to the Metro program," shouted Sen. Edward M. Holland (D-Arlington). All of Northern Virginia's senators, except Sens. John W. Russell (R-Fairfax) and Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) took to the floor during the 75 minutes of debate to denounce the move Emick orchestrated.
Today's debate was a measure of the intense feelings within the 40-member Senate, which has begun in recent years to move from a rural-dominated body to one controlled by urban senators.
Emick, in an unsually personal and derisive attack on the Senate leadership and Northern Virginia, said his action was prompted by a Senate decision this week to place the highway bill before the finance committee rather than transportation.
Waddell, chairman of transportation, sheepishly acknowledged on the floor today that the highway bill probably would have died in his committee.
Emick said the Northern Virginians who were supporting the highway bill had "forgotten who your friends were when you were down here seeking money for Metro."
Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) angrily reacted to Emick's attack, noting millions of dollars of gasoline taxes that are generated in Northern Virginia but spent elsewhere. In Emick's home area, said Saslaw, a service station owner, "There aren't enough gasoline stations down there to fund two feet of roads."
Emick also ridiculed Sen. Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond), influential chairman of the Finance Committee, who Emick said could "load up" the current budget with Richmond-area projects but wouldn't oppose the Metro funds.
Willey, who appeared angered by the attack, said, "I admit I put a lot of amendments in the budget bill . . . . I don't apologize for this." Willey noted he has generally opposed funding for Metro -- it initially passed in the early 1980s while he was hospitalized for heart trouble -- but said today was not the time to attack the funds.
Several senators said Willey's veiled threat to eliminate pet projects of senators who opposed him was critical to the pro-Metro vote.
Sen. William E. Fears (D-Accomack), of the rural Eastern Shore, said his area has "been raped by the big boys from the city" and that he wanted to vote against Metro but, "I have an idea the world would fall in on me."
Both Willey and Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton), the second most powerful member of the Finance Committee, argued that taking up the Metro funds issue was inappropriate today.
Today's move by Emick and Sens. Daniel W. Bird Jr. (D-Wythe) and Virgil H. Goode Jr. (D-Franklin) also was part of a longstanding power struggle between western senators aligned with Emick and others who generally side with Andrews.
Sen. Clive L. DuVal II (D-Fairfax), chairman of the Northern Virginia caucus, labeled the bill backed by Emick as an "ill-considered, discriminatory and bitter amendment" by rural legislators and pleaded with the Senate to kill it.
He noted that Northern Virginia has raised and spent about $400 million for Metro with special taxes while the state's share of Metro costs has remained at $21 million. He noted that Maryland picks up all of the local cost of Metro for the Maryland suburbs of Washington.