RICHMOND, FEB. 13 -- In the closing weeks of the Virginia General Assembly, when the going gets tough, the tough take hostages.
That's what Senate Finance Chairman Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton) and House Finance Chairman C. Richard Cranwell (D-Vinton) have done to each other, realizing that sometimes the best way to get what you want or stave off what you don't is to grab your adversary's bill and threaten to kill it.
This year, a House bill of particular interest to Northern Virginia has gotten caught up in the ritualistic gamesmanship: a proposal to give about $40 million in lottery funds to localities for education and transportation.
About $10.5 million of the funds would go to Northern Virginia.
Today, the bill, which was unanimously approved by Cranwell's committee and passed by the House 93 to 5, got a frosty reception in the Senate Finance Committee and appeared to be on the brink of death.
Instead of killing the bill, however, Andrews ordered the Senate finance staff to study its fiscal impact. In short, he took the bill hostage.
The lottery bill was not killed outright because of the threat that Cranwell would retaliate by killing a Senate proposal to raise $48 million by accelerating sales tax collections.
That bill, considered an important piece of a complex budget proposal being pushed by Andrews, is bottled up in Cranwell's committee, which has killed similar bills in past sessions.
Now the waiting game is on. Though members of the Senate and House finance committees refused to publicly link the bills, they privately acknowledged today that each was being held up as part of a hostage strategy.
"Hostage-taking is a time-honored technique in the General Assembly," said Del. Leslie L. Byrne (D-Fairfax), a member of Cranwell's House Finance Committee.
"It adds pressure," she said. "That's why legislators, particularly House members, try to get their bills through as early as possible, because you never know what will be held hostage on the Senate side to get our attention."
Two gun-control proposals also are being held hostage. One pending in the House would make it a crime to recklessly allow a loaded gun to fall into the hands of a child; the other in the Senate would require criminal background checks for anyone buying any type of gun.
The $48 million Senate proposal to accelerate sales tax collections was approved by the Senate 32 to 4 as part of an alternative to Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's budget. If the bill is killed, the Senate's budget will be short $48 million.
The $40 million lottery proposal is important to Cranwell and his committee because it is meant to repair a broken promise that the state made to localities two years ago to give them $40 million in real estate filing fees. The state kept the money for itself because of its $2.2 billion budget shortfall.
Under the lottery bill, sponsored by Del. Mitchell Van Yahres (D-Charlottesville), the state would raise its share of lottery proceeds from 35 to 40 percent; 5 percent of the money would go to vendors, and the remaining 55 percent would go to prizes and administrative costs.
Lottery officials claim that prize money under the bill would be reduced, and as a result fewer people would play the game and total revenue would drop. Cranwell said that if lottery officials are concerned about the payout, they can keep the prize money the same and reduce administrative costs instead.
Some members of the Senate Finance Committee greeted the proposal with disdain.
Sen. Dudley J. "Buzz" Emick Jr. (D-Botetourt) said there was "a concept of honor" that gamblers adhered to that could be damaged by changing the percentage of lottery funds devoted to prizes.
"If the public gets the appearance the legislature is jacking the game, making a crook of the game, they won't play anymore. That's the philosophy of gambling." The bill, he said, was "filling a hole in the budget by picking on suckers."
"I agree anybody playing the lottery falls into that category," Van Yahres responded.