Vir­ginia bud­get closes $1.2 bil­lion hole

RAISES, ED­U­CA­TION IN­CREASE AP­PROVED Gen­eral Assem­bly’s last day sees few fire­works

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY LAURA VOZZELLA

richmond — His big, wooden gavel tem­po­rar­ily stolen, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) re­sorted to tap-tap-tap­ping the Vir­ginia Se­nate into ses­sion with a tiny plas­tic mal­let Saturday, when law­mak­ers passed a state bud­get with near-unan­i­mous sup­port.

It was a fit­ting start to the fi­nal day of an un­der­stated Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion, in which most hot-but­ton bills died early and dif­fer­ences over the state’s spend­ing plan were rel­a­tively mi­nor.

just one “no” vote be­tween the House and Se­nate, the two cham­bers voted for a bud­get that cov­ers a $1.2 bil­lion short­fall, pro­vides long-sought raises for state em­ploy­ees, troop­ers and teach­ers, and boosts fund­ing for K-12 ed­u­ca­tion.

The fi­nal stretch of Vir­ginia’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion is usu­ally a fren­zied af­fair, with law­mak­ers and the gover­nor try­ing to strike last-minute deals, some­times on hefty leg­is­la­tion, such as the sweep­ing 2013 trans­porta­tion plan that Gov. Robert F. McDon­nell (R) wran­gled out of the Gen­eral Assem­bly as the ses­sion drew to a close. Just last year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and the GOP-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture bat­tled down to the wire over a state Supreme Court ap­point­ment.

This year — one in which all 100 House seats and three state With wide of­fices are up for elec­tion — the leg­is­la­ture spent its last day on work that was im­por­tant but no­tably lack­ing in drama. Among the bills pushed through Saturday were those aimed at re­form­ing the state’s eco­nomic-devel­op­ment arm and get­ting the city of Alexan­dria to stop flush­ing raw sewage into the Po­tomac River by 2025.

“It was de­void of any­thing truly death-de­fy­ingly con­tentious,” said Sen. Dave W. Mars­den (D-Fair­fax).

Even the fi­nal mo­ment was an­ti­cli­mac­tic. By long-stand­ing the House and Se­nate send a del­e­ga­tion up to the third floor of the his­toric Capi­tol, where the gover­nor has a cer­e­mo­nial of­fice, to in­form him that they have ad­journed. Not this time. McAuliffe was in Wash­ing­ton, lead­ing a meet­ing as chair­man of the Na­tional Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion.

“We were not able to as­cer­tain that he’s in the com­mon­wealth,” said Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (RHanover).

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said the gover­nor’s where-

abouts should have been no mys­tery.

“I think we made it very clear to them where he was and what he was do­ing,” Coy said. As the leg­is­la­ture gaveled out, Coy said, McAuliffe was pre­sid­ing over a panel dis­cus­sion on ear­ly­child­hood ed­u­ca­tion.

The gover­nor later is­sued a writ­ten state­ment say­ing that the ses­sion was “marked by bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion on is­sues that are im­por­tant to the peo­ple of Vir­ginia.”

But McAuliffe also made note of sev­eral mea­sures that failed against his wishes, in­clud­ing univer­sal back­ground checks for gun pur­chases and rais­ing the felony thresh­old from $200 to $500.

The bud­get makes ad­just­ments to the two-year, $105 bil­lion spend­ing plan passed last year. The leg­is­la­ture pro­vided more money for raises and K-12 ed­u­ca­tion than the pro­posal McAuliffe had made in De­cem­ber, when the state’s fi­nances looked bleaker.

The plan ap­proved Saturday in­cludes a 3 per­cent raise for state em­ploy­ees and an even big­ger boost to state po­lice, who have been leav­ing the agency in droves. It also pro­vides the state’s share of a 2 per­cent raise for teach­ers.

House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man S. Chris Jones (R-Suf­folk) be­came emo­tional as he dis­cussed the spend­ing plan, not­ing to Speaker Wil­liam J. How­ell (R-Stafford), “This is our last bud­get to­gether.”

How­ell, who has led the cham­ber for 15 ses­sions, an­nounced Mon­day that he would not seek re­elec­tion.

“I want to thank you for the trust you placed in me,” Jones said of be­ing ap­pointed the chair­man­ship, his voice break­ing. “I will be for­ever grate­ful for your con­fi­dence.”

The lone hold­out on the bud­get was Del. Kaye Kory (DFair­fax). Even she had high praise for the spend­ing plan.

“I hon­estly think this is one of the bet­ter bud­gets — if not the best bud­get — I have seen since I’ve been here,” she said, not­ing the money de­voted to ad­dress­ing opi­oid ad­dic­tion, men­tal health and schools. Her beef was with the elim­i­na­tion of $6 mil­lion for long-act­ing, re­versible con­tra­cep­tion cov­er­age for low-in­come women. She also ob­jected to plans to de­velop sys­tems for de­tect­ing fraud among food­stamp re­cip­i­ents.

Del. J. Randall Minchew (RLoudoun) ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that there was no fund­ing pro­vided to fill a va­cant Loudoun County Cir­cuit Court ju­di­cial slot.

“De­fund­ing our ju­di­ciary is not a good idea,” said Minchew, who nev­er­the­less voted for the bud­get.

The leg­is­la­ture will re­con­vene April 5 to con­sider any amend­ments or ve­toes from the gover­nor.

McAuliffe has al­ready ve­toed a num­ber of bills, in­clud­ing one that would have cut off state fund­ing to Planned Par­ent­hood. That ac­tion brought the par­ti­san flash point of abor­tion briefly to the House floor Saturday, as Del. C. Matthew Fariss (R-Camp­bell), seek­ing to over­ride the veto, raised the pos­si­bil­ity that “some­one would kill an un­born child be­cause of its race.”

The House failed to over­ride the veto, a move cheered by Northam, who is run­ning to suc­ceed McAuliffe.

As the ses­sion be­gan, Northam found that his gavel had been re­moved from the dais — a trick typ­i­cally played on the Se­nate’s pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer on the last day. It turned up in the desk of fresh­man Sen. Mark J. Peake (R-Lynch­burg).

BOB BROWN/RICHMOND TIMES-DIS­PATCH VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Vir­ginia del­e­gates chat dur­ing a break Saturday. Among bills pushed through on the last day of the ses­sion was one aimed at get­ting Alexan­dria to stop flush­ing sewage into the Po­tomac River by 2025.

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