Pass­ing a bud­get on time re­mains high hur­dle for leg­is­la­ture

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

RICH­MOND | Call it an $85 bil­lion game of chicken.

With one week left be­fore the sched­uled ad­journ­ment of the 2012 Gen­eral Assem­bly, Demo­cratic and Re­pub­li­can leg­is­la­tors have yet to agree on a spend­ing plan for the next two years and are dig­ging in their heels, ap­par­ently hop­ing that the other side will blink first.

Af­ter Se­nate Democrats twice blocked votes on the pro­posed bi­en­nial bud­get, the House last week passed its own ver­sion again on a 75-22 vote, giv­ing the Se­nate an­other shot at get­ting one through be­fore the sched­uled March 10 ad­journ­ment.

The Se­nate’s 20 Democrats have hung to­gether and suc­cess­fully man­aged to pre­vent a bud­get bill from pass­ing in a cham­ber with 20 Repub­li­cans.

The party is call­ing for more eq­ui­table rep­re­sen­ta­tion on com­mit­tees af­ter Repub­li­cans used Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s tie-break­ing vote on the first day of ses­sion to or­ga­nize as a work­ing ma­jor­ity.

But Democrats have in­sisted that the bud­get pro­posal does not pro­vide enough money for ed­u­ca­tion, health care or trans­porta­tion.

“There’s a whole lot that has to be done be­fore we reach an agree­ment,” said Se­nate Demo­cratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fair-

fax Demo­crat. “I think they have to re­al­ize that we’re not pulling a pub­lic­ity stunt.”

Be­yond bud­getary mat­ters, Democrats also have railed against con­ser­va­tive mea­sures such as leg­is­la­tion that man­dates women un­dergo ul­tra­sounds be­fore they have an abor­tion, bills that would tighten voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments and an­other that would pro­vide tax cred­its for busi­nesses that pro­vide schol­ar­ships for low-in­come chil­dren to at­tend pri­vate schools.

The ul­tra­sound mea­sure, which is on its way to the desk of Gov. Bob Mcdon­nell, as well as the failed “per­son­hood” mea­sure that would de­fine life as be­gin­ning at con­cep­tion drew na­tional at­ten­tion — and mock­ery.

“They have de­cided to run the gov­ern­ment with­out us,” said Demo­cratic Cau­cus Chair­man A. Don­ald Mceachin, Hen­rico Demo­crat. “Look at the mess they have made,”

Mr. Mcdon­nell, a Re­pub­li­can, says the ques­tions about such leg­is­la­tion have been asked and an­swered, so they should not be linked to ne­go­ti­a­tions on the bud­get.

“That’s not part of the dis­cus­sion on the bud­get,” he said. “The leg­is­la­ture’s al­ready spo­ken on that.

“If peo­ple want a dif­fer­ent view, then they can work hard and elect a new lieu­tenant gov­er­nor. Lieu­tenant gov­er­nors break ties.”

Mr. Mcdon­nell dashed off a sharply worded let­ter to Mr. Saslaw and Mr. Mceachin on Fri­day urg­ing them to put pol­icy ahead of pol­i­tics and send him a bud­get to sign.

“When one looks at the great risk in­volved to over 8 mil­lion peo­ple, it is in­con­ceiv­able that the leg­is­la­ture would pur­posely want to en­dan­ger the pas­sage of the com­mon­wealth’s bud­get, sim­ply be­cause of po­lit­i­cal dis­con­tent by one party,” he wrote. “When elec­tions are over, it is time to gov­ern.”

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Thomas K. Nor­ment Jr., James City Re­pub­li­can, re­it­er­ated Fri­day that Repub­li­cans would be avail­able “morn­ing, noon and night” to ne­go­ti­ate bud­get pro­pos­als, but that Democrats’ de­mands for more rep­re­sen­ta­tion on com­mit­tees were purely po­lit­i­cal and should not be part of the dis­cus­sions.

“The ball is lit­er­ally in their court,” he said. “The House has done its job once again. ... Hope­fully, af­ter some of our Se­nate friends have had the op­por­tu­nity to go home for the week­end and lis­ten to their con­stituents, per­haps the rhetoric be­ing scaled down a lit­tle bit, we can start [hav­ing] a dis­cus­sion on how to put to­gether the most im­por­tant piece of leg­is­la­tion the Gen­eral Assem­bly has.”

Though there were no out­ward signs that any­thing would be dif­fer­ent when the Se­nate takes up the bill Mon­day or Tues­day, Mr. McDon­nell said he was hopeful about hav­ing some­thing passed by the time the assem­bly ad­journs.

“There’s no need to start a public alarm yet,” he said. “Be­fore we start ratch­et­ing up the rhetoric, I think peo­ple need to just re­al­ize we know we’re go­ing to have a bud­get, we know we’ve got to work to­gether to get it, and I’m go­ing to do my best to bring peo­ple to­gether. That’s what I’ve done the last two years.” — Anne Marie Pip­pin, 31, Columbia Heights, fi­nance — Floyd Martin, 74, North­west, re­tired

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