Mcdon­nell chides assem­bly for fail­ure to en­act bud­get

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

RICH­MOND | The re­port card for Bob Mcdon­nell and the state leg­is­la­ture at the con­clu­sion of the Virginia gov­er­nor’s legacy-mak­ing 2012 ses­sion might best be char­ac­ter­ized as “in­com­plete” — for now.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly, em­broiled in par­ti­san pol­icy and power dis­putes, ad­journed on time Satur­day, but with­out fin­ish­ing its most im­por­tant task — en­act­ing a bud­get for the next two years.

That, said Mr. Mcdon­nell, was his big­gest dis­ap­point­ment of the assem­bly’s ses­sion.

“I’ll be re­mind­ing them — of­ten — about what hap­pens if a bud­get is not done very soon,” he said. “That’s ob­vi­ously the big­gest dis­ap­point­ment of the ses­sion, but it’s one that I’m con­fi­dent peo­ple of good faith will get through soon.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fair­fax Demo­crat, said law­mak­ers could be fin­ished by the end of the month. They’ll re­turn March 21 in spe­cial ses­sion to con­tinue their work on the pro­posed $85 bil­lion, two-year spend­ing plan.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “I mean, peo­ple would like to make it a big deal, but it’s not a big deal.”

By Mr. Mcdon­nell’s tally, 88 per­cent of the items on his leg­isla­tive agenda, which fo­cused on job cre­ation, pen­sion re­form, and K-12 and higher ed­u­ca­tion, among other top­ics, were ap­proved by the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Two ma­jor items of Mr. Mcdon­nell’s agenda did not pass. The Se­nate twice voted down a mea­sure that would end tenure­like teacher con­tracts, and also balked at the Re­pub­li­can gov­er­nor’s pro­posal to in­crease the per­cent­age of the state sales tax that goes to­ward trans­porta­tion. On its final day, the leg­is­la­ture ap­proved a trans­porta­tion pack­age that was a shell of Mr. Mcdon­nell’s orig­i­nal pro­posal, retaining the ar­guably du­bi­ous plan to

sell nam­ing rights for cer­tain roads and bridges in the state.

“He not only ran into united op­po­si­tion from the Demo­cratic Party,” Mr. Saslaw said. “He was turned down by his own party in the Se­nate.”

Still, el­e­ments of Mr. Mcdon­nell’s pro­posal to over­haul the state’s $52 bil­lion re­tire­ment sys­tem were ap­proved by the leg­is­la­ture, though his pro­posal to of­fer state em­ploy­ees an op­tional de­fined-con­tri­bu­tion plan, akin to a 401(k), was re­placed with a manda­tory hy­brid plan that in­cludes a de­fined-ben­e­fit por­tion for em­ploy­ees hired af­ter Jan. 1, 2014. Lo­cal gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees and teach­ers will also have to con­trib­ute 5 per­cent of their salaries to­ward their pen­sions, to be off­set by 5 per­cent raises, and ben­e­fits for fu­ture em­ploy­ees will be re­duced.

So­cial is­sues

Though nearly 1,600 bills were passed dur­ing the ses­sion, much of the fo­cus was di­verted from Mr. Mcdon­nell’s pre­ferred sub­jects — jobs and the econ­omy — to­ward high-pro­file so­cial is­sues.

Per­haps the most no­table of the bills the gov­er­nor signed into law this ses­sion was one that will re­quire women to un­dergo ul­tra­sound imag­ing be­fore they have an abor­tion. Amid na­tional mock­ery and at Mr. Mcdon­nell’s re­quest, the leg­is­la­ture amended the orig­i­nal leg­is­la­tion, which could have re­quired a more in­va­sive, transvagi­nal ul­tra­sound that op­po­nents likened to “state-spon­sored rape.”

Some of the fo­cus on so­cial is­sues came in spite of the gov­er­nor’s bet­ter ef­forts to rein in the more con­ser­va­tive wing of his party, which ex­er­cised con­trol of both cham­bers, to­gether with the gov­er­nor’s man­sion for only the sec­ond time since the Civil War af­ter win­ning a 20-20 split in the Se­nate in Novem­ber elec­tions.

“At the very start of the ses­sion, Bob Mcdon­nell warned Repub­li­cans not to over­reach,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary Washington. “What’s very clear is the gov­er­nor is not driv­ing this train. Uni­fied gov­ern­ment is open to a flood­gate of di­vi­sive so­cial leg­is­la­tion that over­shad­ows the eco­nomic mes­sage that will res­onate with swing vot­ers.”

In­deed, the GOP pushed a slew of con­ser­va­tive bills — one that would repeal a man­date that girls re­ceive a vac­ci­na­tion against a virus known to cause cer­vi­cal can­cer, an­other that would re­quire some wel­fare re­cip­i­ents to un­dergo drug test­ing, and other abor­tion­re­lated mea­sures that would ban most abortions af­ter 20 weeks and deny fund­ing for poor women to have abortions if their child would be born with a se­vere ab­nor­mal­ity.

The leg­is­la­ture also passed bills that will end the state’s ban on pur­chas­ing more than one hand­gun per month, tighten voter-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion laws (a mea­sure de­nounced by Democrats in a state they say is still sting­ing from the legacy of the Jim Crow South), and al­low adop­tion agen­cies to deny place­ments if they con­flict with their re­li­gious or moral con­vic­tions, in­clud­ing their be­liefs about sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

Per­cep­tion is re­al­ity

Though much of the di­vi­sive so­cial leg­is­la­tion was de­feated, of­ten with the help of mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans, per­cep­tion is re­al­ity in pol­i­tics.

“Ob­vi­ously, Mcdon­nell wanted to get his agenda through, but in the end, Re­pub­li­can con­trol of the Se­nate has prob­a­bly hurt him po­lit­i­cally,” said Kyle Kondik, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst with the Univer­sity of Virginia Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics.

One ex­am­ple was Re­pub­li­can Del­e­gate Robert G. Mar­shall’s failed “per­son­hood” bill that would de­fine life as be­gin­ning at con­cep­tion and as­sign the same rights and priv­i­leges to em­bryos as hu­man be­ings. The bill passed the House, but was shelved in the Se­nate with the sup­port of some Repub­li­cans — but only af­ter it drew na­tional head­lines and was lam­pooned on “Satur­day Night Live.”

Mr. Mcdon­nell said he some­times felt a hand­ful of bills re­ceived an in­or­di­nate fo­cus.

“The mes­sage of the ses­sion was gov­ern­ment re­form, VRS re­form, jobs, K-12 and higher-ed re­form, vet­er­ans, en­ergy, and those kinds of things,” he said. “Peo­ple ought to know about what we’re do­ing up here in its en­tirety. Sure, we got into pas­sion­ate de­bates on is­sues of life and fam­ily and mar­riage and re­li­gious free­dom. It hap­pens ev­ery year. But I think they did a very good job on key is­sues — the big­gest dis­ap­point­ment, of course, the bud­get.”

But as the 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign gears up — Mr. Mcdon­nell has been fre­quently men­tioned as a po­ten­tial vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee — the images of po­lice in riot gear ar­rest­ing demon­stra­tors protest­ing anti-abor­tion leg­is­la­tion on the steps of the state Capi­tol will likely linger long af­ter an in­side-base­ball squab­ble over the bud­get is re­solved, given the na­tional at­ten­tion that has been de­voted to women’s health is­sues in re­cent months.

“Repub­li­cans have taken a beat­ing on the na­tional level,” Mr. Kondik said. “When you think about it that way, it might harm Mcdon­nell’s chances of be­ing se­lected.”

He said it was “very clear” that Democrats are go­ing to want to play up ques­tions about con­tra­cep­tion.

“Whether it’s fair or not is be­side the point,” he said.

AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Virginia Gov. Bob Mcdon­nell said that 88 per­cent of the items on his leg­isla­tive agenda — which fo­cused on job cre­ation, pen­sion re­form, and K-12 and higher ed­u­ca­tion, among other top­ics — were ap­proved by the just-ad­journed Gen­eral Assem­bly.

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