So, the news out of Richmond today is the General Assembly has failed to pass a budget. Michael Sluss has this breaking news report here.
Meanwhile, we’ve received competing statements from both parties, almost back-to-back. The Republicans say it’s a Democratic temper tantrum over losing committee seats; the Democrats say it’s about Republicans’ failure to deal with transportation.
What do think?
Here are the two statements.
First, the Republicans (since theirs arrived first):
Temper Tantrum Redux: Senate Democrats Find New Excuse to Push for Government Shutdown
— After jumping from reason to reason, Democrats settle on New Issue –
— Shutdown Vote Threatens Transportation Projects All Over Virginia —
Democrats have been warning since they lost in November that they would do whatever was necessary to overturn the will of the voters and hold on to their key committee assignments.
But don’t take our word for it. Let’s take a look back at the timeline:
* First, they filed a lawsuit.
* When that failed, they dug in their heels and said they wouldn’t pass a budget unless they got their committee assignments back.
From Democrat Sen. Chap Petersen:
“The Senate Democrats today kicked off the beginning of a process – the process to re-balance the structure of the Senate so that it reflects the Senate membership and the Commonwealth’s actual voting population…”
* But once the Washington Post and other editorial boards called them out, they decided it was about education.
“…The few, flimsy objections Democrats have raised about the budget are a smokescreen. Their real issue is power-sharing: Democrats want it; Republicans won’t give it…”
“Democrats said Wednesday they would divorce their demand for more power in the Virginia Senate from the effort to pass a state budget, as members of the General Assembly returned to Richmond for a special session…”
* Democrats got more money for education… from the Washington Times:
“… In the process, Democrats secured $214 million more for education, including $40 million for Northern Virginia school districts to competitively recruit staff, an extra $45 million for social programs and additional aid for local governments…”
Once Democrats got what they demanded, they discovered they were upset about the Dulles Toll Road – four days before the final vote … the same issue that Democrat Sen. Janet Howell derided her Republican opponent over during the 2011 election as “bogus.” She called it a “publicity stunt.” From the Fairfax Times:
“… [Republican Candidate Forrest] also criticized Howell for not doing enough to get state funding for the project. Howell has served as a lead budget negotiator for the Senate in recent years.
Howell points to a letter she sent to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), criticizing him for spending $850 million to buy down tolls in the Hampton Roads area while not doing the same for the Dulles Toll Road.
“Nobody, especially me, will tolerate $17 tolls,” she said. “It’s basically a publicity stunt by Patrick Forrest to draw attention to his campaign.”
So to sum up, the entire Democrat argument at this time: they’re willing to hold up transportation projects in all over the Commonwealth, as well as funding for teachers, firefighters, police… all to lower the tolls on less than 20 miles of road in Northern Virginia.
Bottom line: Democrats have decided they will shut down the government to get their committee seats back.
And they’ll use any excuse they can find to do it.
And now, here’s what the Democrats had to say:
Today, Senate Democrats voted against the state budget conference report because it did not properly address funding for projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said, “The issue here is the lack of transportation funding in two different regions of the state. Rail to Dulles will be an economic bonanza because of the jobs it will bring the Commonwealth. And yet some do not want to fund this project properly. The state has only contributed $200 million. Currently $150 million is pledged, but there are all sorts of rules attached to it. The state must make a substantial contribution to this vital project.”
Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) said, “I am hopeful that we can ensure that the tolls in Hampton Roads will be delayed for a year. But what happens when 2014 gets here? Are we still going to be staring down these sky-high tolls? The Governor must deliver on his promises to develop a realistic, sustainable transportation plan that does not include these heavy tolls.”
Senator Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said, “I am voting no today because this budget does not include enough money for the most important construction project in the Commonwealth. Rail to Dulles is a vital project. It will connect the people of Northern Virginia to one of the most important airports in the country — and to the world. Governing magazine says this is the #1 most important project in the country. The Governor says he supports the Dulles rail project. It’s time for him to prove that,” Senator Saslaw added.
Senator A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) said, “Every year for the past 13 years that I have had the privilege of serving in this legislature we have kicked the can down the road on transportation. Tolls are not the answer to our state’s transportation problems. Tolls can be part of the solution, but they are not the answer. To shackle Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia with heavy tolls is not how a Commonwealth should act. Tolls are just a band-aid solution to a statewide problem.”
“I have an obligation to the citizens I represent and to the people of the Commonwealth,” said Senator Mark Herring (D-Loudoun). “Dulles Airport is one of Virginia’s largest job generators and critical to the continued economic prosperity of Northern Virginia. Virginia needs to make a significant additional contribution to the project in order to reduce the burden of exorbitant tolls and that’s why I could not support this budget.”
Respite Republican statements to the contrary, recent history proves that local governments have been largely unaffected by previous budget disagreements. In 2004, disagreement between the House and the Senate meant the budget was not resolved for almost two months past the Senate’s scheduled deadline. In 2006, no budget was agreed upon for 102 days, more than 3 months past the Senate’s scheduled deadline.
State funding for the current year is stable through July 1. That’s 74 days from now. That leaves two months for Republicans and Democrats to reach a compromise on the budget — and Senate Democrats are committed to working with Republicans to create a budget that includes all Virginians, not just some.