RICHMOND(AP) — As Virginia Senators on both sides of the aisle continued their partisan quarrel, the last version of the state budget died Wednesday and put the state’s fiscal future into limbo.
On party line votes, the Senate’s 20 ruling Republicans failed to win from the Senate’s 20 unified Democrats the 21st vote necessary to pass legislation to appropriate money for state operations through mid-2014.
On a 20-20 vote, a budget bill that finishes out appropriations for the current fiscal year, ending June 30, was killed. The more important biennial budget bill for the two fiscal years that begin July 1 died on a 20-19 vote with Democrat Richard L. Saslaw not voting.
Because the budget must achieve a majority of the 40 senators elected, the bill died despite a plurality.
Disputes over the budget have pushed Virginia lawmakers months past their adjournment deadlines at least twice over the past 10 years.
In 2004, a special session enacted a budget along with a tax increase in May. Two years later, a lingering budget feud between the House and the Senate was not resolved until a budget was passed on June 28, as then-Gov. Tim Kaine prepared plans for shutting down nonessential state services.
Never has a meltdown come so early, been as starkly partisan, or shown so little hope for resolution.
Senate Democrats and Republicans used biting rhetoric to blame each other, agreeing only that there is no truce in sight.
“I just think it’s reprehensible that they think they’re going to bend over the entire Commonwealth of Virginia and disrupt the major policy decision over just raw, brutalized political will,” Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment said, tersely articulating each word. “It’s not happening.”
At a news conference minutes after the budget was killed, indignant Republicans thundered against Democrats’ continued efforts to force some GOP organizational compromises that would give Democrats equal numbers on some Senate committees and a co-chairmanship of the budget-writing Finance Committee.
Democrats were just as indignant and seethed with anger afterward, acknowledging their requests to reshuffle some committees but insisting their opposition had more to do with teacher pay, tax breaks for private schools, tolls and traffic, and bills that force additional burdens and costs on women seeking abortions.
“I am disappointed in the partisan rhetoric of my Republican colleagues. They’re saying what’s theirs is theirs and what’s ours is negotiable,” said Sen. Mark Herring, D-Loudoun.
The dispute dates to January fight over the Democrats’ demand that the Republicans share power with them in an evenly-divided Senate. Republicans refused and used Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s contested tie-breaking vote to dominate Senate committees and chairmanships. Bolling has since broken 17 tie votes in the GOP’s favor, but the Virginia Constitution denies him a vote on the budget.
“During the election, the voters elected 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, but the Republicans have chosen to dominate all positions of power, all committees save one, and even all subcommittees. We’ve seen the results. In a mere six weeks, Virginia has become a national joke,” said Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Fairfax, referring to derision and ridicule from television comedians and network pundits over a wave of anti-abortion bills.
Options remain for restoring a viable budget bill.
The governor can send a budget bill to the legislature at any time. Senior House Republicans are considering resurrecting their budget Thursday by seeking unanimous consent to introduce a new bill after the Wednesday’s procedural deadline, as much a public relations effort to show constituents the fault does not lie with the House.
But on Wednesday evening, neither Democrats nor Republicans believed it would do any good until tempers ease. Norment and Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw said Wednesday night that the issue remained too hot for either side to offer private overtures of conciliation.
Senior leaders from both houses privately acknowledged Wednesday that that the 2012 session will likely adjourn next week without a budget. A special session later would then be necessary to enact one.
Norment, during the GOP news conference, suggested some time needs to pass before new efforts toward a budget are undertaken.
“There needs to be a reasonable period of time for our Democratic colleagues to hear from the voters,” he said.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Donald McEachin of Henrico said the Republicans will determine how long it takes for work on a budget to resume.
“When they decide they can’t run the government without us, that’s when the negotiations will begin,” he said.
Norment said Democrats had rejected numerous proposals to settle the differences and secure at least one Democratic vote, allowing the budget to pass. One tactic some Republicans had recommended in recent days was to grant the Democrats’ request for equal representation on the Finance Committee and appoint the Senate’s longest-serving member, Democratic Sen. Charles J. Colgan, as a co-chairman along with Republican Sen. Walter A. Stosch, R-Henrico.
Norment said the Democrats’ demands were much more extensive and dismissed the suggestion that power-sharing on the influential money committee would have won over Colgan.
Asked later if a co-chairmanship and the additional committee seats would have swayed his vote for the budget, however, Colgan said, “Probably. Yeah, probably so.”
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