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A word to the Senate Democratic Caucus: Pass the Budget

Just for the record, in last year’s State Senate, I voted for the Democrat in my District, Toddy Puller.  And yes, had I had my way, a majority of the State Senate would have been Democrats.  But that’s not the way the state voted.  The Democrats started out with 23 Senators and on election night were down to 20.  Given how good a year it was for the GOP that wasn’t a bad result, but in the world of Senate politics, it turned everything upside down.  And now, because the Democrats are still fuming about their status, Virginia, for the first time in years, risks ending the session without a budget.

But, first, a little background is required or otherwise no one reading this will understand why we’re in this mess.  The State Senate has 40 members, and with no independents, that means there are now 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans.  In the Senate, the majority party allocates members to the respective committees, and because it has the majority, makes sure that their party has enough votes in each committee to elect one of their own as

Chairman.  What the Democrats wanted, given the 20/20 split, was a power sharing agreement.  That didn’t happen and the Republicans using Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling’s vote as the tie breaker for organizational matters, got their 21st vote, and with that, all the trappings of the majority party.
The Democrats were angry, held press conferences, sent e-mails, and even sued over the issue.  Alas, their arguments fell on deaf GOP ears and the lawsuit, lacking much merit, was rejected.  That should be the end of the story, but it isn’t. Senate Democrats just haven’t been able to let go of this one and now, rather irresponsibly are using the state’s budget for leverage.  That’s the only issue that the Lieutenant Governor isn’t allowed to vote on.  Budget matters are reserved exclusively to the Senators.

As this issue has progressed several Democratic members have hearkened back to a prior 20/20 split that occurred after the 1995 election.  Don Beyer, a Democrat, was Lieutenant Governor and the Democrats wanted to use his vote the same way the Republicans have used Bolling’s.  The only reason they didn’t was that Democratic Senator, Virgil Goode (who would later become a Republican) threatened to vote with the Republicans unless the Democrats crafted a power sharing agreement.  And so, for four years, the Senate ran on a power sharing basis, with co-chairs of the respective committees.   To the credit of both parties, that arrangement worked surprisingly well. 

It might have been high minded and bi-partisan had the Republicans agreed to a power sharing agreement this year, but politics is a competitive business, and as a rule, if a party can claim the majority, they aren’t about to give it away.  And so expecting the GOP, with all the cards in their favor, to suddenly relent, and give up their status as the majority party is naive at best and disingenuous at worst.

That leads us to the current impasse.  The Democratic Senators, with no defections, have voted against the most recent budget bills from the House.  They claim, and these are legitimate points, that it under-funds education, doesn’t give enough to transportation, and puts too much burden on the localities.  They also charge, with some cause, that the Senate has been too tied up debating social legislations, such as the “personage” bill, and other hot button legislation to spend the time needed on the budget.  They have an argument there, but still, the only product specifically demanded of the General Assembly is a budget.  And unless, there are some issues that make it impossible to vote for the budget, or arrive at a compromise, the House and Senate should pass it on schedule.  That kind of discipline is part of the “Virginia Way.”

Over in the House, there is no worry about an even split or who is in charge.  The Republicans have a supermajority in that body.  However, the budget, even in the face of Democratic opposition in the Senate, passed the House of Delegates, with the Democrats, showing their disapproval of their Senate counterparts, by voting with the Republicans to unanimously approve the budget.  At which point it went to the Senate where the bill died on yet another twenty to twenty vote.

The logic behind this obstructionist tactic on the part of Senate Democrats isn’t clear.  It’s hard to see where it gives them any advantage.  Maybe it goes over well in the Democratic caucus, or with liberal base of the party, but to the public, and even many Democrats, it looks like bad government.  We have enough of that in our gridlocked nation’s capitol.   My advice to the Senate Democratic caucus: grow up, get over it, and vote for the budget.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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