Math: The Virginia Senate Way

If you wonder why things are done the way they are done at the General Assembly, keep wondering. There are no easy explanations. Okay, maybe there are. (Partisanship?) Take the Virginia Senate, for example. If you wonder why it can't do the math for a balanced budget without its inevitable and annual call for tax increases, you can get a clue by how it apportions members to its various committees.

Senate Democrats have a 22-18 majority. Under any decent, rational and fair system of proportional representation, each committee would have 1.22 Democrats to every one Republican, or an 8-7 Democrat majority. But this is how the leadership of the majority Democrats have stacked that chamber's committees:

Commerce and Labor: 9 to 6

Courts of Justice: 10 to 5

Education and Health: 10 to 5

Finance: 9 to 6

Privileges and Elections: 9 to 6

Rules: A whopping 13 to 4!

The total number of committee assignments is 100 for the Democrats and 67 for the Republicans, or a ratio of 1.49 Democrats per committee for every one Republican. Based on the 22-18 Democrat majority (a 1.22 Dem to GOP ratio), Democrat committee assignments should be a total of 92 and Republican committee seats should total 75 (a 1.23 Dem to GOP ratio) — a swing of eight less Democrat assignments and a gain of eight Republican assignments.

Only five Senate committees have the appropriate 8-7 ratio. Another aspect to consider: committee ratios are part of the Senate's rules, which are adopted with each new Senate (every four years, most recently in 2008) and are supposedly intact for the entire four-year term. So, to change several committee ratios on the basis of one special election appears to be out of order.

By contrast, the House, which has a 61-38 (one vacancy) Republican advantage, divides its 22-member committee by the proportionally accurate 14-8 margins. That's a one seat swing after the six-seat GOP gain last November.

So, if you are curious as to why things are done the way they are done, or, more precisely, why they don't get done, as well as the strange games we've experienced recently in the Courts of Justice and Education and Health Committees, the raw partisanship demonstrated by stacking Senate committees is a good place to start.