virginia senate democrats

State Police, Senators Blevins And Colgan Save Budget In Historic Vote: An Only In Hollywood End To Virginia's Budget Crisis

Earlier today, in an extraordinary sequence of events, the Virginia Senate passed the House-Senate Conference Committee budget 21-19. Senator Charles Colgan, the chamber's most senior member, and ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, cracked the heretofore Democrat hegemony to provide the constitutionally mandated 21st vote of a senator required for budget approval. It was a move, despite public whispers, the Senate minority leader, incredibly, said he "didn't see coming" (see Norfolk Virginian-Pilot). Senator Colgan talked about breaking ranks leading up to the special budget session, a session he contributed to necessitating by sticking with his more liberal Democrat caucus mates. Yesterday, he maintained that solidarity to the delight of the Senate minority leader, whose bravado about holding out for his demand de semana was topped only by his bravado about maintaining his former majority, belied the ultimate fissure in his caucus: The bill-killing 20-20 vote ostensibly set the budget process off track for a third time. But today, Senator Colgan saved the General Assembly the time and effort of starting from budgetary scratch again by exercising his right, as one who voted on the prevailing side, to bring the bill back to the floor on a motion to reconsider. However, this very common procedure, used scores of times each session, was not to be that simple.

As it turned out, with the budget seemingly dead again after Tuesday's deadlock, Senator Harry Blevins decided to return home to Chesapeake to see his ailing wife. When word broke of Senator Colgan's decision, and knowing a 20-19 vote had no more effect than a 20-20 count, in a sequential chain reaction seen only in Hollywood suspense and action flicks, Senate leadership had the State Police put out an all points bulletin on Senator Blevins. After locating him and informing him of the urgent need of his attendance, Senator Blevins rushed back to the capitol and cast the deciding vote in favor of the two-year, $85 billion budget. Once the issue was officially settled — after months of political grandstanding and obstructionism by Senate Democrats and its minority leader — State Police helicoptered Senator Blevins home to be with his wife.

Senator Blevins showed a remarkable sense of duty in putting his constituents and all Virginians above a serious family situation. We wish the Blevins family our best and will keep Mrs. Blevins in our prayers and encourage all to do so as well.

Breaking News: Governor McDonnell Releases Statement On Senate Democrats Blocking Budget For Third Time

Following Senate Democrats unprecedented partisan rejection of the Virginia state budget, again, Governor Bob McDonnell issued the following statement:

Today, Senate Democrats cast the most fiscally reckless vote I have witnessed in my 21 years in office. They have killed an $85 billion state budget that benefits all Virginians, for one earmark regarding an 11.4 mile rail project in one district of the Commonwealth. That is extremely irresponsible. Senate Democrats, again, put partisan politics ahead of the needs of 8 million Virginians. They brought their political agendas to the Senate floor, and in the process have put at risk a Bristol teacher’s paycheck, a Chesterfield sheriff’s salary, healthcare for a senior citizen in Hampton, road projects in Richmond, and the fiscal soundness of the entire Commonwealth. Unfortunately, this is not the first time they have done so.

When the General Assembly convened in January, Senate Democrats were clear that they wished to use the state budget as a means to gain more committee assignments. As one Senate Democrat wrote at the time, “the real reason the Senate Budget must lose — at this point — is so the power balance in Richmond can be adjusted.” For the 60 days of the regular session, they refused to pass any budget, despite multiple individual meetings, letters and conversations with them. They voted down two budgets.

Last month, Senate Democrats gave a few policy reasons to explain their obstruction. They were met with broad accommodation by Senate Republicans. They sought more funding for healthcare and education. They gained it. In fact they gained nearly $170 million in reallocated funding for the issues they identified as priorities for their caucus. Throughout budget negotiations, Republican legislators and this office worked strenuously to ensure that Senate Democrats were heard in the budget process. Only after these compromises were achieved did Senate Democrats turn, in the last days of session, to a third reason for opposing a budget: toll abatement on the Dulles Toll Road.

Since 2009, when Governor Tim Kaine signed the deal on the tolls and the rates were publicized, and no state funding was provided, Senate Democrats were silent. They offered no objections to the tolls for nearly three years. Then, at the very end of this session, after killing two budgets on the floor, Senate Democrats decided that they would make that their next issue. This will have serious consequences for all Virginians.

Budgets are a tapestry of compromises. No legislator ever gets everything he or she wants in a governing fiscal document. Nonetheless, all involved can get much of what they seek if there is cooperation and civility in the process. The budget killed by Senate Democrats today was a positive document. This budget made historic investments in our higher education system so more Virginia students can access and afford our great colleges and universities. It reduced unfunded liabilities in our retirement system by nearly $9 billion by 2031, an historic achievement that ensures our dedicated state employees will receive the retirements they have been counting on. The budget combined accountability and innovation with over half a billion dollars in new funding for our K-12 system. It improved public education in the Commonwealth. And this budget provided fiscal liquidity and stability for Virginia as we continue to navigate a very uncertain economy. Now, Senate Democrats, continuing a trend, have killed a budget for a third time. They will have to answer to every single Virginian. This vote will have real consequences in creating uncertainty and chaos for local governments, school boards and countless agencies and individuals.

I encourage all Virginians to contact the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus today to let them know that this vote is unacceptable. First, the members killed the state budget to make a point about committee assignments. Then, they demanded more funding for healthcare and education, which they received. Then, they brought up an entirely new reason for voting against the budget, an earmark for am 11.4 mile rail project in one area of the state. Teacher and sheriff salaries are now at risk. Local governments and school boards do not know what level of state funding they will receive. Road and other state projects will have to be stopped in every single region in the near future. All because Senate Democrats continue to obstruct the passage of the state budget. They even killed the ‘caboose’ budget for the remainder of FY 2012, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Dulles tolls. This is an incredibly disappointing development. This is the kind of conduct we’ve come to expect out of Democrats in the U.S. Senate, where no budget has passed for over 1000 days. It is not the conduct we would expect from Democrats who serve in Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol. Senate Democrats need to hear from all Virginians about the direct and immediate impact their partisan posturing will have on the citizens of this Commonwealth.

Here Are The Five Senate Democrats Who Voted For Health Care Freedom

The five Virginia Senate Democrats who voted for SB 283, SB 311 and SB 417, the Senate bill for health care freedom and defense of the 10th Amendment, are: Senators Charles Colgan (D-29, Manassas) and Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell), who both voted for it committee, as well as Senators Edd Houck (D-17, Spottsylvania), John Miller (D-1, Newport News) and Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville). See the vote for SB 283 here, which is identical to the votes for the subsequent bills. The bills are patroned, respectively, by Senators Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk), Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield) and Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester).

Well, Maybe Something

Perhaps the just completed Attempt To Raise Our Taxes Session of the General Assembly didn't produce anything but a big sigh of relief that the House Republicans stood strong in the face of pressure to acquiesce to massive tax increase proposals by the Senate Democrats, Governor Tim Kaine, House Democrats and even from some House Republicans. But perhaps we did get something more after all: A $117,00 bill for running the special session (read the Richmond Times-Dispatch article here). Gee, who do we thank? Even with today's rising prices, 117 large could still fill a fill a few pot holes or repave a street somewhere, right guvna? 

The Same "Just One Question" For House Republicans

As The Special Tax Session of the General Assembly was about to get underway, we posed one question we said we'd love Governor Tim Kaine to answer. Now that House Republicans, or at least some of them, are getting behind HB 6055, which would raise numerous onerous taxes in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia (such as the real-estate killing grantor's tax), we want to pose to them the same question:

Before we go raising taxes for a bloated government to pave over the Commonwealth by taking more money from people already finding it tough to get by, shouldn't we first spend the $500 million in new money still around from last year's transportation bill?

Okay, it's worded slightly differently, but it's the same question, and rightfully posed as the bill's patron, Delegate Phil Hamilton (R-93, Newport News) today cited that same pot of money of new funding on "Richmond's Morning News with Jimmy Barrett" on WRVA-AM/1140. Despite the House Republican leadership's public statements about fixing the parts ruled unconstitutional from last year's bill, it doesn't seem to have the whole team reading from the same playbook.

New Republican Party of Virginia Chairman, and Delegate, Jeff Frederick (R-52, Woodbridge), told the blog Tertium Quids:

. . . he plans not only to vote against HB 6055, but to make the case, in his role as party chairman, that tax hikes such as this make little policy sense while also harming the GOP brand.

What does it say about the bill's policy and those well-meaning legislators who want to do something "to make the issue go away" when the party's chairman, and a colleague of the patron, is adamantly against it? Who was elected statewide most recently and has heard from the grassroots? Not only that, but statewide and regional polling makes it pretty clear: No new taxes will be tolerated, no matter what they're called, how they're imposed or what it's for. Delegate Frederick is not the only one concerned. Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), who also has traveled the state much recently in his bid for attorney general, told TQ:

"I'm very concerned that the Republican tax bill will pass, further enraging our already-dispirited base over what they will perceive as an abandonment of Republican principles — again."

Partisans may think this split in the ranks is bad. Taxpayers, perhaps otherwise, since it gives us hope of defeating a massive tax hike (however "regional" in nature) — never good, and particularly disastrous in these uncertain economic times. So, we ask again, to House Republicans — and, for that matter, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, House Democrats, Governor Kaine and anyone else who will have a say in the matter:

Shouldn't we first spend what we already have?

 

The Best Government Is One Not In Session

The Special Tax Session of the General Assembly recessed yesterday after a week in which Governor Tim Kaine's (contact here) massive tax increase plan was defeated 11-4 in the House Rules Committee (including two Democrat votes against) and where Senate Democrats killed two commonsense bills that would not increase taxes while passing its own massive 6-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase — Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw's (D-35, Springfield) bill passed on a party line vote 21-16. Governor Kaine's tax bill was not introduced in the Democrat controlled Senate. But the unapologetic Senate Democrats, despite yet another record per-barrel price of oil, and gas at $4 a gallon, will be hard pressed to look like the party protecting the hard-working little guy and families with stretched budgets. But will the GOP easily pick up that mantle? When they return July 9, we'll learn if the Republicans, as some claim, are going to stage "Son of 3202."

Meanwhile, the Rules Committee passed the gas tax increase without recommendation to the full floor by the same 11-4 vote. Confident of the votes to defeat it there, House Republicans want all House Democrats to go on the record on taxing working people with the 2009 elections in sight.

Of course, the best government is a government not in session (thanks, Lee Brothers), so this interlude in the Special Tax Session gives all citizens an opportunity to contact their delegates and senators while they take up residence again in their home districts. This is the time to let them know what you think of the proposed 35 percent increase in the state's gas tax and any other schemes to separate us from our hard-earned money during these difficult economic times. If you don't want to see your earning and purchasing power erode further, if you want to limit the government to what it already takes from the sale of your home, what you pay at the pump and for a car, and any number of assorted cash grabs, contact them now, before they return after the Independence Day holiday.

You can't have an impact if you don't act, and it's easy to do. Please express how much a burden a 35 percent increase in the gas tax and other taxes will be to your family by clicking here to contact your delegates and senators.

By the way, here's another way you can reach your legislators: WRVA-AM/1140 in Richmond has an online petition to oppose the tax increase. Click here to view it and, if you wish, sign it.

You Can't Run, You Can't Hide: Saslaw Makes Quote Of The Day

What's with the tone of big-government, tax-raising types? First it was a series of quotes from Governor Tim Kaine, such as his disdainful "There's no free lunch" mantra along with telling low-tax activists to "Stay off the roads." Yesterday, in something reminiscent of a vigilante movie, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) provided the taxpayers of Virginia a reminder as subtle as a Mike Tyson uppercut as to what his intentions are with their hard-earned money:

"One way or another, people are going to pay."

This, after his six-cents-a-gallon gas-tax-increase-bill progressed in the Senate yesterday while he and his Senate Democrat colleagues killed two bills that would raise revenue for transportation and cost taxpayers nada: Senator Frank Wagner's (R-7 , Virginia Beach) bill for offshore drilling and Senator Ken Stolle's (R-8, Virginia Beach) bill to use future profits from the Port of Virginia. (Aren't new and improved roads supposed to benefit our state-owned ports' increased economic activity? Why not, then, use some of their own profits?) (To read more, click here for an article at hamptonroads.com.)

For some of Senator Saslaw's more outrageous comments from last General Assembly session, click here and here; for his admission of his own voracious tax-dollar-spending appetite, click here; and click here for his mastery of the bicameral legislative system; and, in a quote that pre-dated U.S. Senator Barack Obama's "bitter . . . and clinging to their guns and religion" comment, click here.)

At least there is some progress in Senator Saslaw's rhetoric: He's no longer saying his tax increases will cost about as much as "One Big Mac." But stay tuned. The Special Tax Session is still young. Senator Saslaw is just getting warmed up.