Archive for March, 2008

Session Ends, Starts Anew

Friday, March 14th, 2008

The General Assembly session wrapped up on Thursday night after the House and Senate managed to agree on a budget for the next two years…but they immediately started a new, special session. After the Virginia Supreme Court’s recent decision that local transportation taxing authorities are unconstitutional, the legislature will have to figure out how to fund the state’s ballooning transportation needs. That’s the goal of this special session.

Most legislators have gone home, though, with only a few legislators from each chamber remaining behind to do the legwork of establishing transportation funding proposals. Everybody is likely to return in late April to hash things out collectively. Expect a rural/urban split to define the debate as surely as the partisan division will. Nearly all of this special session will take place in the form of discussions between legislators, rather than through advancing legislation, so there won’t be much to follow online.

Session Extended to Resolve Budget

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

The General Assembly has gone into overtime, unable to resolve the budget in the alloted sixty days, Tyler Whitley and Jeff Schapiro write in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Republican House and Democratic Senate, unable to agree on spending, did manage to agree that they should shoot for wrapping up the session by Tuesday. This is not unusual. In fact, the session has gone long for five of the past seven years, making this the new normal.

The particularly interesting news is that both the Senate and the governor are planning on having a special session of the General Assembly–separate from the normal sessions at the beginning of each year–specifically for figuring out how the state will pay for the ballooning costs of the highways. The Virginia Department of Transportation forecasts that we’re a decade away from the cost of maintaining existing roads eating up the whole of the transportation budget, leaving no money left for building new roads. It’s this problem that the legislature would like to avoid.

Legislator Transportation

Friday, March 7th, 2008

Few people appreciate how big Virginia is quite like Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City). Kilgore lives farther away from the capital than any other legislator, yet still lives an hour east of the farthest western reaches of the state. It’s a six hour drive from Gate City to Richmond, and it’s with that in mind that the state maintains a small plane just to ferry those legislators from west of Roanoke back and forth from the capital each weekend. (Folks in southwest Virginia are closer to a half dozen state capitals than they are to Richmond.) The state will spend $1M covering legislators’ travel costs this year, an inevitable byproduct of a part-time legislature whose members all have jobs at home. Richard Quinn explains all of this and more in an article in Thursday’s Virginian-Pilot.

Budget May Push Legislature into Overtime

Friday, March 7th, 2008

The majority parties in the divided General Assembly have different budget priorities, and the result is something that’s looking a lot like deadlock. Bob Lewis explains for the Associated Press:

Two days ahead of the scheduled end to this year’s legislative session, bickering teams of budget negotiators had no deal Thursday and each blamed the other for it.

After a promising exchange of proposals Wednesday evening, bargaining over the two-year, $78 billion state spending turned peevish Thursday morning.

Even though there was almost no monetary difference in the competing proposals, House and Senate negotiators fought it out with barbed claims in dueling news conferences.

The differences are divergent priorities on relatively small funding items and a dispute over the “methodology” for funding public schools. The intemperate tone the talks assumed Thursday, however, makes it possible that the General Assembly, for the third time in four years, won’t finish its work on time.

Each chamber has a team of a half dozen negotiators, and those dozen legislators have been working on hammering out an agreement, but things are clearly not going well.