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Senate, House seek compromise

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By John Barnhart

    Virginia, the state where so much of America’s history was made, has made history once again.
    “This is the first time in the history of Virginia when the Senate has not passed a budget,” commented Delegate Lacey Putney, chairman of the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee.
    Putney has seen a lot of Virginia history. He has held a seat in the House of Delegates for 50 years.
    Virginia adopts two-year budgets and this year marked the General Assembly “long” session in which  this  budget was supposed to be developed. Along with the budget, which was to take effect on July 1, Putney said that legislators were also dealing with a “caboose bill,” intended to fund core state services  from now until June 30. Putney said that, in the House of Delegates, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee is always the chief patron of the House’s version of the budget. The House developed its two budgets and sent them to the Senate, but there was a problem in that chamber.
    Last year’s elections split the Senate 20-20 between Democrats and Republicans. Putney said that most people felt that a fair split in committees would be to divide them 8-7 between Republicans and Democrats. Instead, the Senate split them 9-6. Putney said that legislators also chose not to appoint any Democrats as vice-chairmen.
    In another action that Putney said surprised him, and probably rubbed salt in the Democrats’ wounds, Republicans chose to evict Senator Charles Clogan, the most senior Democrat in that chamber, from the sixth floor of the General Assembly Building.  Putney said that this is considered the “leadership floor” and, four years ago, Republicans had persuaded a Democrat majority in the Senate to let a senior Republican keep his “leadership floor” office space.
    Putney said that Colgan had previously been chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and had accompanied Governor Bob McDonnell to New York in 2010, along with Putney, to talk with bond rating agencies. After the 2011 election, Gov. McDonnell again invited Colgan, along with two Senate Republicans, to go with him to talk with the bond rating agencies.
    “I feel confident that if [committee] representation had been more fair and proportional and if Senator Colgan had been permitted to remain in his office, we would have adopted a budget for the Commonwealth for the next two years,” Putney said.
    Instead, when a budget bill came to the floor of the Senate, it died on a 20-20 vote.
    “That happened on my two bills — the budget bill and the caboose bill,” said Putney.
     Normally, the lieutenant governor can break a tie vote.
    “But he cannot break ties on the budget and the election of judges,” Putney said, adding that there are a few other votes on which he can’t weigh in.
    This failure by the General Assembly to adopt a budget makes history in another way. There have been budget impasses in the past that created long delays in final budget adoption, this one is different.
    “In every other instance where there have been impasses, there has been a budget from both houses [of the General Assembly],” Putney said
    Putney agreed to be chief patron on the House budget bills again in an effort to reintroduce them to the Senate. Putney said that this requires unanimous consent for him to do this and he was told that morning that Democrats would withhold their support.
    “I decided to go forth with it,” he said. “I requested unanimous consent and received it.”
    “So here we go now with another budget and caboose budget,” Putney added.
    The General Assembly adjourned on March 10 and immediately called itself into a special session, recessed until March 21.
    “We are going to make another stab starting Wednesday,” Putney said in a Monday afternoon interview.
    Putney is optimistic that they will get a budget “in due course.”