Local Commentary

Delegate Hull’s Richmond Report

Much Ado

It has been a busy time in the Commonwealth of Virginia since election day on November 6 and the happenings set the tone for 2008 and beyond.

In Virginia, there is an election each year and history shows that, as soon as one election is over, those in the orbit of the Capitol building in Richmond start talking about the next one.

Political pontification, pronouncements, and predictions have been heard throughout the state as the Virginia political landscape has changed dramatically.

The Democratic recapture of the Senate of Virginia and increase in numbers in the House of Delegates has changed the dynamics of every legislative and political decision.

On top of everything else, the potential exists for upcoming special elections in the House of Delegates and state Senate. Yes, there is no lack of topics for pundits in the Old Dominion.

Budget Picture

Last week was book-ended by a pair of two-day legislative money committee retreats in which legislators heard updates on housing, mental health, corrections, and education.

First was the House Appropriations and Finance Committees which met in Fredericksburg, followed by the Senate Finance Committee meeting in Blacksburg.

Both groups also heard staff presentations on the budget outlook for fiscal years 2008 through 2010. They could not have been more different.

Both staffs confirmed Governor Kaine’s prediction of a revenue shortfall for this fiscal year of $641 million below predictions.

The House Appropriations staff predicted slower revenue growth in fiscal year 2009, but that fiscal year 2010 revenues will be closer to historic trends.

However, those relatively rosy predictions were not heard at the Senate Finance Committee meeting where one economic presentation showed 2007 ending in a national recession.

To protect Virginia’s budget, the Senate Finance staff recommended that Governor Kaine draw cash from the “rainy day fund” for this fiscal year.

That would allow a transfer of funds into fiscal year 2009 to provide enough revenue to prevent sharp cuts to education and social services budgets.

But, the House Republicans do not want to use money from the “rainy day fund” because they do not want the Governor to spend it on new programs.

This will surely be one of the major battles of the 2008 General Assembly session as the new Democratic majority in the Senate fights with the GOP majority in the House.

Leadership Changes

The incoming Senate Democratic majority caucus also met last week in Staunton to elect their leadership team and Senator Mary Margaret Whipple was re-elected caucus chair.

Senator Dick Saslaw, in his 31st year of legislative service, will continue to be the Democratic floor leader, but this time as Majority Leader.

The House Republican caucus met last week, too. They re-elected their leadership team, with Bill Howell of Stafford County continuing as Speaker.

They announced publicly that everyone was elected by acclimation. That may have been the final motion, but I am sure that there was contentious debate beforehand.

It was no secret that several in their caucus were not happy with the four lost GOP House seats and wanted some changes. My guess is that changes were made in caucus operations.

We will probably see an even more conservative stance by House GOP members, while other Virginia Republicans are saying that only moderation will produce victories.

This internal Republican debate spilled over to the Senate caucus which met on Monday. Their moderate leader was deposed and conservatives took new leadership slots.

GOP moderates will control floor action as Senator Tommy Norment was elected Minority Leader with Senator Ken Stolle serving as second in command.

But, conservative Senator Steve Newman will serve as Republican caucus chair and other conservatives moved into caucus leadership positions.