Local Commentary

Delegate Hull’s Richmond Report

Almost Done 

The General Assembly was scheduled for final adjournment of the 60-day 2008 session this past Saturday.

But, as has happened for, I believe, the fifth time in eight years, we have not finished on time.

 Perhaps by happenstance, that period of time also coincides with Republican control of either the Senate or House of Delegates.

As in the past, the hang-up is between the House and Senate over the budget. But, there is one difference.

Unlike in past years, we do not have extra cash to spend. The 2008 fiscal year, which began on July 1, saw budget cuts.

Due to declining revenues, Governor Kaine had to cut state agency funding last year as it became clear that revenues were down.

In fact, as it became clear that the economy was in a downturn, he had to readjust his revenue estimates in February.

This caused the Governor to submit amendments to the two-year spending plan he asked for in December.

More With Less?

Yet, at the same time, he was requesting spending on some new programs. I saw that as a problem, as did the House majority.

The House version of the budget passed with only five dissenting votes this year and negotiations began with the Senate.

I voted for the budget, but I did have one problem with it and that was the recalculation of the school funding formula.

While the Appropriations Committee made the change sound reasonable, it would have resulted in reducing long term funding for Northern Virginia.

Luckily, after House Democrats repeatedly attacked this in floor speeches and the Senate resisted, the House GOP leadership gave in.

A Failure to Communicate

But, then other problems developed. Frankly, the big problem seems to be personality clashes among the budget conferees.

That is not unique, but the lead conferees from both chambers, while experienced, are new chairs of their respective committees.

You have a new Democratic majority in the Senate with two new budget conferees and two new Republican conferees in the House.

It was clear by last Friday night that no budget deal would be forthcoming. But, we had to wait to determine how long it would take.

The House finished its business by about 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, but we had to wait for about four hours on the Senate.

Finally, an agreement was reached to extend the session until Tuesday even though it was doubtful that a budget agreement could be concluded by then.

When we arrived in Richmond on Tuesday, we discovered that the major issues had generally been agreed upon.

But, about 50 small items still need to be settled and we voted to extend the session once again until today at 4:00 p.m.

My thinking is that we will probably extend the session once again this afternoon, hopefully for only a day or two.

Not Again!

But, then, we face the possibility of coming back in April to take care of our unresolved transportation problems.

Hopefully, the House Republican majority will finally realize that we need an equitable statewide increase in revenue without gimmicks.

Perhaps I am just dreaming. After all, we did pass a balanced transportation plan last year.

Yes, half of it was constitutional and the other have was not.