Regular Session Adjourned but Special Session on Budget convened
March 12, 2012
The General Assembly adjourned at 9:28 p.m. on Saturday, March 10, 2012 without a budget. We simply ran out of time. We immediately convened a Special Session to address the budget, which will hopefully occur within the next month. This is the fourth time since 2001 when the General Assembly has not been able to reach agreement on a budget before the session ended. In my first session (2006), we went 100 days into overtime before we passed a budget.
Fortunately, both sides appear close enough that a budget can emerge soon. If you recall from my previous posts, Governor McDonnell’s budget made cuts in the social safety net and shortchanged education. While we were able to argue successfully to restore some of the cuts and to enhance funding for education, the House budget was still inadequate and therefore I could not support it.
Senate Democrats have also argued for additional monies for the social safety net and education. Virginia per pupil spending has been declining in recent years and now is on par with 2007 levels. Teacher salaries have also not kept pace with the national average. In addition, our system of higher education, while likely to receive an increase in this year’s budget, has been neglected for the last decade. Many observers believe that we face substantial budgetary challenges in the coming years and may not be able to maintain our priorities without an influx of revenue.
As the clock wound down for end of session, we considered two initiatives that the Governor had been promoting. The first was his transportation bill, which would have diverted money away from schools to transportation. The Governor’s proposal was soundly rejected, and the resulting bill had little left in it. Transportation funding will remain a challenge for us to address. The second was a major overhaul of VRS, which was presented to us at the last minute. House Democrats objected to voting on a bill so quickly and without the benefit of public input, but the measure was passed nonetheless. I will have a future post on this, and will continue to advocate for positive changes in the bill to protect employees between now and the veto session in April.
In the end, this session is likely to be remembered for the socially divisive bills forced through by conservative Republicans. These bills deflected our attention from critical issues like adequately funding our public schools, creating jobs, and solving our transportation challenges. While the Governor is already claiming several “successes”, they pale by comparison to the challenges that we continue to face in the Commonwealth.