It started in January, 2012 when the Virginia General Assembly convened for the 2012 Session. The Democrats, unhappy over being turned down in their bid for power-sharing in committee assignments commenced a guerilla action – putting partisan politics ahead of the needs of Virginians. The first budget was DOA. The next was a refusal to negotiate. Then, it was healthcare and education. Finally, it devolved to a $300M earmark for funding Rail-to-Dulles Phase II.
The final budget provided a sound, disciplined approach to meeting the key needs and functions of our government: K-12 public education got an increase of $500B; higher education got a $200M increase; transportation got an extra $10B; health and education got $44M for our safety net, 225 intellectual disability waivers and 80 developmentally disabled waiver slots and more beds at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute. The Virginia Retirement System was reformed and additional money was allocated to meet actuarial requirements which enabled Moody’s to rate it credit positive: a historic first. The budget would also have funded 23 vacant judgeships in courts around the state that will reduce a growing backlog of cases.
The budget was not passed during the regular 60-day session. The Governor had to call a special session at additional costs to get to an agreed upon budget of $85B covering the next two years. The delay caused by Democrat demands for funding the Silver Line – Phase II started to spin out of control. Local governments, school boards, state universities and agencies, attempting to finalize their operating budgets starting July 1 – the new fiscal year were stymied. VDOT notified its contractors that as of May 1, they could not authorize any additional work. In short, we came dangerously close to a shutdown of the state government.
The Democrats picked what they thought would be a political winner in contributing to the completion of the Silver Line: the proposal to come up with the $300M included raising the state borrowing limit by $300M. This would allow the state to borrow $300M. That ploy ran aground rather quickly when it was pointed out that it would be like using a credit card to make a car-payment. It was pointed out that if the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, managing the Silver Line project restructured their debt, tolls could be reduced by 90 cents a trip. With the $300M contribution, the fare reduction would be only 40 cents a trip.
What happened at the end? One of the Democrat signatories to the budget agreement, Senator Charles J. Colgan (D-Manassas) went back on his signed pledge and voted no on the final budget. Thereby throwing a proverbial monkey wrench into the works. Our Senator Howell (D-Reston) supported his move.
Whether it was stupidity, senility or just a bad miscalculation brought on by the realization that the Dems would take the fall if a state government shutdown occurred, a vote was re-scheduled the next day and Senator Colgan responsibly joined the Senate Republicans to pass the budget. Thus, Virginia continues its disciplined approach, holding spending and taxation at manageable levels and providing an efficient government meeting our core needs that, as was announced this past week, achieved another reduction in the state unemployment rate.