There has been much written this past week about Democrats voting down the Senate and House budgets. The Washington Post and other writers seem to think that this is the end of the world as we know it. Under both Mark Warner and Time Kaine we had budgets that were not completed until June and May respectively. Why? Because those budgets did not accomplish what many members of the General Assembly, both Republican and Democrat, wanted for the people they represent.
So why did we vote against the budgets at this stage of the process? The answer is twofold.
First, Virginia chose an evenly split Senate, 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. The Senate budget is better than the House budget for my constituents, but better does not mean good. I was elected to fight for things that my constituents elected me to stand for. To this end I have used the only leverage I have, which is the budget, to do that which I was hired to do. Did you want someone to go to Richmond and roll over and play dead? This is our state and I will not stop fighting for a budget that will strengthen our economy, create jobs and take care of our most vulnerable citizens. These budgets fall short.
I have worked closely and productively with Republicans on a myriad of issues this year. But a budget that takes 4500 seniors off of Medicaid, gives $25 million in private school vouchers to families making 70K per year, or transfers general funds from schools to transportation. What upsets me even more is that the Governor reneged on a promise to introduce a sustainable source of transportation funding into the budget. I was told that if I voted for his transportation bond acceleration package last year he would solve our long term transportation funding problem. He did zero. (By the way, when his representative asked what transportation earmark I wanted for my district to get my vote I told him no! I am not going to circumvent the lawful role of the Commonwealth Transportation Board in distributing transportation funds. Politics should not enter into those decisions. Earmarks are wrong!)
Second, if Republicans had observed the existing Rules of the Senate when we convened this session they would have been in charge and we would have had some level of parity with them as we are evenly split. They are in charge because the Lieutenant Governor can break the tie votes. I understand that. But with parity, we would have been in position on committees to kill the right wing bills that have made Virginia a national laughingstock and severely damaged our image. Best State for business? Not for long. Best managed State? That’s heading south. Best State to raise a child for future success and happiness? A soon to be memory if we keep pulling resources out of schools. Yes, it was hard to be taken off of committees as parity was written out of the rules that we honored when we were in charge. But to think we are killing the budget out of petulance is ridiculous. Everyone uses the rules to fight for what they believe in. That is all we are doing.
We will get a budget this year. But I will not vote for it until we fix the problems and the ill advised process that Republicans have created. We have the time and I have the resolve. Let’s get it right.