March 22, 2012
Virginia's Senate expects to vote Monday to approve a version of the state budget, something it did not do during a 60-day regular General Assembly.
In a breakthrough moment Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved its version of a new budget, incorporating some of the Democratic demands that had been made for advancing a new two-year state funding plan.
Hurdles remain, including a critical floor vote Monday on an amendment Democrats will offer that requires either insurers or the state to pay for the pre-abortion ultrasound examinations that will become mandatory for women under newly passed legislation that takes effect July 1.
But prospects that a two-year master plan for funding state operations through 2014 will finally survive the partisan crossfire of a Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans came in a few words from Sen. Charles J. Colgan of Prince William.
"On Monday, I seriously hope we pass a budget bill," said Colgan, a Democrat whose vote would provide the margin necessary to advance the budget.
Should that happen, the measure still faces equally demanding negotiations between six senior senators and six counterparts from the House to resolve differences between their rival versions of the budget.
Angered that the Senate's 20 Republicans used Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's tie-breaking vote to take organizational control over the Senate's 20 Democrats in a bitterly contested opening day, the Democrats used their parity to make a statement on the budget, one area where the state Constitution denies Bolling any say.
The compromise adopted by the Finance Committee Thursday does not address Democratic demands that they be apportioned a greater share of Senate power. It doesn't provide for reimbursing the University of Virginia for the more than $500,000 it spent fending off an aggressive inquest by Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli into climate change research by a former UVa professor.
It does, however, provide concessions on relief for increased tolls on the Martin Luther King Tunnel in Hampton Roads that connects Portsmouth and Norfolk. And it allows for state supplements that schools in the expensive northern Virginia suburbs use to retain non-teaching personnel from being enticed to better-paying jobs in other states.