April 18, 2012
After voting against the $85 billion budget necessary to fund Virginia government three times over the past two months, the state Senate abruptly took up and passed the spending plan Wednesday.
The 21-19 vote in favor of a budget conference committee report came a day after it was all but killed in the partisan crossfire of a Senate where Democrats and Republicans hold 20 seats apiece.
One moderate Democrat, Sen. Charles Colgan of Prince William County, broke with his party and joined Republicans to give the budget the one-vote majority required for passage.
Democrats had balked Tuesday over the Republicans' refusal to grant an additional $300 million for a high-priority northern Virginia mass transit project, the extension of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.
On Wednesday, Colgan and other senior Senate Democrats stayed mostly out of sight and in discussions during a day of rolling recesses as lawmakers considered Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell's vetoes and amendments to other bills passed during the 2012 General Assembly.
The budget bill remained alive because the special session called to act on it was recessed — not adjourned — on Tuesday. As the political fallout settled in on Wednesday afternoon, the bill was called up for reconsideration in the Senate and, without debate, passed.
Passage came 10½ weeks before the current budget expires June 30. The budget bill now goes to McDonnell for consideration.
Democrats contended that the annual costs for commuters who use the Dulles Toll Road would rise from $2.25 one way to $6.75 each way within a few years, reaching an annual cost of as high as $3,500. The Washington area's airports authority oversees both toll road operations and the rail extension.
They argued that the sharp increase was an undue burden that could stifle the economy of northern Virginia, the state's most populous region, which provides 40 percent of Virginia's tax revenue. They called for taking the funding from other projects, particularly a bypass around Charlottesville and one converting U.S. 460 between Hampton Roads and the Richmond area into an interstate-like highway south of the James River.
"That's because there's no glory for a governor to put money on a former governor's project. You want your own legacy," said Sen. David Marsden, a Democrat whose western Fairfax County district makes heavy use of the toll road. After decades of discussion, work on Metro's Silver Line to Dulles was begun under former Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat.
Legislative Republicans also held firm against diverting money for transportation projects elsewhere in Virginia to the Dulles project or authorizing more borrowing for it.
"That would be like long-term borrowing for you to buy gas for your car," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Walter A. Stosch, R-Henrico.