State Budget Talks Resume in Special Session Wednesday

March 21, 2012

Senior Democratic and Republican senators who will shape Virginia's delayed state budget met Wednesday morning and planned to confer later with their House counterparts as a new poll shows the Virginia General Assembly's job approval falling.

A procedural "pro forma" legislative session involving a handful of lawmakers meets in the afternoon but will transact no business.

The legislature's 60-day regular session came and went with no budget winning passage in a 40-seat Senate riven by a bitter dispute between its 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. The current budget year ends June 30.

A handful of senators huddled in a conference room arguing over Democratic conditions for advancing the $85 billion proposed government spending plan through June 2014. Among them were Finance Committee Chairman Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment of James City County, Republican Sens. John Watkins of Powhatan and Emmett Hanger of Augusta, and Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax and Democratic Sens. Janet Howell of Fairfax and Charles J. Colgan of Prince William.

Democrats, demanding changed spending priorities for state government over the next two years and a greater share of Senate power, have held together and denied the one additional vote the GOP needs in the Senate to adopt a budget.

Among their demands is restoring a state supplement for northern Virginia schools that's used to keep non-teaching staff in public schools from accepting better-paying jobs elsewhere, restoring eligibility for more than 4,000 nursing home residents who could lose Medicaid benefits, and having the state pay for pre-abortion ultrasounds that become mandatory July 1.

Voters don't think much of the job lawmakers have done, according to a new poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University.

Only 38 percent of the 1,034 registered voters surveyed from March 13-18 approve of the General Assembly's performance while 47 percent disapprove. A Feb. 9 Quinnipiac poll showed 47 percent approved of the job the legislature was doing and 37 percent disapproved.

Fifteen percent were undecided in the March survey, and 17 percent were undecided in February. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The poll also showed that Gov. Bob McDonnell still holds a favorable job approval mark, but has also lost ground over the past month. Fifty-three percent approve of his performance in the March poll compared with 58 percent in February. Those who disapprove increased from 24 percent to 32 percent over that time.

Between the two surveys, the legislature was criticized for its failure to enact a budget. The General Assembly and McDonnell were also subject to ridicule by television comedians and scorn from women's advocacy groups over GOP-backed legislation mandating ultrasound examinations for women seeking abortions.

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