Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.
Bolling says he will vote on Senate organization, but not on the budget
With the General Assembly set to begin its 2012 session in a week, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling says he believes the state constitution allows him to vote on the organization of the Senate, but not on financial matters like the budget and taxes.
Bolling today released a memo outlining what he thinks his voting powers are, and why.
The lieutenant governor’s voting powers aren’t usually called into question — he can only vote if there’s a tie — but this year the Senate is split 20-20, and Bolling may be called upon to cast a tie-breaking vote more often.
His power to vote has thus gotten a lot of attention since the November election, particularly when he comes to voting on Senate organization. Republicans say his vote gives them the majority in the Senate, while Democrats say Bolling isn’t empowered to vote on Senate organizational matters. A lawsuit filed by Sen. Don McEachin in Richmond over the matter appears to have gone nowhere after a judge rejected McEachin’s request for an injunction to stop Bolling from voting on the Senate’s organization.
Bolling said he has reviewed the state constitution and previous legal opinions, and that he will not vote on final passage of issues that the constitution specifically says are limited to “members of the Senate” only.
The lieutenant governor, Bolling wrote, is not a member of the Senate, but is instead a “salaried officer of the Commonwealth.”
Issues on which the constitution says only members may vote include include financial matters, such as the state budget; judicial appointments; extending the legislative session; constitutional amendments; and bond issues.
Democrats may be pleased by Bolling’s belief that he can’t vote on the budget; some Democratic Senate leaders have said Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed two-year budget will not get Democratic support as written.
They’ll be less pleased with Bolling’s assertion that he can vote with Republicans to organize the Senate.
“Nothing in Article IV, § 7 suggests that anything other than the normal procedures of the Senate, which, by definition, include the Lieutenant Governor’s power to break ties pursuant to Article V, § 14, are to be employed regarding votes on organizational matters,” Bolling wrote. “Accordingly, it is my position that the Lieutenant Governor is fully empowered to cast a vote on organizational matters when there is an equal division in the Senate.”
Bolling said that since the constitution specifies that only “members of the Senate” may vote on some matters, the fact that it does not make that specific requirement on organizational matters means he is able to vote on organization.
McEachin said he views Bolling’s memo as a mixed bag.
“It’s good to see the lieutenant governor retreat from his previous position that he can vote on anything as long as it is a tie,” McEachin said. “It’s unfortunate that he continues to believe that he can … vote on certain matters” like organization.
McEachin said Democrats will wait to see what happens next Wednesday, Jan. 11, when the General Assembly convenes its 2012 session. That is when the Senate will vote on an organizing resolution.
In dismissing McEachin’s request for an injunction last month, a Richmond judge had said the matter wasn’t yet ripe for judicial intervention since no organizational vote had been taken.
But once it does on Wednesday — and if it goes how the lawsuit predicts, a 20-20 split with Bolling breaking the tie — McEachin said it could be “a jumping off point” for Democrats to continue pursuing the lawsuit.
McEachin has said he’s open to talking to Republican leaders about power-sharing, but said yesterday that no discussions have taken place.
Senate Republicans said Bolling’s interpretation of his powers was “spot on.
“There is little ambiguity in this situation, and those who continue to challenge his constitutional authority are doing so solely for partisan advantage,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, the Republican Senate caucus chairman, in a written statement. “Along with the decision handed down by Judge Snukals last month, this memorandum confirms the prerogatives of Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor. Now it is time for those who have been pursuing partisan court challenges to abandon such efforts, allowing the Senate of Virginia to organize and begin acting on behalf of the people of Virginia next week.”