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Senior Sen. Democrat calls for less rhetoric, more compromise on budget

If there’s one person both parties in the state Senate respect, it’s Sen. Chuck Colgan.

Soft-spoken, diminutive, 85 years old and a member of the Senate for 37 years, the Prince William Democrat was chairman of the Senate Finance committee for the past four years, as well as president pro tempore of the Senate in those years.

He’s known as a conservative Democrat — some of the abortion bills that have passed the Senate did so with Colgan’s vote — and a senator who values the traditions and responsibilities of the Senate.

That’s one reason why, as the Senate’s budget impasse has dragged on, people have mentioned Colgan as one Democrat who might be convinced to vote for the budget.

Colgan’s history is also why  he got a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle Thursday after a speech chastising both parties for over-the-top rhetoric in recent days on the budget, and urging budget compromise.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is not like it used to be,” Colgan said. “Never can I recall a time, in my 37 years on this floor, have I ever seen so much animosity or heard so much criticism.”

He recalled how courteous other senators were in his first year in the Senate (which, he said, happened to be all men at the time).

“These men exercised every courtesy to everyone and, as one old gentleman told me when I first came here, the only requirement is that you be a gentlemen,” Colgan said. “That floor was filled with 40 gentlemen.”

Now, Colgan said, he has become concerned that the heated rhetoric over the budget is not in keeping with the Senate’s reputation for decorum or bipartisan collegiality.

“I’m concerned, yes, on the floor of the Senate it’s gone too far,” he told reporters later.

He urged both parties to tone it down.

“There are too many bones of contention on this floor. Between these two bodies, at the present time, there is a ravine represented by this aisle,” Colgan said. “If we are not careful, we are going to make that ravine so wide that we are not going to be able to cross it. Now if you want this budget and you are really serious about it, then help us with it and stop being obstacles to it by your rhetoric and your accusations.”

He also told Democrats they will not get everything they demanded from the budget in a letter sent to the governor on Wednesday.

“You can’t have everything in the letter, the money isn’t there,” he explained to reporters later.

Colgan’s speech also touched on taxes, and the years it has been since they were raised for infrastructure. He said roads are decaying and other infrastructure needs more money, and called on senators to be “visionary” and concerned with the next generation as they build a budget.

Republicans said they will hold a Senate Finance committee meeting Friday morning on the budget, and asked Democrats to put their budget requests in amendment form, to be heard then. They also pointed out how much those requests would cost, and urged Democrats to identify areas where that money could be found.

The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Saturday, but a budget deal by then looks practically impossible. Lawmakers may recess for a few days or weeks.