Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.
Legislature will adjourn tomorrow without budget; to hold special session soon
State lawmakers plan to adjourn their legislative session on time Saturday — but without a budget.
Instead, they’ll go into a special session and come back in days or weeks to continue budget work.
The atmosphere was more friendly than it has been in recent days, as the Senate Finance committee held a meeting Friday morning to discuss the remaining budget bill that the House passed last week.
That’s likely due largely to a Thursday speech from Sen. Chuck Colgan, D-Prince William, a widely-respected senior senator. Colgan told both sides to tone down the rhetoric and work toward a compromise on the budget.
Tensions between Senate Democrats and Republicans had been rising in recent weeks, after Democrats twice voted down budget bills, leaving the two-year, $85 billion spending plan in limbo.
Democrats did so because they have a list of policy demands they want to see in the budget, and also because they want more seats on Senate committees. They lost power in the Senate after November’s elections, which gave both parties 20 seats. Since Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, can vote to break ties, his vote helped give control of the chamber to Republicans. But Bolling can’t vote on the budget.
On Thursday, committee chairman Sen. Walter Stosch had urged Senate Democrats to put their budget demands into amendment form, and on Friday he said the Finance committee staff was working to finish compiling those.
There is not enough time in the next two days, Stosch said Friday, to work through those amendments, determine what can be done, and put them into a budget bill.
So, he said, legislators today will make some procedural changes that will allow the budget bill to remain alive after Saturday’s adjournment.
Those procedural rules aren’t specific to the budget, so the change could also let lawmakers keep working on bills changing the Virginia Retirement System and bills related to transportation funding — two major changes that are separate bills, but also tied up with the budget.
The plan is to adjourn Saturday, and immediately go into a special session that will then recess. That lets legislators go home for a time, while budget negotiators will return to Richmond after a few days to keep working.
“Most people are pretty tired, they’d like to go back home, take care of a few things at the office, and then they’ll be ready to come back and reengage,” Stosch said.
Colgan, who is one of two Democrats on the team of negotiators working on a budget deal, had warned his fellow Democrats on Thursday that they won’t get everything they want from the budget.
Friday he told reporters that he’ll sign a budget conference report if it contains most of the things Democrats have asked for.
“I’m going to have to do it if we’ve met most of it,” Colgan said.
He said his caucus had shown some “flexibility” in talks Friday morning.