RICHMOND – For the third time, the Virginia Senate has refused to compromise on a new state budget, preventing the General Assembly from approving a spending plan for the next two years.
The House voted 77-19 on Tuesday in favor of an amended budget bill, HB 1301. But Senate Democrats rejected the measure because it lacks funding for the second phase of the Dulles Rail extension to Loudoun County.
Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, strongly urged his Democratic counterparts to reconsider. He said the Senate Republicans had offered a number of alternatives for funding the rail project.
Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, agreed.“The time has come to vote,” he said. “These disagreements should not cause this body to deteriorate, as we have certainly been able to collaborate with members on both sides of the aisle before.”
But many Senate Democrats insisted that the assembly must address the Dulles Metrorail and other transportation initiatives now as part of the budget. Citing a recent study, Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw of Fairfax said the funding was vital to his region.
“In the ‘Top Five Public Works in America,’ the No. 1 project was the Metrorail to Dulles. It has already caused major things to happen such as job creation, which totals about 300,000 jobs in the Arlington and Clarendon area,” Saslaw said.
Without funding for the Metrorail extension, Saslaw said, Loudoun County residents eventually would be paying almost $12 each way to commute to work in the Washington, D.C., area.
The dispute has been holding up approval of an $85 billion state budget that must take effect July 1.
The General Assembly failed to pass a budget during its regular legislative session, which ended March 10. Since then, a conference committee of House members and senators has been trying to hammer out a compromise.
The assembly convened Tuesday to vote on the conference committee’s report on HB 1301. In the Senate, all 20 Republicans voted for the bill; the 19 Democrats present voted against it. (Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, was absent and did not vote.) To pass, the budget must receive support from a majority of senators – 21 members.
Sen. Jeff McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, said it is not worth holding up the budget over a project that benefits only one part of the state.
“Why aren’t we expanding this discussion from just one $300 million project? Why not discuss major funding projects for other parts of the state?” McWaters asked.
Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, responded by saying that her constituents did not want funding for other transportation projects. She also said the state must help ensure that tolls are fair and equitable in Northern Virginia.
Republican officials said the impasse over a state budget could have dire consequences.
“The budget delay is now causing real harm, and we are 74 days away from a government shutdown, including work stoppage on every transportation project in progress across the state,” said Delegate Jim LeMunyon, R-Chantilly.
Gov. Bob McDonnell called Tuesday “a historically disappointing day for our commonwealth.” In a letter to Saslaw on Monday, McDonnell warned, “If there is no budget passed … there will be prompt adverse consequences on local governments and schools.”
Brian Moran, the chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, said McDonnell is partly to blame for the delay in passing a budget bill.
Bob McDonnell has had three full sessions … to complete critical projects like the Midtown tunnel in Hampton Roads and extending the rail to Dulles Airport. He has failed to do that, and Virginia families and businesses are poised to pay the price with higher tolls, longer commutes and a diminished quality of life,” Moran said.