Befiting baseball’s opening day, but not legislative responsibility, the House wound up and threw another pitch. But as with most of what would charitably be called ad hoc legislating, what they threw up against the wall is not likely to stick. The interim budget idea hasn’t a pray and is being reported around the state as another desperate attempt of the right wing ideologues in the House to shift blame.
The Washington Post has a good article this morning. The Post’s reporting during the budget crisis, perhaps suffering from too many bylines, has avoided adjectives that would color coverage. At times, they seem too cautious, as in continuing to report that the House budget plan would raise $560 million in new revenue despite contradictory information from a recent Taxation Department analysis. Indeed, one source told me House negotiators are trying to come up with other “revenue enhancements” to reach the $560 million goal because they know their budget isn’t balanced.
But The Post lets House members hang themselves, sometimes with tortured analogies:
“Irresponsibility would be to sit back and do nothing as the ship of state heads down Niagara Falls,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem). “We can pull over to the side of the stream and figure out what to do.”
You’ve had nearly 80 days, Morgan. Figure it out.
The Post also lets one delegate admit that this is all about political cover and not responsible lawmaking: “Del. Leo C. Wardrup Jr. (R-Virginia Beach) said the blame belongs on Warner for proposing a tax increase. ‘Let’s be sure to pin the tail on the right donkey,’ he said.”
But other GOPers are feeling the heat:
Del. Riley E. Ingram (R-Hopewell) said the House’s position is not going over well in his district.
Had there been a floor vote, Del. G. Glenn Oder (R-Newport News) said he would have opposed the GOP plan
Hugh Lessig of the Hampton Roads Daily Press uses “ostensibly” to characterize the House’s recess and describes the crisis as “ominous.”
He allows Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R- Prince William) to ridiculously spin: “It’s not a continuing resolution. It is a budget to get on with the fundamental business of the commonwealth.”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch lead uses biblical language to suggest too little too late: “And on the 77th day, House Republicans came up with a stop-gap solution.”
Writers Jeff Schapiro and Mike Hardy write: “[House members] hurriedly proposed a one-year, interim state budget yesterday to buy time…. Republicans muscled the one-year measure through the House Appropriations Committee, 14-3, positioning it for a likely House endorsement next week.” [Italics added].
The article helps craft the conventional wisdom:
The [interim budget idea] came as lawmakers, largely on the insistence of the House’s Republican majority, sound out voters on the budget standoff in town meetings and telephone and mail surveys.
These efforts, to the apparent surprise of the GOP, show that Virginians are angry over gridlock at the Capitol and are willing to consider higher taxes to repair services ravaged by recession, the economic fallout of 9/11 and spending cuts.
Meanwhile, Sen. Emmett W. Hanger (R-Mount Solon) calls anti-tax groups “basically extremist anti-government groups.”
The Charlottesville Daily Progress goes on to describe the local Chamber of Commerce’s frustration and debate among lawmakers at the chamber’s forum. Chamber President Timothy Hulbert put it succinctly: “What the hell’s going on over there?”
Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle County) regurgitated the charge that the state budget has grown irresponsibly, but Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Albemarle) explained the difference between general funds and no-general funds, where expenditures are mandated.
The state AARP jumped into the fray charging House Republicans with lying in its mail campaign against tax hikes.
Del. Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge), apparently chastened by the reaction his anti-tax stance got in Lexington a few nights before, was much more conciliatory as he got an earful in Amherst, former Speaker Vance Wilkins’ home town.
The law was at the meeting, and as the Times-Dispatch reported:
More than 80 people packed an Amherst County courtroom for the 11/2-hour meeting, nearly half of them wearing the brown uniform of a sheriff’s deputy.
About 400 people showed up for a raucous meeting at Henrico County’s Mills Godwin High School, and about 300 at Chesterfield County’s L.C. Bird High School….
At the Henrico meeting, decorum gradually disintegrated as some members of the audience expressed frustration over not being able to speak directly to four legislators who conducted the hearing.
Only written questions were accepted, and only selected questions were answered.
Yells of, “This isn’t open!” and, “Let us speak!” punctuated the two-hour meeting.
And here’s how Cline tried to weasel his way out of what he heard at the meeting: “I have to balance what I hear tonight with what I hear every day at the gas station, the convenience store and on Main Street.”
Lead House negotiator Del. Vince Callahan (R-Fairfax) says: “We’re going to give staff some time off,” to explain why House members have recessed for a week. They aren’t even acting like no budget is a crisis.
Delegate Albert C. Pollard (D- Lancaster) responds: “This is ridiculous, folks. We can’t pass a budget, and your solution is to go to a continuing resolution? If we wanna tax, let’s tax. If we wanna cut, let’s cut. Let’s not sit down here and lob a hand grenade over to the Senate just so we can, then go back to our folks and say, ‘Duh, we passed something,’ and now it’s their responsibility. We’re just trying to pass the buck.”
Will government shut down without a budget? Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach” doesn’t think so, calling the contention “bunch of garbage.”
In a New York Times article about the budget impasse, Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, calls Senate Republicans “morons.”
Meanwhile, the “morons” hunker down:
According to several House Republicans and one of the chamber’s budget negotiators, the House leadership was enraged at the reported inflexibility of the Senate conferees. Delegates said that a House conferee had quietly broached the Senate on the possibility of increasing the sales tax to 5 percent from 4.5 percent.
But Chichester, House sources said, responded that the Senate would not settle for less than its proposed one-percentage point boost – also favored by Warner – and additional income-tax brackets for the wealthiest Virginians.
The interim budget highlights:
*A proposed one-year budget includes the following:
*No money for raises for state workers and college professors, but $1.1 million to strengthen salaries for state troopers
*No extra money to beef up local services for the mentally disabled, which has been mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court
*About $948 million to continue the car-tax break at 70 percent
$3.2 billion for health services – a 12.5 percent rise over current funding
*Almost $4.4 billion in direct aid for local public schools, an 8 percent increase over the current base budget – about the same as the amount proposed by Gov. Warner
*About $70 million less than the House endorsed originally for colleges and universities
$14.2 million to replace revenue lost by the removal of out-of-state prisoners from Virginia cells
Here’s the vote on the interim budget.
As higher ed goes, so goes Virginia, opines the Roanoke Times.
And while, Virginia enjoys the ranking of 50 among states for environmental spending, things are getting worse.
At least Charlottesville can claim a #1.
With all this being laid at their feet, Democrats still need to sharpen their message. Del. Marian Van Landingham, D-Alexandria, yesterday said of Republicans who offered the interim budget, “They dreamed it up because of the heat they’re getting from schoolteachers and localities.” Such statements play into the hands of anti-taxers who portray voters coming to the budget meetings as “special interests.” It’s not just teachers but parents of students who are showing up.