Del. Ken Plum’s recent email sums it up pretty well:
While a mere few weeks ago I promised to end the wailing about the current legislative session, I am back again more upset than ever before about the actions in Richmond. At a meeting of the General Assembly last week to wind up the longest legislative session in its history, the legislature needed only to review and vote on a number of amendments proposed by Governor Timothy M. Kaine to tidy up the $74 billion record-breaking biennial budget. Instead the Republican majority in the House of Delegates in the most arrogant abuse of power that I have ever seen in my nearly three decades in the House used the occasion to figuratively stick a finger in the eye of the Governor and to deny Democrats an opportunity to even present or to debate any amendments to the final budget package. It was tragic to watch events unfold in what over the years has been a fairly collegial body.
After prolonged recesses at the beginning of the session, the Republican majority voted in their caucus with a two-thirds vote required to bind themselves to vote as their caucus decided, regardless of the interest of the voters and constituents in their districts. That system allows the most conservative ideologues to dictate the position of the party and to enforce party discipline. No one including the most moderate of Northern Virginia Republicans has been willing to buck the system. Presumably the penalty for not going along with the caucus would be the loss of committee assignments or the failure of future bills or budget amendments of interest to the member. The Democratic caucus has no such rules and allows members to vote the interests of their district.
The result of the excesses of partisanship and the blatant abuse of power is an inconsistent and incoherent product. For example, the General Assembly approved a record $285 million to clean up the Chesapeake Bay but refused to approve or even allow debate on a four million dollar amendment for the City of Lynchburg to improve its antiquated sewer system that continues with heavy rains as we have had lately to dump raw sewage into the James River to flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Lynchburg’s offense in the eyes of the majority was to elect a very intelligent and effective Democratic woman to the House of Delegates in the last special election.
The biennial budget contains a billion dollars in capital building projects mostly for colleges and universities, but the Republican majority refused to allow debate on or to approve an amendment for $1.4 million in funding to begin the architectural and engineering phase of renovating the library at Norfolk State University that accreditation authorities say is necessary for the historically black university to maintain its accreditation. The Republican majority refused to approve or to allow debate on an amendment that would have provided $200,000 for an institute for minority leadership when the state provides two and a half times that amount to an institute that provides the same kind of training to predominately white persons. All members of the Black Caucus in the House are Democrats.
The House majority Republicans including presumably moderates like Callahan, Rust, and Albo refused to approve or even allow debate on a $6 million budget amendment to allow fund balances to be used in a 50-50 match with localities to replace the loss of federal funds for child care services for the working poor. If the local governments cannot come up with the money, large numbers of children especially in Fairfax County will be without daycare.
In my State of the Commonwealth – 2006 address (www.kenplum.com) I called the legislature dysfunctional. On the last day of a session that has gone on for months, Delegate Ward Armstrong took the floor to observe that we had just had a dysfunctional ending for a dysfunctional session. The voters of Virginia need to take back control of the General Assembly from the tyrannical mob that is running it now.