- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

RICHMOND — Three weeks ago, the General Assembly opened its special session with an optimistic prayer.

“We pray specifically for our budget conferees,” said Delegate Kathy J. Byron, Lynchburg Republican. “The hours will become long, the days may become many. Give them the strength to say yes when they should say yes and the courage to say no when they should say no. Enable them to stand for what is right and not to waver under pressure from the world. Help them to find unity in the days ahead and give them the endurance to see this through to the finish.”

So far, Mrs. Byron’s prayer has not been answered and now some frustrated lawmakers have resorted to name-calling and bullying as budget negotiations lumber forward, with no agreement in sight.

“I am absolutely appalled by the cavalier attitude that the little Napoleons down in this body are foisting on the Commonwealth of Virginia, the people of Virginia, and particularly on the constitution of Virginia,” House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. said Wednesday before a jovial House Republican Caucus.

“They seem hellbent on closing down government to get their way,” the Fairfax County Republican said. “And I’m appalled and disgusted.”

The budget debate in the Republican-controlled legislature has centered on how to pay for state transportation improvements.

The House wants to set about $1 billion aside, pass the rest of the budget and take up transportation later. The Senate wants to use about $1 billion a year in new taxes and fees to pay for road upgrades statewide.

So far, the House Republican Caucus has not given in to the wishes of the Senate, the House Democratic Caucus or Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to raise new revenue for a long-term transportation solution.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican, “is under the delusion that we are going to crack, and we are not.”

The political hoopla doesn’t seem to get under the skin of Mr. Chichester, arguably the most powerful player in the stalled budget negotiations.

“I don’t go into any budget negotiation with optimism or pessimism,” Mr. Chichester has said. “I take it as it comes and move on.”

The politics surrounding the issue began to surface in late February.

A Web log reported that Mr. Kaine’s chief of staff-designate, William H. Leighty, made comments about seeking retribution against delegates who oppose the governor’s multibillion-dollar transportation plan.

“I have four staff members looking at every bill from every Republican House member,” the Web log reported Mr. Leighty as saying at a town hall-style meeting in Fairfax. “We are not going to the member, but compiling a list of who asked for each bill. We are going to those people to tell them their bills are in jeopardy.”

House Speaker William J. Howell questioned whether Mr. Kaine’s campaign pledge to work in a bipartisan manner was nothing more than “public posturing.” Mr. Howell requested that Mr. Kaine publicly denounce the comments. Instead, the Stafford County Republican received a phone call and a few apologies.

Last month, Mr. Howell lambasted Mr. Kaine, a Democrat who took office in January, for robo-calls and radio ads that blamed the House for the budget deadlock, saying it was a “deliberate campaign of misinformation.”

A week later, the feistiness rolled over into the governor’s agreement to allow the group running the region’s two airports to take over the Dulles Toll Road and use revenue from tolls to pay for Metrorail’s extension to Washington Dulles International Airport.

The “administration’s actions in this megaproject are shortsighted — almost scandalously so,” Mr. Howell said.

Yesterday, Mr. Kaine declined to comment on the name-calling and the bullying. “I’m not going to get caught up in that stuff,” he said.

Yet, it appears that Mrs. Byron’s request of a higher power has not been lost.

“Perhaps we have to appeal to a higher authority,” Mr. Callahan said this week with a wry smile shortly after making the “little Napoleons” comment.

“This is, after all, a holy week. It’s also Passover. It’s also the birthday of the prophet Muhammad,” he said. “And perhaps a little spiritual reflection on their side would be in order.”

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