Two-day showdown ends tortuous Va. budget standoff

Senator wrestled with decision to break ranks

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

Gov. Bob McDonnell met privately Tuesday with Charles J. Colgan, the longtime Democratic senator who had the power to break a 38-day impasse over the state’s two-year $85 billion budget. He had a simple question.

What do you want from me? Mr. McDonnell asked.

Mr. Colgan, the 85-year-old 10-term Prince William Democrat, had served on the conference committee charged with reconciling the House and Senate versions of the budget. He had been vague on whether he would vote for the plan, which had been held up over his party’s demand for an additional $300 million for the Dulles rail project. But he had stressed the importance of avoiding a protracted standoff. Mr. Colgan said an assurance from the Republican governor that he was committed to rail-to-Dulles would be enough.

Mr. McDonnell obliged. He put it in writing in a letter on Tuesday.

OK, Mr. Colgan said. And he left the meeting prepared to vote for the budget.

By the end of the next day, however, Mr. Colgan changed his mind not once but twice, helping create what one lawmaker called a “legislative vertigo that is not going to dissipate anytime soon” and capping a session already made acrimonious from power struggles and votes on social issues that had laid bare the partisan rifts in the historically genteel chamber.

An apparent victory

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax and Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin of Henrico met individually with Mr. McDonnell in his office around midday Tuesday. They, too, saw Mr. McDonnell’s letter, but they didn’t like its “testy” tone. Enraged, they aired their views in a closed-door caucus meeting. Mr. Colgan informed his party of his intention to vote for the budget. It did not go over well.

By just after 5:30 p.m. when a vote was taken, Democrats had held the line. Mr. Colgan joined them and the budget failed to get the necessary 21 votes to pass.

At that point, it was Republicans’ turn to be angry.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr., James City Republican, had been banking on Mr. Colgan’s vote.

“He’s a wonderful man, but let me tell you, when you are 85 years old and a statesman in Virginia and Dick Saslaw decides that he’s going to give you some serious kidney punches over and over and over, then perhaps you cannot resist,” he fumed.

State employees’ paychecks were at risk. Local governments, in the midst of crafting their own budgets, were in limbo. Transportation projects might be stalled or shut down, the GOP said.

After the vote, a victorious but clearly weary Mr. Saslaw, flanked by Democratic colleagues in their caucus room, said they weren’t going to be talking to the governor that night. Or in the morning.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow,” he boldly declared.

Story Continues →

View Entire Story

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • The District of Columbia has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

    D.C. police quietly prepping for change in law on marijuana

  • D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate David Catania, at large independent, said that although he had some concerns with the city's fiscal 2015 budget, namely the 'yoga tax,' he said issues could be addressed in next year's budget discussions. (Associated Press)

    Council overrides mayor’s veto of fiscal 2015 budget

  • 3 killed, 4 wounded Sunday in three D.C. shootings

  • D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser, one of seven Democrats trying to unseat the incumbent District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray in next week's primary, campaigns on Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, Thursday, March 27, 2014. Loyalists are rallying around the mayor, and few are writing him off. But his troubles have provided an opening for one of his challengers, and D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser appears to be taking advantage. Two polls released a week before the primary showed Bowser in a statistical tie with Gray.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    Crime hits close to home for D.C. mayoral candidate

  • Gray

    D.C. Council to vote on Gray’s budget veto