Senate Democrats derail Virginia budget bill

McDonnell calls move ‘partisan’

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RICHMOND — Senate Democrats flexed their muscles Thursday and successfully blocked the chamber from passing its two-year budget blueprint — a move Republicans decried as obstructionist, partisan politics at its worst.

Neither the “caboose budget” that amends the current year’s budget, nor the two-year budget gained the 21 votes necessary for passage. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, has acknowledged that he cannot break ties on budget matters, but Democrats didn’t even give him a chance to reconsider. The caboose budget failed on a 20-19 vote, and the budget for the next two years failed 20-17.

Sen. Yvonne B. Miller, Virginia Beach Democrat, did not vote on either proposal. Sen. Barbara Favola, Arlington Democrat, and Sen. L. Louise Lucas, Portsmouth Democrat, did not vote on the proposed two-year budget.

In a statement, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell criticized the move and once again urged Democrats to publicly express the issues they have so a budget can be adopted on time.

“Now, for apparently partisan reasons, Senate Democrats may have put a timely budget at risk,” he said. “I understand that their reason for this action is disappointment over the committee seats they hold. Essentially, with their vote today, they appear to have put committees ahead of communities. This is not the Virginia way.”

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said it was “a very disappointing day” for the people of Virginia, but added that he, Mr. McDonnell and Republican legislative leaders were hopeful the Democrats would come around.

“Fortunately, it is not too late for them to extricate themselves from the morass into which they have inserted themselves today,” he said. “In the days to come, I sincerely hope that our Democratic friends will stop playing political games with the state budget and join us in working to find solutions to the many significant challenges facing our state.”

Republicans said they were particularly disappointed that the Democrats were holding up the budget owing to “bruised political egos” from the first day of session, when the GOP used Mr. Bolling’s tiebreaking vote to organize as a working majority.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin, Henrico Democrat, said the party’s dispute was about policy, not politics.

“Everything that we’re doing is designed to try to bring about the will of the people of Virginia as it was reflected in the elections,” he said. “We are using the powers that the Constitution gives us to try to influence the course of events.”

Earlier in the week, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. released a letter to Mr. McEachin and Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw, of Fairfax, decrying a proposal that would reshuffle assignments on six of the Senate’s 11 standing committees, and have Sen. Charles J. Colgan, Prince William Democrat, and Senate Finance Chairman Walter A. Stosch, Henrico Republican, serve as co-chairmen of that all-powerful committee.

“To hold Virginians hostage over bruised political egos is disingenuous and an unflattering reflection of our legislative process,” wrote Mr. Norment, James City Republican.

At the other end of the Capitol building, meanwhile, the House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved its version of the 2012-2014 budget Thursday on a 79-21 vote, and its “caboose budget” unanimously.

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