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McDonnell’s budget amendments defeated

Foes feared delay to Dulles Metrorail

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2012

RICHMOND — Virginia lawmakers delivered Bob McDonnell a series of legislative defeats on Monday, rejecting budget amendments made by the governor that some argued would complicate the state's contribution to Phase 2 of the Dulles rail project and would have made it more difficult for state employees to receive one-time 3 percent bonuses.

The legislative action occurred as the General Assembly reconvened to consider Mr. McDonnell's proposed amendments to the state's two year, $85 billion budget that starts July 1, as well as the budget that ends on June 30.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, had proposed amending the spending plan that ends June 30 to change the composition of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) so that Virginia would have seven seats, the District would get four, and Maryland and the federal government would each get three. MWAA runs Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports and the Dulles Toll Road. It also oversees the $6 billion rail-to-Dulles project.

Legislation accomplishing much the same thing has already passed and will take effect in July. But Mr. McDonnell's amendment appeared to some lawmakers to make $150 million in state funding for Dulles rail contingent on reshaping the MWAA board, making the shift effective "notwithstanding any other provisions of law and as a condition of appropriations contained in this act."

"I think we are taking a big chance by adopting this amendment," said Delegate Mark D. Sickles, Fairfax Democrat.

Mr. McDonnell's administration has pledged repeatedly to commit the $150 million but has objected to a 10 percent scoring bonus MWAA approved to give to contractors bidding of Phase 2 of the project if they adopt a union-friendly project labor agreement (PLA).

Delegate S. Chris Jones, Suffolk Republican, conceded that the language was "inartfully drawn." The House rejected the amendment, 74-22.

J. Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Mr. McDonnell, said that with the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general scheduled to release an interim audit report on MWAA's management policies and processes, "the governor believed it is imperative to move forward as soon as possible in implementing MWAA reform."

The House also resoundingly rejected Mr. McDonnell's attempt to tie 3 percent state employee bonuses completely to year-end savings or unspent balances. The bonuses previously had been contingent on year-end surplus monies as well as agency savings.

All told, however, the General Assembly approved 72 percent of the governor's budget amendments, by his office's tally.

"The new budget honors the priorities I set in the introduced budget and prioritizes spending on the core functions of government, dramatically reduces the unfunded liabilities in the Virginia Retirement System, invests in new economic development initiatives, restores funding to K-12 education, and infuses significant new money into higher education to help reduce tuition increases," he said in a statement.

The assembly restored $19.5 million in economic development funding, as requested by Mr. McDonnell. And he did score a win in his proposal to increase the Governor's Motion Picture Opportunity Fund by $2 million over the next two years — much to the consternation of Delegate Scott A. Surovell, Fairfax Democrat.

"We have some extra money in the budget, and what are we going to do with it? We're going to write a check to a bunch of millionaire movie producers," Mr. Surovell said, waving a stuffed "E.T." doll from the House floor.

Steven Spielberg, who directed the film, had been given $4.5 million in incentives to get him to film his epic on Abraham Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis in Virginia.

Despite the ribbing, Senator John C. Watkins, Powhatan Republican, said the production had generated $32 million in expenditures in Petersburg, Richmond, and elsewhere in the state.

The state Constitution gives Mr. McDonnell 30 days for final action on the budget, but he said he'll do so this week. At this point, he can only line-item veto or veto the whole bill.

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