- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

RICHMOND Virginia House Republicans are continuing to learn the ropes of governing in their second year in power, while Democrats are quickly realizing the perks of being the minority party, forcing Republicans to cast "responsible government" votes on tough issues like guns and taxes.

On those and other issues, Democrats have forced Republicans to "go up on the board" in other words, take a recorded vote that can then be used by a future political opponent.

Yesterday's budget was full of examples, like the provision that would allow universities to charge a $1-per-credit-hour fee of every student about $30 per year for a student carrying a standard course load.

Democrats forced a recorded vote on the measure, and the campaign strategy was very clear.

"We are putting an $8 million tax on college students of Virginia when we vote for these," said Delegate Barnie K. Day, Patrick Democrat. "If that's what we want to do, then vote for this amendment."

Other Democrats said they want to make sure Republicans, when they campaign this year, tell constituents that while they may have frozen college tuitions, they increased students' fees.

But not voting for the fees would have put a hole in the budget a slap in the face of the majority party. In the end, all but two Democrats voted against the fees and all but two Republicans voted for them.

Last year, House Democrats acknowledge, they came in with the platform they had run on in the 1999 elections and ran into the brick wall of a new majority party. This year, they have changed their strategy and have been successful with it.

"I think it's difficult for people who have been in control to come to understand they can't fix everything," said Delegate Thomas M. Jackson Jr., Carroll County Democrat and a member of the House minority leadership. "This year, I think our job is to point out extremes and hope the people of Virginia are listening."

The party in the majority, though, has to make the trains run on time, and that is the challenge facing Republicans, who admit it is much tougher than being the minority. In particular, it means learning to keep party unity as well as Democrats did in the last few years of their control something that Republicans aren't so adept at, yet.

"I would say we're both learning from each other," said House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr.

Part of the difference for Republicans this year compared to last is the budget. Virginia's legislature puts together a two-year budget in even years, then returns in odd years to adjust it.

In 1999, the last adjustment year, the state had about $1 billion in unanticipated revenues from growth to add to the two-year budget. But this year, when the assembly is adjusting the 2000 session's two-year budget, lawmakers find themselves with a revenue shortfall compared to what was anticipated. That, in short, means cuts.

The Senate isn't having the same problem as House Republicans, partially because the Senate has been Republican-controlled for more than three years now the first two under power-sharing, and the last year entirely.

Still, House Republicans say they are ready for the Democrats' new tactics. After all, they were equal masters of "going up on the board" when they were the minority.

"Turnabout's fair play," said Delegate James H. Dillard II, Fairfax Republican.

One old Republican favorite was to try to do away with the state yacht. For several consecutive years, Republicans would put in amendments to eliminate the yacht and transfer the money directly to education.

Democrats would vote to retain the yacht. Republican challengers would then run the yacht's funding allocation through the education formula and figure out how much their localities would have gotten for education if the yacht had been cut, and use that information against incumbents.

Former Gov. George F. Allen finally did away with the yacht, removing that arrow from the quiver.

Another Republican coup was the lottery-building vote, which helped oust several Democrats in the early 1990s. The Democratic majority had planned to build a new lottery building across the street from Capitol Square in Richmond, but Republicans argued there was empty office space already available, and they proposed transferring the money. Democrats held their ground, but in the next election, Republicans sent out mailings attacking incumbents for their vote.

"Anything to embarrass the Democrats," Mr. Dillard said.

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