- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

RICHMOND — House Republicans will force delegates to work on the state budget through the weekend, in part to repay political scores from when the Democrats controlled the chamber.

The Republicans yesterday insisted on the extra days in response to Democrats’ refusal on Wednesday — the first day of the special session — to expedite the budget process. The Republicans also blocked Democratic delegates from debating budget issues yesterday.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Roanoke County Republican, said the Republican Caucus planned the move to get back at Democrats who wouldn’t allow quick passage of a bill that would eliminate business-tax exemptions.

“We tried to indicate we were all tired and needed rest, but that has been denied to us,” Mr. Griffith said. “It’s a procedural maneuver.”

Lawmakers, completing their 65th day of work yesterday, have clashed over whether to raise taxes and increase spending in the state’s fiscal 2005-06 budget.

The House Republican tax-exemption-repeal plan resurfaced Wednesday. Republicans wanted to pass it through to speed up the budget process and then adjourn so they could go home for a short break. They needed 80 votes but got 61 on a partisan vote, with the Democrats refusing.

The Democrats, who oppose the bill, said they needed more time to review it and the minor changes made to it between the regular session and the special session.

Lawmakers returned yesterday, and after Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican, briefly explained his bill, Republicans voted immediately to cut off any debate. The move also prohibited delegates from offering amendments.

Upset by the move, Democrats didn’t have enough votes to stop the bill, which passed 55-38. It is expected to pass on its final vote today and become a part of the House budget plan.

“It’s a demonstration of the raw arrogance of power,” said Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “It far exceeds what our predecessors have done. … No wonder we can’t come up with a budget if that’s the way they want to act.”

Delegate Viola Osborne Baskerville, Richmond Democrat, agreed: “The middle-schoolers are more mature.”

Some say Mr. Griffith has waited for this day to come. He often recalls the adjournment of the 1995 legislative session, when House Democrats who controlled the chamber forced a vote on the budget without debate.

“They’ve got the power to do this now, but we’ll have the power to do it after ‘95,” Mr. Griffith told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot immediately after the 1995 adjournment. “They’re teaching their future masters well.”

Mr. Griffith told The Washington Times last month that House Republicans are “much fairer across the board” than the Democrats were when they controlled the House.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t play some political games from time to time,” Mr. Griffith had said.

“Having learned the lessons of mistreatment,” he wanted his party to behave better, he said.

Democratic leaders said the caucus today is made up of different members than in 1995.

“I have never seen such irresponsible legislating in my life,” said Delegate Kenneth R. Plum, Fairfax County Democrat who has served in the House for 22 years.

“This is a continuance of the gamesmanship we’ve seen through the whole process,” he said. “That action [in 1995] doesn’t justify today.”

House Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall, Chesterfield County Democrat, said yesterday’s forced vote was a step backward.

“It doesn’t indicate to us Republicans are operating in good faith,” he said.

Some Republicans also questioned their party’s actions.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican who came in after the vote yesterday, asked House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican, if the vote could be reconsidered.

When his request was declined, Mr. Marshall responded, “Thanks a lot.”

“This is supposed to be a deliberative body, not one that cuts off debate,” said Mr. Marshall, who is against the elimination of the tax exemptions. “Even if you don’t like what the person is going to say, you are supposed to hear them out. It’s a simple courtesy.”

Things got even more contentious as the day wore on.

Mr. Howell sent Gov. Mark Warner a letter asking him why his reintroduced budget contains $88.5 million less for public education than the budget the House drafted during the regular session.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, fired back a few hours later with a letter and spreadsheet to Mr. Howell and the media saying the House actually cut $3.2 million from his introduced budget.

Then, a handful of House conservatives sued Mr. Warner and Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, in Richmond Circuit Court challenging the constitutionality of budget bills that would increase taxes. The governor’s office dismissed the complaint as frivolous.

The House and the Senate are scheduled to meet today at noon.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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