The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Assembly, governor gear up for special session; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

With less than 24 hours remaining the regularly scheduled General Assembly session and a state budget nowhere on the horizon, both legislators and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine are preparing for a special legislative session.

While the final timeline remains unclear, the House and Senate are both poised to adjourn before the end of the day without coming to terms on a budget, said Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall.

Kaine “is likely to call a special session before the end of the month,” Hall said.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment, R-Williamsburg, told his colleagues at the conclusion of Friday’s session to start thinking about when they would like to come back to town.

“My other forecast is that we will be going into a special session. I would expect the call for the special session will be jointly issued by the legislative branch,” said Norment, the floor leader, who guides each day’s proceedings.

“If it is not, then I am certain his excellency [Kaine] will do it. That is a foregone conclusion, that we will have a special session,” he said. House members have suggested coming back to town to hash out their differences after the April 19 reconvened session.

Virginia legislators generally come back to Richmond for one day after completing their legislative agenda for the year to act on bills vetoed by the governor.

Today is the last regular legislative day for both houses. Starting Sunday, the funding for legislative aides and secretaries runs out, and a number already were packing up and preparing to head back to their districts.

Others said they were willing to ride it out until a deal gets done. The current state budget expires at midnight on June 30.

“I’ll stay here till the last dog dies, I’ll stay here and celebrate July the 4th, I’ll stay here if we don’t have a budget July 1, I’ll stay here as long as it takes,” said Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, in a passionate speech from the floor.

House negotiators told reporters on Thursday that they were within striking distance of a deal, only to have almost the entire Senate call their own press conference later to say the two sides were separated by a “vast, inky gulf.”

The major sticking point is the Senate’s call for higher taxes to pay for transportation improvements while the House seeks to pay for some roads using bonded debt, and so far, neither side has shown much inclination to give.

Tension between the two bodies was evident later in Potts’ speech, when he took the House of Delegates to task for moving to scuttle the appointment of Daniel G. LeBlanc, former president of the Virginia AFL-CIO, to be secretary of the commonwealth.

Delegates said they were concerned about LeBlanc’s past vocal opposition to Virginia’s “right to work” law, which prohibits mandatory union membership.

Whatever problems the House has with LeBlanc, he was just doing the job he was paid to do by the AFL-CIO of Virginia, according to Potts.

“He represented them with honor, dignity and courage, and he sacrificed a lot for the hard working men and women of Virginia who were members of the union,” Potts said. “If that was a sin, then God help us, because that was what he was hired to do.”

The LeBlanc matter is further proof that the House is no longer run by mainstream Republicans, he said.

“I’m a Republican too. I was a Republican before a lot of the so-called Republicans were born,” he said, raising his voice and gesturing toward the House of Delegates.

Hall said the administration would have nothing further to say about LeBlanc or a possible replacement on Friday.
Norment said the day’s outbursts could reflect end-of-session pressure, or something else entirely.

“It may have been some feelings that have been percolating for some period of time that are starting to spew forth,” he said.

Regardless, “there is going to be an overtime, and it’s not just in the ACC basketball tournament.”

Both houses are set to convene today at 11 a.m.