Special Session: hurry up and wait
By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer
The Virginia General Assembly is headed back to Richmond on Monday to finish its budget work for the year and talk more about transportation problems.
But don’t expect a beehive of activity, according to one former legislator who’s been there before.
According to former 15th District Del. Allen Louderback, special sessions are pretty dull. Louderback, a Luray Republican who retired at the end of his term, said he’s watching this year’s squabbling from the comfort of his own home.
And that suits him just fine.
The House of Delegates and Senate, both led by Republicans, are deadlocked for the second time in three years over the state budget.
Both want to spend significant new money on transportation in the commonwealth, but they’re miles apart on how to do it. Basically, the Senate wants to raise taxes by about $1 billion per year, while the House wants to use existing surplus dollars and borrow money to spend about $2 billion over four years.
“Unless there’s something that’s an ongoing study,” special sessions are flat-out boring, Louderback said.
There are limits to what can be discussed and what can’t. In fact, committees that are swamped with activity during a regular session seldom meet during a special session.
“Everything’s been decided, the bills have been passed,” he said. And “it’s not a veto session, so they can’t cover items that have been on the governor’s desk.”
“They’re basically going to be going back in to discuss the budget,” Louderback said.
It all comes down to a group delegates and senators — none from the Northern Shenandoah Valley — who must hash out a compromise. Talks between the two sides broke down completely on Wednesday.
“You’re basically sitting around waiting for them,” Louderback said.
Action-packed floor sessions where legislators speak their mind about the issues of the day? Forget it.
Sessions tend to be short, Louderback said. But the free time does permit a certain liberality with speeches.
“A lot of the delegates use that as an opportunity to speak on various matters,” he said.
All that free time does allow some legislators outside the negotiations to begin their own process to break the stalemate. And it’s happened before, he said.
It’s almost unfortunate that the resolution to 2006 will be settled in a special session, he said.
“We almost lock ourselves out of finding solutions to problems” by limiting the subject matter.
And the free time “would be a perfect time for a lot of that committees to meet, to talk to some of these agencies to talk about what they’ve been doing. Because we don’t really know,” Louderback said.
At the end, “I think [the final outcome is] going to be who blinks first,” he said. “If I had that crystal ball, I’d be doing pretty good in the stock market.”
Two area Senators share Louderback's view of the situation — special sessions are all about "hurry up and wait."
"You’re at the mercy of the confeerees," said Sen. Russ Potts, R-Winchester. But there will be a resolution at some point, because the system demands it, added Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.
"The special session involves a great deal of waiting, watching and listening, because something is going to break," he said. "There will at some point be some resolution to this."