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

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Road to nowhere; A1

Budget still stalled

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

RICHMOND — Republicans in the House of Delegates sent an unequivocal message to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Wednesday — it’s time to get more involved in the ongoing budget standoff.

The GOP-led lower chamber met briefly on Wednesday to approve and send to the Senate a bill that closes the books on the current fiscal year.

But the “caboose bill” was a sideshow compared to what delegates had to say about an apparent policy shift announced last week in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

Kaine was in Winchester on Friday for the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, where he told reporters that he thought it would be a good idea to separate tax increases for transportation from the rest of the state budget.

“That is a great step toward compromise with the House,” said Del. Clay Athey, R-Front Royal, quoting Kaine from media reports.

“As we all know, stories tend to be accurate all the time, Mr. Speaker,” Athey said, drawing some laughter from members.

But “if this is the governor’s position … then it is time for the governor to actively notify our other members of the press that he feels that way.”

Telling the rest of the commonwealth that he agrees with the House of Delegates might just get the Senate to move even further and break the impasse, Athey said.

“This would be an opportunity for the governor to show leadership in this area,” he said.

Kaine’s statement in Winchester does bring more hope to the situation, said Del. Phil Hamilton, R-Newport News, a House budget negotiator.

“If he did say that, I see that as a positive step,” Hamilton said.
Speaker of the House Bill Howell, R-Fredericksburg, was a bit more blunt about the situation.

“[Kaine’s] not a potted plant,” he said. “He can get people on his side of the aisle moving.” A phone call or a note from the governor might go a long way in getting senators back to the negotiating table, he added.

At the very least, Kaine should “let people in all parties know how he feels,” Howell said. That action by itself might move the impasse.

Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall was unmoved.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell if this is the Virginia House of Delegates or ‘Lord of the Flies,’” he said. “It is laughable when the Republican House leadership blames the governor for their own inability to get along with fellow Republicans who control the state Senate.”

And Kaine is involved in the process already, he said.

“Governor Kaine is working every day with Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate who would rather work for common ground than play along with the speaker’s blame game,” Hall said.

Delegates reiterated their promise to actively work on a comprehensive transportation package later this year — if the Senate will pass a budget without tax hikes for roads embedded in it.

But the budget has to come first, said Del. Vince Callahan, R-McLean. Without a budget, the state might have to close up shop on July 1.

House leaders are trying not to “dump in the governor’s lap an unprecedented catastrophe in Virginia,” he said. “We’re trying to help him.”

Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, called on both Kaine and the Senate to approve some form of continuing budget resolution just in case the standoff continues into July.

Kaine has told reporters repeatedly that he’ll keep state government open until some other power, like a court or the legislature, tells him to stop.

Marshall said Kaine needs to elaborate on how he intends to do that. The state constitution is very specific, he said. No budget, no spending.

“You were in Winchester the other day, and you said in effect ‘Trust me, I have a plan,’” Marshall said.

Kaine’s chief of staff, Bill Leighty, declined to elaborate on what the plan is when asked by Marshall.

“Sitting here being silent like the Cheshire cat is not a good answer,” Marshall said, speaking from the floor.

“If you had asked the captain of the Titanic, ‘Sir, do we have enough boats in the case of an emergency?’ and you got back an imperious response from the first mate, ‘The captain will consider your request if and when we hit an iceberg,’” Marshall said, “what kind of man is at the head of this boat?”