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...

My Photo
Name:
Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Friday, March 31, 2006

Do you hear what I hear?

After much research, I've finally found a way to post some of the audio we here in the politics department come across from day to day. Thanks to the good folks at SendSpace.com, those with too much time on their hands or far too much interest in Virginia politics can hear some of the audio, too.

So, for a trial run, here's a link to comments by Sen. Thomas K. Norment, R-Williamsburg, from the floor of the Senate on Tuesday morning, telling the rest of the Senate what to expect now that the House of Delegates has departed.

It's not great quality, but it's better than you can hear by sticking your head out the window and pointing your ear toward Richmond... also, please excuse the initial silence and e-mail arrival tone. This is just a test, after all.

I'd recommend listening in iTunes and setting the equalizer to "Rock," then dropping out all of the 16k, 8k and 4k. That cleans up most of my recordings very well. The link will stay up until the file is downloaded about 1,000 times (it could happen) or no one touches it for two weeks.

I'll post other interesting things as they happen. Enjoy!


Full Story...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Senate has a new plan... House isn't coming back

UPDATE 2 — Comments from House Speaker Below.

It's been a very eventful day in the Virginia Senate. The Finance Committee has voted out House Bill 5001, the "caboose bill," but it's no longer a caboose bill. It's got the Senate's two-year budget and the new transportation plan all rolled in.

Senators will be back at 4:30 p.m. to debate and vote.

Among the big changes, regional transportation tax authorities for the entire state. Any two localities can go in together to form bodies that can levy:

•a 1/2 cent sales tax
•a 1 percent lodging tax
•a local gas tax, up to 10 cents per gallon
•a new grantor's fee, up to .2 percent of the cost of property.

At the state level, the gas tax/refund program is gone, repalced with other local and dealer-level taxes.

The new bottom line for statewide taxes closely matches the House's initial number, $2.1 billion over four years in new taxes, including:

• Raising the car sales tax by .75 percent,
• A 6 cents per gallon tax on gas for fuel terminal operators,
• A 1.5 cent increase in the Diesel fuel tax,
• A $10 hike in vehicle registration fees,
• Higher fees for overweight vehicles and
• A 20 percent hike in registration fees for heavy trucks.

Regardless, the House of Delegates will not be coming back tomorrow. Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said there wasn't enough time to call the House of Delegates back on Thursday, and would hold a "pro-forma" session instead.

Plus, he said, there are serious problems with the Senate bill that would keep it from winning approval in the House.

"We sent them a caboose bill," he said. "They sent us back a two year and three month budget."

UPDATE

After hours of work to retool HB 5001, the Senate has voted in 38-to-0 in favor of the bill. More details on the debate here later...

UPDATE 2-- Raw Data

Statement from House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Fredericksburg

“It is hard to imagine that the Senate could produce a plan that would impact Virginia’s taxpayers more adversely than those they had previously endorsed. If they had approved the plan passed by the Senate Finance Committee today, they would have succeeded in doing so. Still, the plan ultimately approved today would result in Virginians paying more than $1 billion per year in new taxes and fees at a time when the Commonwealth is experiencing record surpluses and less than two years after citizens had a $1.4 billion tax increase imposed on them.

“The effect of the Senate’s latest plan on the price Virginians pay to fill up their car or pickup is especially severe. With an effective 34% increase in the tax on gasoline and a 47% increase in the tax on diesel fuel, their plan would result in everyone have to pay more per gallon.

“The Senate’s newest plan does not limit its tax hikes to the pump, retaining the most egregious increases of the earlier plans. The Senate plan guarantees that every Virginian will have to pay 34% more every year to register their car or truck. The Senate plan guarantees that every Virginian will have to pay 25% more in taxes when they buy a vehicle. And, the Senate plan still would result in every Virginian having to pay more in taxes when they sell their home.

“The Senate’s continued refusal to adopt a balanced and comprehensive approach to addressing Virginia’s transportation needs – realizing that we cannot pave nor tax our way out of congestion – is especially disappointing. The plan approved by the House increases funding for transportation, but it also reforms the way VDOT operates and incorporates important land use reforms to help localities better combat the growth and sprawl that cause congestion. The ultimate result of the Senate’s latest plan would increase VDOT’s authority, without requiring the agency to enact the reforms necessary to increase its efficiency and effectiveness. Their approach failed when it was enacted in 1986, and there is no reason to expect a different result today. The House continues to support the balanced, three-pronged approach to transportation it unveiled on February 10.

“Since the conclusion of the Regular Session, we have empowered our conferees to continue to meet with their Senate counterparts to negotiate a budget agreement that could earn the support of both chambers. Right now, the House has placed a priority on completing the work necessary to reach an agreement on House Bill 5001 (identical to House Bill 29, approved during the regular session), so that necessary changes to the 2004-2006 Biennial Budget can be enacted. There is no reason, nor any justification, not to pass this important legislation promptly.

“The House of Delegates passed House Bills 29 and 30 on February 23. Our conferees are ready and prepared to meet with their Senate counterparts to discuss the completion of an agreement on House Bill 5001, the amendments to the 2004-2006 Biennial Budget. They are also committed to continuing negotiations on what will ultimately be Virginia’s 2006-2008 Biennial Budget, House Bill 5002. I know that Chairman Callahan is anxious to hear a response from Senator Chichester, so that a schedule of meetings for those negotiations can be set.”


Full Story...

Raw Data: New Senate Plan

Find the documents given out at the Senate Finance Committee meeting this morning here. All are in PDF format.


Full Story...

Some senators unhappy with House’s decision to stay home; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

There’s no dearth of political strategy as the General Assembly’s special session on the 2006-08 budget and transportation moves forward.

Part of the plan for the members of the House of Delegates is waiting back at home until there is something to do in Richmond.

There’s really no need for delegates to be in town until the 11 budget negotiators have some kind of breakthrough, said House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem.

“The general rule that we’re operating under is there’s no need to keep 140 people in Richmond when 11 are doing the work,” he said.

The sticking point in this year’s standoff between the Republican House and Senate is taxes. Senators want to raise taxes by $1 billion per year, but delegates will have none of it.

Some senators were not pleased with the House’s departure.

Floor Leader Sen. Thomas K. Norment, R-Williamsburg, whose job it is to schedule the movement of bills on the floor, said the legislative exodus caught him by surprise.

“When I left to go back to my beloved soybeans farms [on Monday night], I thought the House was going to stay here and do some work,” he said, speaking from the floor Tuesday.

When senators adjourned Monday just after 2 p.m., the House was still tied in procedural knots, dealing with amendments to the 2004-06 “caboose bill” that would tie up loose ends on the state budget ending June 30.

“Obviously, they became much more efficient, because they adjourned until Thursday,” Norment said. “I must tell you it was dreadfully quiet at the other end of the hall when I walked in.”

The surprise was apparently the result of some poor communication, Griffith said.

“[The Senate] adjourned without talking to us,” he said. He and Norment had been in discussions about the matter for some time. The Senate was well aware that the House might hit the road after passing the caboose bill.

But House leaders aren’t lining up to get their members back to Richmond. They will convene for a pro forma session on Thursday, but that’s all.

There’s some strategy behind that decision, according to Griffith. With the delegates back in their districts, it’s far more difficult for any mass lobbying groups to twist arms.

In 2004, when the Republican majority fractured and the Senate won a $1.5 billion tax hike, both houses spent several days in Richmond before heading home.

This time “the lobbyists won’t be there to knock on the doors of the members,” Griffith said. Being back in the district puts the delegates in closer touch with the people who sent them to Richmond in the first place.

“If the citizens of Virginia want this tax increase, they don’t want to have to drive to Richmond to tell us about it,” he said.

Capitol Square can be its own fish bowl for legislators — they’re isolated from the rest of the state and easy targets for groups of lobbyists or activists who are trying to sway opinion one way or the other, said former Del. Allen Louderback, R-Luray.

Keeping delegates on their home turf makes them more likely to stick together, “particularly with the issue this year,” he said. There’s some “misinformation” flying around the Capitol, he said, and there’s no better antidote for it than a trip around a delegate’s home turf.

Pleas from Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads for traffic relief pack a punch, he said. Lobbyists and activists have made themselves heard almost anywhere the subject has been transportation.

“The key to staying in your district is that you hear from the people who will be directly affected by whatever legislation action is being proposed,” said former Del. Winsome Earle Sears, R-Norfolk, who now works with the Blue Ridge Association of Realtors in Winchester.

“These are the people who can’t take time off from work to come to Richmond to talk with their representative in the way that paid lobbyists are able,” she said.

But legislators can only run so far from organized influence.

“The truth is that lobbyists will find you wherever you are, whether in Richmond or back in your district,” she said. “You can’t hide.”


Full Story...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Raw Data: Statements on the death of Del. Harry Parrish, R-Manassas

The following are the full texts of various statments on Del. Parrish's death, in the order they arrived.

Gov. Tim Kaine


"Anne and I are deeply saddened by the death of Delegate Harry Parrish of Manassas. In January 2001, I started attending a Tuesday morning Bible study that is held during the General Assembly session."

"Harry was a regular attendee at those Bible studies, and during that time I came to know him as a dear person and a dear friend. In his public and his private life, Harry was always courtly and civil and committed to service. His composure and dignity combined with his commitment to working in a bipartisan manner for the future of the Commonwealth made him a true Virginia gentleman. We will miss him."

Attorney General Bob McDonnell

“Harry Parrish was a dedicated public servant, a war hero, and a great Virginia gentleman. I had the honor of serving with Harry in the General Assembly, and he was always a gracious, intelligent, upstanding example of what a public servant should be."

"Harry reached across partisan divides to bring people together, and at a time when many would choose retirement and rest, Harry chose to continue to serve the Commonwealth. I join countless Virginians in mourning his passing, and my prayers are with his family.”


Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Harris Miller

"I am greatly saddened by the death of Harry Parrish today. During his long tenure in the General Assembly, Delegate Parrish was a true example of Virginia's tradition of bipartisanship that serves the best interests of the people of Virginia. His legacy should be an inspiration to all in public service. My condolences and prayers go out to Delegate Parrish's family."

House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell, R-Fredericksburg

“On behalf of the Virginia House of Delegates, I express our tremendous grief and sorrow at the passing of our dear friend Harry Parrish."

“Harry embodied so much of what is good and inspiring about public service. By any measure, Harry’s was a remarkable life of contribution whose distinguished military career and long-time service to his local community and entire Commonwealth merits the grateful admiration and respect of all Virginians."

“Like so many who knew and served with him in the General Assembly, I will always remember Harry’s strong character and gentle kindness. My rich memories of him mentoring me as a freshman member of the House Finance Committee are perhaps only surpassed by my gratitude for his friendship and counsel to me as Speaker as wll as for the fine example he leaves behind."

“Harry Parrish truly was a ‘Virginia gentleman’ who was loved by all and will be missed by all.”


Democratic Party of Virginia Chairman Richard Cranwell

"I was deeply distressed to hear of the passing of my dear friend Delegate Harry Parrish.
I had the privilege to serve with him for several years as co-chairs of the House Finance Committee. I was always impressed with his ability to put the interests of Virginia above the interests of partisan politics. His voice of reason will be sadly missed in the General Assembly."

"I will remember him not only as a great legislator and public servant, but also as a principled and decent man. The thoughts and prayers of Virginia Democrats are with the Parrish family."


Full Story...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Reporter's notebook: Inside baseball

I've been told by editors that I'll be subjected to a de-wonkification intervention after the session, but there was lots of good inside baseball going on in the House of Delegates today for those who love the sausage factory.

Long after the Senate adjourned, the House spent hours working on House Bill 5001, the 2004-2006 "caboose bill" that tidys up the ending budget in preparation for the new one. It was an interesting study in legislative practice.

At times, the Virginia House of Delegates looks (or sounds) more like the British House of Commons than the U.S. House of Representatives.

Floor amendment after floor amendment was offered... and someone (it was hard to see from where I was sitting) kept requesting the "yeas and nays" in a Mr. Bill voice. It brought the house down more than once. Speaker Bill Howell, R-Fredericksburg, had to take a minute to get the giggles under control.

But one of the best (from a geeky, legislative perspective) moments of the day came when Del. Leo Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach, finally took a little too much flak during a speech. Wardrup said he was tired of having "the budget held hostage" to the Senate's demands to raise taxes.

Someone off microphone apparently gave Wardrup some guff, but he didn't miss a beat, firing off that some of his colleagues "appear to be developing the Stockholm syndrome."

Never a dull moment.


Full Story...

Special Session: Legislators start slow; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

RICHMOND — Legislators came back to Capitol Square to take another stab at a state budget and transportation plan on Monday.

They didn’t get off to a fast start.

After early clashes over how to proceed, the Senate decided to move ahead with business today, but the House of Delegates has called it quits until negotiators reach a deal.

“The conferees are apparently no closer than they were a few days ago,” Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said after Monday’s session.

“The budget negotiations are in their hands. Until they get a little closer, there’s no real reason for us to stay here,” he said. Neither body can leave for more than three days without the other’s consent.

House leaders will be on hand Thursday for a “pro-forma” session, but will take no action.

Both the Senate and House of Delegates clashed — with each other and internally — over how to go about the special session and get to a point where budget negotiators can begin their work anew.

At the heart of the split are differing transportation plans incorporated into both spending plans.

Senators want to spend $1 billion each year from new or higher taxes on gasoline, cars and other items, while the House wants to spend $2 billion over four years from the state’s $1 billion-plus surplus, new charges for bad drivers and debt funds for road projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

But a resolution isn’t anywhere on the horizon.

“I don’t think [the debate is] nearly at a boil,” said Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R- Winchester.

Senators want to come back before the April “veto override” session, in which the legislators either override or uphold vetoes and amendments by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

Before legislators can come back, they have to have a deal.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg, told his colleagues that the Senate negotiators are “prepared to work as long as it takes to find another answer.”

Senators are “trying to understand [the House’s] point of view,” he said. “Where there is dialogue, there is hope of a solution.”

But Chichester indicated he wasn’t looking to back down anytime soon.

The House budget and its debt funds for its two major urban centers only throws a “two-year bone to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads,” Chichester said. New cash flows have to be found.

“Make no mistake about it, if the answer is short-term gratification, it will in fact be a short term,” he said. “By 2010, we will be in the throes of another recession, and we’ll be draining dollars from” core services to “keep transportation afloat.”

Even with the tough talk from Chichester, fellow Finance Committee member Potts sounded a conciliatory note.

“They’re men and women of good will over there, they’re trying to do the right thing for Virginia, too,” he said.

“What this is all about is they hate the word tax,” he said. “Who doesn’t? You’ve heard me say a dozen times, I hate taxes, but I love Virginia more.

The House plan has validity — but not as a long-term solution to the state’s highway issues, the senator said.

“What’s got to happen here is let the cold light of dawn be absorbed by our good friends in the House and let them see that there’s no magic bullet here,” Potts said.

The GOP majority in the House isn’t going to move on matters of taxes, Gilbert said.

“I get the sense that the House is dead serious this time,” he said. “In a time of windfall budget surpluses, it’s not the time to be raising taxes on working families.”


Full Story...

Special Session Update

A full story will be posted here later, but here are the basic details:

House and Senate have packed it in for the day. The Senate will be back tomorrow. The House will be back when the budget negotiators do a deal.

And Del. Leo Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach, thinks some of his fellow delegates are coming down with Stockholm syndrome.

More later...


Full Story...

UPDATED Special Session: Underway

The House of Delegates has just gaveled to order, and the Senate is set to do so shortly. Only three things on the calendar today: The Budget Bills, both House and Senate flavors, and a continuing budget resolution on the Senate side.

Updates as warranted throughout the day.

UPDATE: The House was in for 13 minutes before it recessed until 1:15 p.m. Senate is just now underway.

UPDATE 2: 12:30 p.m. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg, laid out his view of the House-Senate divide in one sentence: "Do we go with instant gratification or do we go with long term investment?"

Following that, Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, told his colleagues that, while Gov. Tim Kaine's special session call was worded "somewhat more liberally" that the House and Senate's request for a special session, there was an understanding among the leadership in both houses that transportation matters were going to be construed narrowly.

And deviations would be looked upon poorly. The Senate is out until 1 p.m. for caucus meetings.

UPDATE 3: We're back. Senate has approved an operating resolution, waiting on the House to do the same. Today is not shaping up to be a barn burner.

UPDATE 4: 1:50 p.m. The House is back out until 3:15 p.m. to talk things over. Gov. Kaine has let it be known that he's got two budget bills he'd like to see considered.

UPDATE 5: 2:15 p.m. The Senate has packed it in for the day, but Senate Finance is getting ready to meet. Sen. Chichester has said he wants the body to meet on Tuesday morning, as well.


Full Story...

Blog note: Commonwealth Conservative hacked

Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney Chad Dotson's popular blog, Commonwealth Conservative, has apparently been defaced by hackers as of Monday afternoon. The group that has claimed credit has in the past linked their site defacements to the Danish "Mohammed" cartoon dispute.

No such message was left on the CC site defacement, although the hackers did leave a note in the site's source code criticizing the site's security.


Full Story...

Raw Data: Kaine Press Release

This just came over from the Executive Mansion. I'd link it, but there's no link as of yet.--GS

GOVERNOR KAINE SUBMITS TWO BUDGET BILLS IN 2006 SPECIAL SESSION

~ “Caboose Bill,” Biennial Budget Bill to form basis for Assembly’s work ~

RICHMOND – Governor Timothy M. Kaine today submitted two budget bills for consideration by the 2006 Special Session of the General Assembly, which convened at noon today to continue work on budget and transportation issues.

House Bill 5003 and Senate Bill 5001, the so-called “caboose bill,” covers state spending for the remaining three months of Fiscal Year 2006. House Bill 5004 and Senate Bill 5002 represents the biennial budget for 2006-08.

These bills build on the introduced budget and incorporate Governor Kaine's executive amendments submitted in January, including his transportation proposal, and also include new amendments, including:

· $285.5 million to cover the cost of reclassifying proceeds from the automobile insurance premium tax from the General Fund to transportation.

· $39.5 million to fund an increase in the salary adjustment for teachers, principals, assistant principals, librarians, guidance counselors and aides, from 3.0 percent to 4.0 percent, effective December 1, 2006. The average teacher salary in Virginia currently sits at 95 percent ($45,377) of the national average.

· A one-time appropriation of $12 million to be distributed to localities to support firefighting activities. Firefighters are among first responders to terrorist attacks, hazardous substance spills, natural disasters and accidents.

· $16.4 million in funding to localities to cover the cost for enhanced retirement benefits to sheriffs’ deputies.

· approximately $3.5 million to prevent 60 mostly urban local governments from receiving less in HB599 law enforcement funds than they received last fiscal year.

· An amendment to increase the retirement multiplier for state police troopers from 1.7 to 2.0 percent, and to provide the necessary funding to pay into the Virginia Retirement System. This action will enhance the retirement benefits for state troopers and will encourage more individuals to consider becoming state troopers in a tight and competitive job market.

· $3 million to raise the cap on the distribution of profits to localities by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Since FY 2005, such distributions have been frozen at $4.1 million per year due to budget constraints.

· an additional $1.6 million for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services to hire 15 additional service administrators and claims examiners to assist the approximately 750,000 military veterans who live in Virginia apply for federal benefits.

· $1.3 million to provide a $2,000 re-enlistment bonus for eligible members of the Virginia National Guard who re-enlist between April 1st and September 30, 2006.


Full Story...

Senate video

A little known feature of the General Assembly's web site is a link to a live stream of the Senate's proceedings. To date, the House of Delegates has declined to provide their feed outside of Capitol Square.

The video quality isn't stellar, and you'll need broadband to watch it. But if you're far from Richmond, it's better than two hours in the car.


Full Story...

A little back patting...

The 2005 Virginia Press Association awards banquet was held in Roanoke over the weekend. As subscribers already know, The Daily did very well, taking home top honors in our division for yet another year.

This humble scribe was also tapped for a couple of plaques. My colleague Jim Heffernan and I share a second-place award for general newswriting for our coverage of Sen. Russ Potts' run for the Executive Mansion.

I was also fortunate to share a third place honor for a series of news stories with colleagues Laura Davis and Jonathan Shacat on the state of economic development in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Two other teams from the Daily brought home the balance of the hardware in the division.

Thank you to those who read our paper and do business with our advertisers. If it were not for the readers, we wouldn't be here.

So buy a paper already... --GS


Full Story...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

GOP senators make odd couple; A1

Potts, Obenshain differ on almost every major issue

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

They’re both members of the Virginia Senate. They’re in the same party. They share a district boundary. That’s about all they share.

Sens. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, represent the Shenandoah Valley from Rockingham County north to the West Virginia line.

But the two men are worlds apart on a number of major issues — taxes, guns, gubernatorial powers, smoking in public and others — and their voting records during the first General Assembly session of the year bear that out.

Perhaps the best illustration of the split between the two neighbors is seen in Potts’ decision to run for governor in 2005. Not long after he announced his candidacy, the state Republican Party reacted strongly.

The Winchester senator represented “the Democrat establishment’s high-tax, pro-abortion liberal views,” Obenshain’s sister, state party Chairwoman Kate Obenshain Griffin, said after Potts announced he was running.

With the heat of the election over, Potts said differences of opinion are just that, matters of opinion.

“It doesn’t mean that he’s right and I’m wrong,” Potts said, before adding that most of the Senate — and thus most of Virginia — sided with him more often than Obenshain.

One case in point was Senate Bill 708, the tax hike for transportation that cleared the upper house by a 34-6 margin but died in the House of Delegates.

Obenshain said he had no problem with being in the minority on the vote.

“We’re in a period right now in which the economic strength of the commonwealth is at unprecedented levels,” Obenshain said.

Taxes were raised by $1.5 billion in 2004, and now the state is raking in record surpluses.

“Taking all those other factors into consideration, it’s just flat wrong to ask taxpayers to pony up,” he said.

Arguments that the tax increases proposed by the Senate are “just a little bit more” than current levels are specious, Obenshain said.

“Just a little bit more means we’re working to pay taxes another day, two days, three days a year,” he said. “I, for one, would value that time to spend with my family.”

But Virginia’s transportation problems cannot be solved by anything other than new, reliable funding, argued Potts. Traffic backups in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia are quickly becoming the stuff of legends.

“I think it’s obvious why I voted for” the Senate transportation package, he said. “The time spent with your family is impacted by the time spent in traffic jams on the highway.”

“The Northern Virginia area is now the third most congested metropolitan area in the country,” he said. “The biggest tax you pay is time lost with your family. If that isn’t a tax, I don’t know what is.”

Another place where the two parted company was on Senate Bill 648, the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, a bill that would have clamped down on smoking in public places.

It passed the Senate 21-18, but died in the House of Delegates.

Restaurants, offices and public areas of apartment buildings would have been off limits to cigarettes. Violators could be fined by police.

It was an easy vote, Potts said.

“Smoking kills people,” he said. “Personal freedom is one thing, blowing smoke in the face of your wife, girlfriend or dinner partner is another. Personal freedom ends when you’re doing harm to someone else.”

That’s not contested, Obenshain said.

But “the bill went much farther than that. The bill would prevent me from injuring myself,” he said. Even a one-person business with no walk-in customers would have been “no smoking” by force under this bill.

“I believe in the tremendous power of the free market,” he said. “If we don’t like the fact that people are smoking in there, we’ve got the personal freedom to turn around and walk right back out.”

“Where are we going to stop?” he asked. “Are we going to pass a bill against running with scissors?”

Potts and Obenshain also parted company on a bill by Del. Clay Athey, R-Front Royal, that would extend the right to get proffers from developers to more local governments.

It passed 34-4 in the Senate, and is currently on Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s desk.

“A developer and a builder has to assume responsibility for infrastructure … the necessity for new schools, social workers, infrastructure requirements,” Potts said.

When developers put up a crop of new houses, the community has to eat the infrastructure costs, he said. It’s only fair to make sure development pays for itself.

Obenshain said the bill — HB 1506 — was one area where he came close to Potts’ position, but made a statement with his vote against it in what he knew was going to be a big win.

“My vote didn’t mean a lot on this bill. This bill rolled, and I knew it was going to roll,” he said. “Virginia has a crying need for adopting statewide land-use laws that change the patchwork approach that we have adopted over the last 15 years.”

The Shenandoah Valley is victim of the “domino effect” from counties in Northern Virginia that have decided that they need to clamp down on residential development, Obenshain said.

The slow creep of Northern Virginia into the Shenandoah Valley is one result of that patchwork, he said. A statewide set of rules for development would go a long way to slow it.

Both men, along with the other 138 members of the General Assembly, are due back in Richmond on Monday for a special session to deal with the budget and transportation issues.


Full Story...

Friday, March 24, 2006

Updates

This site has been dark for a while, but for good reason.

Those of us headed back to Richmond for another go at it, legislators and press corps alike, have been trying to take some time during the brief interlude to smell the roses before rolling for the River City.

Also, others of us have been updating the tools of our trade. To the Mac folks out there, I would say simply this: I'm late to the party, but Firefox 1.5 is good. Safari is bad. Very bad. IE is worse.

But there's lots of goodness to be had below. Like this note on the next transportation plans. Or this one, on what exactly legislative types do during a special session.

Now, onward to Richmond!


Full Story...

Va. Senate, House disagree on caps; B1

This story updates an earlier one that can be found here. -- GS

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

Capping conservation tax credits is either a prudent move to curb abuse and protect Virginia’s bottom line or a prime example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

The distinction is just one more thing the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates don’t agree on.

House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Fredericksburg, said earlier this week — with the backing of a number of environmental groups — that the Senate’s budget plan, which contains the changes to the program, would hurt preservation efforts and promote urban sprawl.

But it was almost a non-issue.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, the author of one part of the Senate’s plan, said the House and Senate might have put the matter to bed had the legislative session gone for another 30 minutes or so.

“We almost had it worked out,” he said.

The tussle is over a program in which landowners get breaks on their income taxes in exchange for giving up the right to develop their property.

In exchange for surrendering development rights — and thus reducing a property’s value — the state gives landowners an income tax credit equal to half of the property value they’ve given up.

Credits can be used, sold or traded.

Current law only allows for people and businesses to use $100,000 worth of credits each year.

The House of Delegates wants to remove that cap and expand the program.

The Senate wants to cap the value of any donation at $600,000. For example, a donation of a $2 million easement would be worth $600,000 in tax credits, rather than the current $1 million.

Local preservationists have said the Senate version of the plan could slow or even stop the donation of conservation easements in the area.

No one doubts that the program is successful, Hanger said. But even with record surpluses in the bank, the state just can’t be handing out tax credits without looking toward the bottom line.

Tax credits are “tax dollars, just as if you were appropriating them to spend,” Hanger said. That money could be used for other environmental priorities, he said.

Statistics for 2005 haven’t been complied yet, but in 2004, the state handed out $120 million in credits.

Most of the credits used to date have come from projects that fall under the proposed $600,000 cap, he said, and some of the larger conservation deals have been questioned by the Department of Taxation.

That’s why both versions of the bill have new safeguards to make sure that an easement is actually worth what it claims to be worth.

To qualify for a claimed value, development of the land has to be possible. In other words, someone cannot receive credit for giving up the right to build townhouses on the sheer side of a mountain.

Besides, he said, a cap is not a new idea when it comes to conservation tax credits.
Del. Clifford L. “Clay” Athey, R-Front Royal, said the argument is simpler than that.

“The Senate is against anything that means less revenue for the government,” he said.

Athey’s 18th District has been one of the primary consumers of the tax credits. As such, he doesn’t take kindly to the move to cap them.

The credit program is vital to the Northern Shenandoah Valley, he said, since it gives people a real alternative to selling off their farms and open tracts for development.

Leaders in the valley are trying to keep some open spaces free of houses, “unlike the way things are done in Northern Virginia,” he said.

Budget talks have broken down, but legislators are due back in Richmond on Monday to continue their work.


Full Story...

Conservation is lawmakers’ newest issue; A1

State budget still causing conflict

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

The House of Delegates opened a new front in the General Assembly budget standoff on Tuesday, this time over conservation.

Local preservationists say they have a lot riding on the outcome.

House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Fredericksburg, said the Senate’s budget proposal “encourages [urban] sprawl” by placing new limits on a conservation tax credit program.

The two houses are still trying to find a compromise on a two-year state budget and a plan to mend the state’s ailing transportation system. Both financial plans are similar in the amounts of money they spend on things like education and public safety, but differ starkly in how they get there.

Senators have proposed a budget based on about $1 billion in new taxes for transportation each year, while the House backs a $2 billion, four-year plan that uses bonds and the state surplus for specific improvements in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

With less than a week until a special legislative session begins, Howell said the Senate’s budget plan contains provisions that would hobble a state incentive program that gives tax credits to people who preserve land via conservation easements.

Environmental and conservation groups including Piedmont Environmental Council, Scenic Virginia, the Civil War Preservation Trust and the Middle Peninsula Land Trust were on hand in support of the House positions.

Both Frederick and Clarke counties operate conservation easement authorities that accept and hold donations from residents, and a state cap on the tax credit could be “very bad,” according to Wingate Mackay-Smith, who leads the Clarke County effort.

By donating an easement, land owners can give up the right to develop their property in perpetuity, giving or selling such authority to a nonprofit agency or government.

Present law allows donors to write off half the value of their donations from their individual or corporate state income taxes, as much as $100,000 per year or whatever it takes to zero out their income tax liability.

For example, an easement that reduces a property’s market value by $1 million generates a $500,000 tax credit. The donor can apply up to $100,000 toward state income taxes for five years, or sell the credits to someone else.

Both sides of the legislature wanted to change the rules.

Delegates want to expand the program by removing the $100,000 annual cap and make credits inheritable — allowing survivors to inherit the credits after a donor’s death.

But the Senate moved to limit the program, and imposed a cap of $600,000 in tax credit on any single donation, while leaving the $100,000 credit-use limit in place, as well as placing a cap on the total amount of credits given each year.

Had the Senate rules been in effect for the four-year life of the program, it would have cut the amount of tax credits by more than 44 percent, according to the Virginia Department of Taxation. Going forward, it would keep an additional $33.6 million in the state’s coffers each year.

Neither of the two chief patrons of the Senate plan, Sens. Emmett W. Hanger, R-Mount Solon, and John C. Watkins, R-Midlothian, immediately returned calls to their Richmond or district offices for comment, nor did Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester.

Potts voted for the Senate bill on final passage. The area’s other Senate representative, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, voted against the measure.

Just less than 15 percent of the entire land mass of Clarke County is under some form of conservation easement, according to the Piedmont Environmental Council.

Frederick County’s program simply wouldn’t exist without the tax credit program, said Richie Wilkins, chairman of the authority. And as land values go up, donations could hit a $600,000 credit cap quickly.

“There are a very few people that own big chunks of” Frederick County, he said, and tax credits are one of a handful of incentives for owners to preserve rather than develop.

Under the Senate plan, Frederick County’s program might dry up rather quickly, he said. “The only way to get the full value out of the [tax] credits is to use them yourself.”

New limits on the program would “hurt people earnestly trying to preserve their farms,” said Mackay-Smith, as one or two large donations might take up all the available credit.

Legislators are due back in Richmond to begin a special session to deal with the budget on Monday.


Full Story...

Gov. Kaine's message to legislators

It got very little if any press coverage, but here is the letter Gov. Tim Kaine sent to members of the General Assembly before they hit the highway on March 11.


Full Story...

Panel would provide unbiased assessment of war in Iraq; B1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

A local congressman’s hope for a new, unbiased assessment of the war in Iraq is about to become a reality.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th, announced Wednesday that both the Bush ad-ministration and Congress have given their blessing to a “fresh eyes on the target” panel to review the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Wolf made his third trip since 2003 to Iraq last summer. His findings caused him great concern, he said.

“With each successive trip, I have seen improvements — renovated schools, cleaner wa-ter systems, a reconstituted Iraqi army,” he said. “I have also seen the continuing serious security problems and other challenges facing a liberated Iraq.”

The experience led for him to call publicly for a new look at what needs to be done to achieve U.S. goals in the war-torn country.

Sectarian violence has escalated in Iraq as of late, according to reports from inside the country, but both pundits and Bush administration officials have said the entire story of Iraq isn’t being told.

“I do not think I have ever seen the country more divided or Washington more partisan,” said Wolf. “But I am hopeful this panel comprised of honest, ethical and experienced patriots, will offer a realistic and frank assessment of the situation … [that will] lead us to common ground from which we can move forward as a nation.”

The bipartisan group of 10 is made up of people “who love their country more than their political party,” he said, and who have distinguished themselves with past public service.

It will be led by co-chairmen James A. Baker III, former secretary of state under the first President Bush, and Lee H. Hamilton, former Democratic congressman and chairman of the 9/11 commission.

The panel will also include Robert M. Gates, Central Intelligence Agency director under the first Bush administration; Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Republican mayor of New York; Vernon E. Jordan Jr., former adviser to President Clinton; Leon E. Panetta, former White House chief of staff under Clinton; William J. Perry, former secretary of defense under Clinton; Charles S. Robb, former Democratic governor of Virginia and U.S. senator; and Alan K. Simpson, former Republican U.S. senator from Wyoming.

The 10th member will be named later.

The panel will look at four large topics: the strategic environment in and around Iraq, Iraqi security and its challenges, Iraqi political developments and the country’s economy and re-construction.

“Unlike previous war assessments,” this group will “report directly to the American people,” Wolf said.

Regardless of how the situation has arrived at its current state, failure is too terrible to contemplate, he said.

Some analysts have suggested that failure in Iraq could lead to a three-way war among the region’s various ethnic and religious factions.

“Countless well-respected analysts have all come to the same conclusion — failure in Iraq would have devastating regional consequences, a direct impact on American national security and perpetuation of the perception among reformers in the region that America is a fair-weather friend, not to be depended upon,” Wolf said.


Full Story...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

New Transportation Plans? Maybe...

Those following every jot and tittle of the Virginia General Assembly, the transportation plans in play are well known — the House budget bill, House Bill 30, and the Senate transportation tax package, Senate Bill 708.

But there could be new plans — with four-digit designations — in the offing. Senators have been hinting to that effect for some time, and Sen. Russ Potts, R-Winchester, said Thursday he expects to see one in the not too distant future.

"You're going to see new budget plans coming from the Governor and the Senate," Potts said, noting that it might look like a "conglomeration of the governor's plan" and the Senate's second draft.

While he's not one of the 11 conferees working on a compromise, Potts said he thinks the new Senate document will correct one of the major failings of the second draft, at least from a western Virginia perspective — funding for Interstate 81.

"I don't think that a plan should necesdictate dicate what projects" get funded and which ones don't, he said, but "I'm confident that I-81 at the end of the day will be treated very, very well."

If a new plan is out there, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, says he hasn't seen it. But "It would not surprise me to see the plan significantly changed."


Full Story...

Special Session: hurry up and wait

We were able to get a little more information on this story after our print deadline. For some thoughts from the Senate side of things, look to the bottom of the post. --GS

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.”
---------------
UPDATE

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."


Full Story...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Even More from Attorney General McDonnell

Another segment of the interview with Attorney General Bob McDonnell that had to be cut for space reasons was a discussion of his future plans...

There’s a joke that pops up every four years in Virginia politics.

The Old Dominion doesn’t vote for a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — it votes for a governor and two gubernatorial candidates.

McDonnell said he’s not in that latter class. Yet.

“I’ve worked with five governors so far. It’s a great job. I worked four years and during a recount to get this job,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to do a good job as attorney general.”

If he does a good enough job as the state’s top lawyer, then he might be rewarded with higher office down the line. Part of that job includes work on regulatory reform and some changes to the state’s justice system

“If I had the opportunity to do that, it would be exciting,” he said. “But right now I’ve got to focus. I’ve got 300 people working for me and there’s a lot of important things I’d like to do in that office.”


Full Story...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More from Attorney General Bob McDonnell...

Part of the Bob McDonnell story that had to be abandoned for space issues included questions about Virginia's constitutional stance on abortion rights. Although the question is moot at the moment, it may become a matter of serious discussion in the not-too-distant future --GS

With two new faces on the U.S. Supreme Court, South Dakota legislators have issued what is likely to be the first direct challenge to Roe v. Wade in years.

While there’s still a five-vote majority that supports Roe on the high court, Supreme Court membership can change quickly.

Should Roe ever be overturned, the issue of abortion rights would once again be an issue of state, not federal, constitutional rights and laws.

Legislators in Tennessee, reacting to a ruling from that state’s high court which held that the state constitution was more protective of abortion than the state constitution, have introduced a constitutional amendment that says simply that there’s no right to abortion in the state’s charter.

Where does Virginia’s constitution come down on the issue? That’s a good question, McDonnell said.

“I don’t think anyone has looked at that issue yet in the commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

“The Virginia constitution is very close to the U.S. constitution, because the same guys wrote it,” he said. “Our bill of rights is pretty strong in the protection of fundamental rights, but it doesn’t address the subject of abortion in any way.”


Full Story...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Attorney General talks about his first few months in office

Note: There was a lot more in the interview than could be crammed into one story. I'll post some more notes from our conversation later. --GS

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- After making it through a statewide recount with a 323-vote victory, Attorney General Bob McDonnell had barely been sworn in when he faced his first legal dust-up.

The former Virginia Beach delegate found a fight waiting on him when he arrived -- a request from Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, to review the constitutionality of Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's first executive order, making it the policy of state government not to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation.

It wasn't a fight he went looking for.

"The opinion request was on my desk when I got there on Jan. 14," McDonnell said during an interview while visiting the region Tuesday. After reviewing the situation, McDonnell ruled that the order was unconstitutional.

Equality Virginia, a gay, lesbian and transgender lobby group, said the ruling "flies in the face of years of precedent."

The opinion found that "like a locality under the Dillon Rule, [Kaine] only has the authority expressly conferred on him by the legislature," said Jay Squires, chairman of the group's board of directors in a written statement.

Others accused McDonnell of being an "activist" attorney general and attempting to impose his views on the state regardless of law.

It is a separation of powers issue, McDonnell said Tuesday, despite claims to the contrary. Separation of powers arguments like Equality Virginia¹s are just wrong, he said.

"If you read the opinion, it¹s really not about sexual orientation, its about what is the reach of the executive power of the governor of Virginia?" he said.

In the end, McDonnell said, it comes down to one thing -- Kaine's order "exercised legislative authority," something he just cannot do.

"The General Assembly specifically declined to extend the statewide policy of the commonwealth to people on the basis of sexual orientation," he said.

Just days before the opinion was issued, both houses stripped that language out of their budget bills.

"If the governor doesn't get his way in the General Assembly, he can't say 'I'm signing an executive order, to heck with the General Assembly.'

Unfortunately, some people didn¹t like the answer, so they¹re attacking me
on the reasoning, even if they haven¹t read the opinion."

There was little controversy when legislators enacted virtually all of McDonnell's recommended changes to the state's sex-crimes laws during the 2006 regular session.

Some of the changes were groundbreaking. In particular, one law makes a first sex offense committed against a child punishable by a 25-year mandatory minimum prison term.

Another change approved this session is satellite tracking of offenders for anywhere from three years to life after their release.

Harsh sentences and tracking of criminals after they've served their sentence may raise some concerns from civil libertarians, but those pale in comparison to the impact of the crimes themselves, McDonnell said.

"These people are very dangerous. The recidivism rates are higher than most other crimes," he said. "There's no good treatment for pedophiles, and so you¹ve got to keep these dangerous people off the streets longer."

McDonnell also said he was watching the case of convicted Winchester killer Edward Bell with interest.

Bell was convicted in 2001 of the 1999 murder of Winchester police Sgt.Ricky Timbrook. McDonnell¹s office represents the commonwealth in the case.

While he couldn't talk about the case itself, McDonnell said an ad run by GOP gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore -- in which Timbrook's wife said she didn¹t trust Kaine to carry out a death sentence -- will have little impact on Bell's federal appeal.

"I don¹t think judges are influenced that much by what happens during a campaign. They¹re going to make sure that the law is faithfully discharged,"
he said.

But, McDonnell said, it will be "interesting" to see how Kaine handles the case -- which could be his first petition for clemency.

"Tim Kaine seems to me, from the two months I've dealt with him, to be a smart guy," he said. "He'll approach the case in a very factual way."


Full Story...

One on One: Attorney General Bob McDonnell

Attorney General Bob McDonnell spent some time with the Northern Virginia Daily one-on-one this morning, talking about his legislative agenda, his first clash with Gov. Tim Kaine, abortion rights, sexual predators and a prominent death penalty case from the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

Watch this space tonight for the full story...


Full Story...

Kaine in Iraq

The Associated Press is reporting that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is in Iraq today, along with four other governors, visiting National Guard troops. He is said to have left Sunday night secretly, under tight Department of Defense security.

He's due back Friday.


Full Story...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Assembly adjourns, will return; A1

Special session set for March 27
By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

The Virginia General Assembly adjourned Saturday without finishing its work on a two-year state budget, leading Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to call lawmakers back to Richmond for a special session on March 27.

House and Senate leaders had been going back and forth for months over a two-year spending plan for the state, but neither side was willing to give ground on the key item of the session — transportation.

Senate leaders proposed more than $1 billion per year in tax hikes to pay for transportation improvements, while the House backed a $2 billion, four-year plan that spends existing revenue and floats bonds to pay for major projects in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

The House plan also contains an extra $50 million for car-tax relief.

There was plenty of finger-pointing to go around when the final gavel fell.

“We would have a budget today if Governor Kaine had kept the commitment made by candidate Kaine not to raise taxes,” House Speaker William Howell, R-Fredericksburg, said after the session.

“Remember, it was just five days before the election that he said ‘we’re going to have to live within our means,’” Howell said.

“We would have a budget today if the Senate ended its recently adopted practice of intertwining tax increases into its budget bill.”

Including tax hikes in the budget bill, rather than raising them via separate action, is a novel idea and quite likely unconstitutional, he added.

Senate leaders responded that they did pass the tax hikes, while the House of Delegates was content to let them die in committee.

Howell said House negotiators would meet with Senate leaders anytime before the session. The two sides are too close on almost every area except transportation spending to justify not making a deal.

But almost the entire Senate stood together at a press conference on Thursday and decried the entire philosophy of the House budget.

The bottom lines for schools, police, social services and higher education may be close, but the underlying strategies that get them there aren’t compatible at all — higher taxes versus bonded debt and some spending cuts.

House Minority Leader Brian Moran, D-Alexandria, said the House plan leaves core services shortchanged to avoid transportation tax hikes.

“The House Republicans’ plan could not meet the transportation needs without cuts in other core areas and increased debt,” he said.

He also accused the House of playing “mean-spirited, divisive games — such as attacking [Secretary of the Commonwealth nominee] Daniel LeBlanc — instead of addressing the business of the people.”

The bitter split between the House and Senate was no more evident than when the two chambers attempted to come up with a joint resolution that would have allowed them, not Kaine, to set the terms of a special session.

Unlike regular sessions, special sessions are restricted to the subject matter in the proclamation that initiates them. While the governor can call one at any time, the General Assembly can compel him to call one on their terms with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Centreville, wanted to add “transportation” to the call resolution in the Senate.

If the Senate is to come back and deal with the budget and the transportation plans deeply interwoven in them, legislators need some leeway to talk about non-monetary transportation issues.

But key Senate leaders vehemently opposed the idea, saying it would be all but impossible to define a “transportation bill.”
Sen. John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg, was far more blunt.

“Unless you want to spend the summer here in this building dealing with transportation bills of every description, I would suggest you reject the amendments at hand,” he said.

Kaine beat both chambers to the punch and issued his own call for a special session to include transportation before the two chambers could agree on their own resolutions.


Full Story...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sine Die

It's over. Both Houses have approved the sine die resolution.

Onward to March 27...


Full Story...

Special Session: The Call


**Gov. Tim Kaine's proclamation, calling for the special session.

It's not really a photo, but it's a lot more germane to the post than anything else I've ever put up here.


Full Story...

Eminent Domain, Death Tax Death Watch

Senate Floor Leader Thomas K. Norment, R-Williamsburg, has told his colleagues that, failing significant movement by either side in the next hour by 5:30 p.m., all outstanding bills dealing with eminent domain, the repeal of the estate tax and others will die, and adjournment sine die is just a gavel away.

More as it happens, because I don't have much else to do today...


Full Story...

It's official: Special Session

Gov. TIm Kaine has just called a special session to begin March 27. In the process, he short circuited last minute wrangling between the House and Senate over what could be considered during the session. See the last update below.

More later...


Full Story...

March Madness, Richmond Style UPDATED

For the handful of readers who have nothing better to do on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, the House and Senate are working hard and fast to wrap up what legislation they can and lay the groundwork for a special session to start next week March 27.

Taking advantage of a provision in the state constitution, the Senate passed a resolution asking the governor to call them into special session to talk about the budget — not transportation. The resolution passed unanimously, but not until a brief debate between Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax, and Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, over adding "transportation" to the docket of the extraordinary session.

Cuccinelli's amendments were defeated in a voice vote.

But things aren't cruising along on the House side, either. House Joint Resolution 555, which mirrors the Senate resolution, failed in a 58-to-41 vote. If the leadership can't get 67 of its members to go along with the resolution, the "call" of the special session will be in the hands of Gov. Tim Kaine, D.

With 2/3 support of the resolution, legislators set the times and matters that can be considered. Without it, it's up to Kaine to call the tune for the special session.

UPDATED

The House has taken up the Senate version of the resolution, SJR 306, and approved it 96-to-0. Del. Vince Calahan, R-McLean, attatched an amendment to the bill that, according to Sen. John Chichester, R-Frederickburg, would prevent the Senate from introducing its own budget. That amendment was rejected unanimously and sent back to the House of Delegates.

UPDATED 2
Done deal. Kaine has just called a special session, March 27 at noon, to deal with the budget and transportation issues.


Full Story...

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.


Full Story...

Friday, March 10, 2006

Special Session? 'That is a foregone conclusion'

A somewhat slow Senate session perked up today with a series of floor speeches about the state of things in Richmond.

At the conclusion of some very interesting comments, Sen. Thomas K. Norment, R-Williamsburg, the floor leader, told members to start thinking about when they'd like to come back to Richmond.

"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," Norment said. "If it is not, then I am certain his excellency [Gov. Tim Kaine] will do it. That is a foregone conclusion, that we will have a special session."

Norment said the House had expressed a preference for a special session after the reconvened session on April 19, but that hasn't been confirmed by members of the House of Delegates yet.

The Senate will reconvene Saturday at 11 a.m.

More here later...


Full Story...

Inside the GAB



**Two views of the marble staircase that leads from the main floor of the General Assembly building to the basement, home of the Bill Room and Press Dungeon. What does this have to do with anything? Not much. But it's my camera, and this page needs some art.


Full Story...

Land-use reform plan dies in ruling; A1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

RICHMOND — A last-minute effort to resuscitate a key part of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s transportation and land-use reform package, an idea supported by a number of localities in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, came up short on Thursday.

During the campaign and in his first months in office, Kaine, a Democrat, put his support behind legislation that would have allowed local governments to stop rezonings that, while otherwise allowable, would have overburdened an area’s transportation system.

But a parliamentary ruling on Thursday by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, stating that the substitute was not germane to the bill it was replacing, killed the measure for the year.

Virginia’s constitution and General Assembly rules allow for bills to only encompass one subject.

Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, introduced a bill that would have accomplished much the same, but a House committee killed it earlier in the session before it could come to the floor for a vote.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, tried to resurrect the measure this week in the form of a change to an existing bill dealing with proffers and road construction, House Bill 1192.

Hanger sought to ease concerns that the bill might start the commonwealth down the road toward sanctioning adequate public facilities ordinances.

Such local laws allow for a government to stop developments that would otherwise be allowed if there isn’t enough capacity in local schools, roads or other public infrastructure to handle them.

Hanger contended that even though his changes to the bill did give locals more power, it was a far cry from an adequate public facilities law.

A true APF ordinance would allow “by-right” development, or development that doesn’t require rezoning, to be stopped, he said, while his bill only stops rezonings.

It was also key to fixing the state’s transportation problems — such “cost controls” have to go hand in hand with new transportation funding.

Shenandoah County could have made good use of a local veto power, be it part of an APF ordinance or not, said District 6 Supervisor Conrad Helsley, who represents Strasburg and its surroundings.

Counties the size of Shenandoah that are dealing with growth issues need tools like the one proposed by Kaine to help keep development moving without having it take over, Helsley said.

“I think it would have been just another tool,” he said.

Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rich-ard Traczyk said he was disappointed that the bill died, but wasn’t surprised.

“Places like Front Royal are not at the critical state yet” for traffic problems, he said. But it would have been much easier to keep that from happening had the authority become law.

“That’s another critical piece [of authority] that could let the localities control that process,” he said.

Others, including Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, have argued that allowing local governments to veto projects that would have otherwise been allowed can only drive up the cost of housing, which is already out of reach for many young families.

The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Saturday.


Full Story...

House bill would bring taxes overhaul; B1

By Garren Shipley and William Flook
(Daily Staff Writers)

RICHMOND — Virginia legislators have signed off on a major overhaul of state and local telecommunication taxes that, for some, might mean a lower bill.

For others, it’s a definite tax hike.

House Bill 568, patroned by Del. Samuel A. Nixon, R-Richmond, repeals virtually all state and local taxes on all telephone, cable television and other telecom services and replaces them with a flat 5 percent levy.

Taxes would be paid to the state, which would then distribute the money to local governments based on the rates they had in effect as of Jan. 1.

But the bill also extends the new 5 percent tax to two areas that up until now had been tax free — satellite radio and satellite television.

That tends to level the playing field for cable providers, said David Ferguson, vice president of customer service for Shentel. Shentel provides telephone, cable and Internet service for a number of homes from Strasburg to Harrisonburg.

“That’s absolutely one of the benefits,” he said. But it could also be a boon to consumers, who have been paying cable franchise fees and E-911 fees that vary wildly from place to place.

If approved by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the change would make it easier for Shentel to collect and remit the various fees, Ferguson said. Everyone wins, he said, as long as the state doesn’t shortchange local governments.

“The trick is going to be keeping municipalities whole,” he said.

Jeff LeHew, president of Via Satellite Inc., a major provider of satellite television in the region, is not a fan of the new tax, which he expects will reflect in his customers’ monthly bills.

But he’s also concerned about the tax being applied across the board to satellite television’s constant rival: cable.

“As long as every pay-TV service is paying the same amount of money with the increase, then I’m not as unhappy about it,” LeHew said. “But I still don’t like to see our customers have to pay more.”

Kaine is reviewing the bill and hasn’t said whether he will sign it, according to spokesman Kevin Hall.

The bill completely reworks how cities, counties and towns deal with communications taxes.

In Shenandoah County, for example, telephone customers pay a bevy of state and local fees, including state and local fees for 911 services, utility taxes along with state and local sales taxes.

Cellular phones incur sales taxes, a separate 911 fee, as well as state and local levies. Cable television incurs utility taxes and franchise fees, among others.

Now, all phones will be charged a 75-cent 911 fee each month. It was $2.05 in Shenandoah County, according to Shentel’s Ferguson.

Utility tax money isn’t chump change, either. Shenandoah County takes in more than $1 million per year in utility taxes, according to Deborah Reedy, the county’s chief deputy treasurer.

Collecting the funds will be much simpler if the bill becomes law, she added.

But the measure wasn’t popular with the Northern Shenandoah Valley’s legislative delegation. In fact, the only member who didn’t vote against the measure was state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, who abstained.

The reasoning is simple, according to Del. Clay Athey, R-Front Royal — for a number of rural customers, the bill represents a tax hike.

“It taxes cell phone use and it taxes satellite use … for the first time,” Athey said.

In his district, residents in Middletown and Front Royal have been paying taxes on cable for some time. But a large number have small satellite dishes, and this would be the first time taxes are levied on those bills.

“I felt like it was actually a net loss for us,” Athey said. Still, the bill is not without merit.

“I understand the principle behind it. [But] from my standpoint, I’m not sure we should be taxing any [communications services].”


Full Story...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

UPDATED House Conferees: 'We're close,' Senate: 'No we're not'

Conferees suggest budget deal is close, gasoline, other taxes only sticking point

"Right now, the obstacle to reaching an agreement is the Senate conferees insistence on including tax increases, including a sales tax on gasoline, in the budget," said Del. Vince Callahan, R-Fairfax, at a press conference earlier today.

Both Houses are all but in agreement on everything but transportation. Education, a sticking point in years past, has been reduced to a debate over whether teachers get a 3 percent or 4 percent raise, he said. Other delegates have suggested today that a special session might be a more proper way to deal with the transportation deadlock.

"Given the minor differences in the core areas of general spending, I feel it is unconscionable to hold the budget hostage to an increase in the gas tax," he said. "In 1986, Gov. Baliles did not hold the budget hostage in order to get a transportation package. He separated the responsibilities of funding public education and mental health and held a special session months later devoted solely to transportation."

UPDATE: Senate holds press conference, says 'vast, inky gulfs' separate two houses

Senators took a break from their session to contradict the statements of 'the more numerous body.' More than 30 members of the Senate stood together behind the podium to knock down any thought that a deal was at hand.

"I'm sorry that our good friends [in the House] have mislead a few people," said Sen. John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg.

The differences between the bodies are "not miniscule by any stretch," he said. He also rejected the idea of passing a budget and coming back to talk about transportation.

Senators will be there to talk "day in, day out, night in, night out," until they can do a deal. While the final spending numbers are close on both sides, where the money comes from is a 'vast, inky gulf' between the two bodies.

"We'll listen to anything they propose," Chichester said. But the Senate simply can't abide using the General Fund as a source of dedicated transportation funding.


Full Story...

Who wants limeade?


Wednesday was an interesting day to be in the General Assembly Building. Budget and Transportation issues notwithstanding, there was a definite "last week of school" vibe about the building.

Committee rooms are empty, calendars have fewer and fewer pages and it's not uncommon to hear the odd group of punchy legislators crack wise on the floor of the House of Delegates.

That has things kind of slow in the press dungeon. Until Wednesday afternoon, anyway, when a little birdie told the press corps that Gov. Tim Kaine was very, very thirsty, and would be on his way to Chickens for a limeade ... oh, and he might take some questions.

There's plenty out there about the ensuing press conference, and neither I nor the iBook of Mild Peril can add anything to it here, except to pass on this tidbit...

The press gaggle was in the Patrick Henry Building's elevator lobby, a place determined by physicists to be the single most likely place to find a House or Senate page making a food run for a legislator. Gov. Kaine was standing close to the elevators in the hot glare of TV cameras, when the doors opened to reveal a young page.

The poor kid peeked out, saw the governor and the press corps. After freezing for two eye-bugged seconds, he just leaned back into the elevator and let the door close.

Most people don't expect to find the Governor and 97 reporters between them and a limeade...

**Pictured above is iBook of Mild Peril, hard at work in the spiffy Capitol Square office of the Northern Virginia Daily. Once again, this photo is largely unrelated to the post, but I brought the camera, and thus others must suffer as well.


Full Story...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Senator: Plan by STAR Solutions probably dead; A1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Even with two attempts to scrap a plan for a major expansion of Interstate 81 in the legislative dustbin, the concept of a 12-lane, truck-tolled highway is dead, according to one Shenandoah Valley senator.

“I don’t think any of that is going to happen,” said Sen. Emmett W. Hanger, R-Mount Solon, after Tuesday’s Senate session in Richmond.

Hanger, who represents the Shenandoah Valley from south of Harrisonburg to Lexington, said a plan offered by construction consortium STAR Solutions to add multiple lanes to the highway and pay for it with tolls on big rigs probably won’t come to pass.

Hanger won approval on Tuesday for Senate Resolution 19, which asks the Virginia Department of Transportation to get on the stick with federally funded improvements to the highway, plan for rail projects to take some trucks off the road and report back next year.

SR 19, which won approval on an unrecorded voice vote, is the third attempt this year to tell VDOT what to do about the state’s longest interstate.

Both Hanger and Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, originally introduced resolutions that “requested” the department to stop dealing with STAR.

Efforts to kill the negotiations outright ran into a brick wall in the House Rules Committee earlier this year.

“It was clear that, at least in House Rules, there’s still support there for the STAR Solutions proposal — or at least they want the process to run its course,” Hanger said.

The senator went back to VDOT and came up with changes that would request “what is doable,” he said. Gilbert made no bones about his opposition to the “watered down” version of the resolution and said he’d work to kill it out
of concern that it would endorse the STAR plan.

But “I really believe we’ve basically won that argument,” Hanger said of STAR’s initial plan, due in large part to organized opposition from valley residents.

It didn’t hurt the cause when Congress balked at providing $1.6 billion for the project in last year’s transportation spending bill. I-81 did come away with $141 million for expansion, but that’s not nearly enough to do the work that STAR had in mind.

“That concept is dead in the water,” Hanger said. “There’s no money available from Congress anywhere near what they thought would be available.”

That’s one reason Hanger agreed to change his resolution from calling off the negotiations to its current form.

“I don’t want them to fiddle around any longer,” he said.

Hanger says his resolution has been unfairly construed as an endorsement of the STAR Solutions project. That’s why the House Rules Committee killed it, he said.

It does no such thing, Hanger said, and he defended it on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday when questioned by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.

“Is it [Sen. Hanger’s] intention by this resolution to urge VDOT to proceed with the STAR Solutions proposal?” Obenshain asked. Hanger bristled at the implication.

“I’ve been one of the more outspoken critics of the STAR proposal,” he said. “This resolution does not do that at all.”

“There’s enough things on the paper without reading things into it that aren’t there,” he said after the session.

Misinformation and confusion is unfortunate, he said, but also par for the course in Virginia’s high-speed legislature.

“It happens sometimes,” Hanger said. “We’re down here and things happen so
quickly.”


Full Story...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Va. Senate OKs bill to conceal gun in car; B1

Amendment would require firearm to be in a locked area

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

A bill that would let drivers legally carry guns in their glove boxes came under heavy fire in the Virginia Senate on Monday, but passed after some heated debate.

House Bill 1106, offered by Del. Clifford L. “Clay” Athey Jr., R-Front Royal, as amended by the Senate, clarifies that it is legal for drivers to carry a gun in the glove box or other compartment of their car, provided it is locked.

It passed 23-17. The bill passed the House of Delegates 60-39 in February, albeit without the “locked compartment” language.

Virginia law allows, in most cases, for the open carrying of firearms, including inside a car. But it takes a permit issued by a court to carry a concealed weapon — and a gun in the glove box counts as a concealed weapon.

“I was surprised when I learned that it was not legal,” Athey said Monday.
Athey said he thinks his bill clarifies a “gray area” in Virginia’s gun laws, but brought it forward for more personal reasons.

“My wife and I travel from Warren County to Richmond on a very regular basis,” he said. And when they go, they’re packing heat.

“People generally don’t get murdered every day [in Front Royal] like it seems they do here in Richmond,” he said. “Richmond is not a very safe place. Traveling on the road isn’t very safe as well.”

Athey said he wanted to make it possible for people, like his wife and legislative aide, to put a gun in the glove box and leave it there.

“My wife is not someone who’s a gun aficionado. She has no interest in getting a concealed weapons permit,” he said. The couple are expecting twins in the not too distant future, and “it doesn’t make a lot of sense” for the law to encourage people to “leave a loaded gun in an open car with children in there.”

Sen. Kenneth Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, a former law en-forcement officer, argued against changing the law, on the grounds that it would make the already dangerous job of police that much more dangerous.

“Anybody can carry a gun in a vehicle.” Anyone can carry a gun, including “drug dealers,” Stolle argued. Loosening the restrictions on firearms in such a way will “jeopardize the safety of every law enforcement officer” who makes a traffic stop.

“You’re losing control over concealed weapons,” he said.

Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, cited the recent death of state Trooper Kevin C. Manion in his opposition.
Manion was killed while in-vestigating a vehicle crash in Clarke County. A gun in a wrecked pickup discharged, and he was struck in the chest.

Saslaw said he had just “signed a memorial resolution” for Manion. “I would hope we don’t have any more memorial resolutions” for fallen officers, he said.

But Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Centreville, argued that someone who would use a firearm for ill intent wouldn’t be stopped by a law. And the people who would be legally allowed to put a gun in the glove box can legally keep the gun in the seat right beside them.

Speaking after the House session on Monday, Athey said he agreed with the substance of Cuccinelli’s argument.

“Someone who is going to commit a criminal act is going to commit a criminal act,” he said. “Law-abiding citizens are not.

Somebody who is going to do a drive-by shooting isn’t going to care if they’ve got a misdemeanor conviction tagged on for carrying an illegally concealed weapon.”


Full Story...

Convicted murderer Bell reaching end of possible last appeal; B1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

If Edward Bell wants taxpayers to pick up the tab to prove his lawyers were ineffective at his sentencing in 2001, he’ll have to show his argument to the commonwealth.

Bell was convicted in 2001 of the October 1999 murder of Winchester police Sgt. Ricky Timbrook, and is reaching the end of what is likely his last substantive appeal — and last chance to avoid the death chamber.

A federal court in Abingdon is considering Bell’s petition for habeas corpus, a final review of the legality of his trial and death sentence.

U.S. District Chief Judge James P. Jones has already turned away arguments that Bell is retarded and ineligible for the death penalty, or was due a new trial because he was not told immediately that he had the right to help from the Jamaican embassy.

Bell, a resident alien, had also argued that his lawyers were ineffective at trial and during his sentencing.
Jones threw out all but the last argument, and has scheduled an evidentiary hearing for July on the matter.

If successful in July, Bell will get a new sentencing with a new legal team. If he fails, his only hope for life lies in a relatively rare intervention by the Fourth Circuit Court of Ap-peals or U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine could also grant clemency. Timbrook’s widow, Kelly Timbrook, ap-peared in Republican campaign commercials during the run-up to the November election, in which she said she didn’t trust Kaine to uphold Bell’s sentence.

To prepare for the hearing, Bell lawyers Matthew Roskoski and Jay Connell asked Jones to let them make their case for outside investigative help ex parte, or without letting the other side see his argument.

Such one-sided arguments are uncommon. Federal court rules require in almost all cases for both sides to see everything that is presented to a judge in almost every type of proceeding.

But they are warranted in this case, according to Bell’s lawyers, because of past harassment of potential witnesses by police and interference from prosecutors.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Katherine Baldwin called that argument “slanderous” in the state’s response to the motion, and dismissed them as just another tactic to keep Bell alive.

U.S. District Chief Judge James P. Jones turned away Bell’s request with a short, two-page opinion filed on Sunday.
Jones simply pointed to his ruling in 2005 on an earlier request Bell’s team made for an ex parte presentation.

At that time, Bell had hoped to get taxpayers to pick up the tab for an outside investigator and other experts to provide evidence that the convict was mentally retarded.

Jones turned away both the application for ex parte assistance and later found that, under Virginia’s definition, Bell wasn’t mentally incompetent and was eligible for the death penalty.

“For the reasons stated by the state in its opposition to this motion, and for the reasons stated by the court in denying an earlier similar request by the petitioner … I find that the petitioner has not made a sufficient showing to justify an ex parte application,” Jones wrote Sunday.


Full Story...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Competing roads plans scrutinized; A1

Conferees have until Tuesday to finish negotiating

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Virginia’s fight over transportation spent its first full day behind closed doors on Friday.

Negotiators from the House and Senate have begun their work reconciling the two competing visions of the state’s budget, both of which contain plans to help the state’s ailing transpor-tation system.

Both sides made a brief ap-pearance with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine — who has a transportation plan of his own — on Thursday evening. But the real work will be done, delegates and senators said, behind closed doors, on phone calls and in unscheduled meetings.

Conferees have until Tuesday — if they’re to remain on schedule to adjourn by March 11 — to complete their negotiations.

Whether or not that will happen is an open question. The last time legislators came together to craft a two-year budget plan, the session went into overtime with threats of a government shutdown and a special session.

In the meantime, there’s no shortage of opinions to be had.

State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, issued a rare public statement on Friday, supporting the Senate’s vision of higher taxes in exchange for about $1 billion in new transportation spending each year.

“Unless we address these problems immediately, we face a transportation crisis of extreme proportions,” Potts says in the statement.

Local governments would gain more autonomy under the Senate’s plan, he said, in the form of $422 million in local transit funding raised via a tax on sellers of real estate, while the House of Delegates plan contains no new local revenue, Potts says.

House leaders have said in the past that while their plan doesn’t raise taxes for local governments, it does make it easier for them to accept proffers from developers and use the money for local transportation projects.

It also expands a “cost sharing” program in which local governments can get state money to help them build their own projects, rather than waiting on the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Elsewhere in Capitol Square, others were hoping to focus the debate on the economy’s bottom line.

The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, a moderate-to-conservative, Virginia-centric think tank, released the results of economic modeling done in conjunction with Suffolk University in Massachusetts on each of the three competing transit plans at a press conference.

The results were surprising, according to Michael W. Thompson, the institute’s president and chairman.

Under the plan proposed by Kaine, the government would see $2.7 billion in new revenue over four years and the private sector would pick up almost 6,900 new jobs.

Under the Senate plan, the government would see an extra $4.5 billion in revenue with about 1,000 fewer jobs created.

The “no tax hike” plan from delegates would only raise $729 million, due in large part to the fact that it spends existing revenue. But it would also create more than 8,000 new jobs.

“Clearly the difference between the proposals … [is that the House plan’s] private sector employment is significantly more than the other two,” Thompson said. “Because you’re not raising taxes, you’re growing the private sector.”

There are limits to modeling, though.

“We all know that it is not how much money is spent, but where and how it is spent that is important,” he said.

Thompson was adamant that the think tank wasn’t taking sides — just crunching numbers. All three can find something in the document to hang their hats on.

“All three of these plans are better than if you did nothing,” he said.

The model that generated the numbers will be made available to legislators earlier next week, Thompson said, in hopes of helping them find the best solution for the state’s economy.


Full Story...