Democrats in the Virginia Senate have again prevented the passage of the state’s budget for the next two years in an ongoing fight over funding for transportation projects, particularly the Dulles Metrorail extension.
Both the House of Delegates and Senate convened in special session Tuesday afternoon to vote on the compromise budget adopted by a conference committee between the two chambers. The Republican-dominated House accepted the conference report but the Senate, which is evenly divided between the two parties, voted it down.
Republicans warned of drastic consequences for continuing to delay the budget passage. In a letter to Senate Democrats on Monday, Gov, Robert F. McDonnell (R) said the Virginia Department of Transportation is already preparing for a government shutdown.
“If there is no budget passed on Tuesday, there will be prompt adverse consequences on local governments and schools, as well as VDOT and other state agencies postponing contracts due to the uncertainty of funding,” McDonnell wrote.
However, Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Dist. 35), of Springfield, cited examples of years that the state has adopted budgets in May or even June. The current fiscal year ends June 30.
Saslaw and other Democrats said the General Assembly can afford to invest more time in working on the budget to find funding for transportation projects.
Democrats in both the House and Senate say that the state should invest more transportation dollars in buying down toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road and on a project in Hampton Roads. The Senate version of the budget included $300 million for the rail extension to Dulles Airport, which would help reduce the amount of funding for that project that is financed on toll revenues.
“The entire project is at risk if the commonwealth does not come forward with more funding,” said Sen. Janet Howell (D-Dist. 32) of Reston. “I am sorry that we are in this position, but we have to protect the toll-payers up in Northern Virginia.”
She said the project will benefit the entire state because of the “economic bonanza” it will generate in the Dulles corridor.
Some Republican senators who support additional transportation spending said they don’t think the debate is worth sinking the entire state budget.
“We cannot say that we’re going to hold the budget hostage for one project in one county,” said Sen. Richard Black (R-Dist. 13), of Loudoun County.
The General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday for its so-called veto session, when it addresses legislation that the legislature passed during the regular session and McDonnell subsequently amended or vetoed.
The next steps for addressing the state budget have not yet been announced.