After a Tuesday vote that threatened to send state budget negotiators back to the drawing board for a fourth time, a state senator from Manassas apparently had a change of heart Wednesday, allowing the $85 billion, two-year spending plan to pass.
The Senate approved the conference report that reconciled the House of Delegates and Senate versions of the budget with a 21-19 vote Wednesday. There was no floor debate. Sen. Charles Colgan (D-Dist. 29) joined Republicans in approving the bill.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said Colgan demonstrated “courage and statesmanship” with his vote.
The most recent issue that had deadlocked senators and prevented the budget’s passage on Tuesday was toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road and the Midtown Tunnel in Hampton Roads.
Democratic senators were holding out for the additional funding the Senate version of the budget had set aside for those projects, including $300 million for the Dulles Metrorail extension that local officials said would offset potential rate increases on the Dulles Toll Road. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is financing a significant portion of the $6 billion rail line with bonds backed by future toll revenues.
“The entire project is at risk if the commonwealth does not come forward with more funding,” Sen. Janet Howell (D-Dist. 32) of Reston said during floor debate on Tuesday. “I am sorry that we are in this position, but we have to protect the toll-payers up in Northern Virginia.”
Howell added the rail project will benefit the entire state because of the “economic bonanza” it will generate in the Dulles corridor.
McDonnell criticized Senate Democrats for tying up the entire state budget for the sake of one project.
“Budgets are generally a tapestry of compromises. No budget contains funding for every program that each legislator supports,” he said.
The final budget plan also contains additional “cost to compete” funding, which helps Northern Virginia localities pay higher salaries to teachers to offset higher costs of living. Restoring this funding, which McDonnell had proposed cutting, was another key priority for local legislators.