GOP House smacks GOP guv on bonuses, 25 amendments

May 15, 2012 • Business

House Clerk G. Paul Nardo, right, looks at a document on his desk as delegates huddle around the Speaker’s podium during the floor session of the House of Delegates at the State Capitol in Richmond, VA Monday, May 14, 2012. The [auth] General Assembly is back in town to deal with gubernatorial amendments to the budget and also with election of certain judges. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The House of Delegates bullied Gov. Bob McDonnell on more than two dozen amendments he offered to the budget for the current fiscal year, including rejecting a proposal that put state employee pay bonuses in doubt. In a marathon session, 29 of the 106 amendments the Republican governor offered to two bills that direct state spending through June 2014 lay dead. The heavily Republican House did most of the damage, rejecting 23 amendments. The Senate, by 10:30 p.m., killed five more. McDonnell withdrew three of his own amendments before lawmakers took them up. In an extraordinary rebuke to a sitting governor, many of McDonnell’s amendments were rejected on lopsided bipartisan votes, and none more emphatically than his effort to tie a proposed one-time 3 percent bonus for state employees to state agencies’ ability to cut costs by $70 million in six weeks. McDonnell, in a late-night news release, sought to put the brightest spin on a clearly painful day, noting that 72 percent of his amendments survived, but saying it is “unfortunate that the General Assembly also rejected several important amendments that would have helped with our ongoing effort to control state spending.” More often than not, senior House Republicans led the charge against the amendments. House leaders from both parties grumbled at what they said were unprecedented efforts by to micromanage and use the budget to resurrect policy initiatives defeated by the 2012 legislative session, led the charge against amendments. “There were just too many amendments,” said Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, and a senior member of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. “We had spent many many hours cramped up in budget conference during a very long process.” Appropriations Committee chairman Lacey Putney, a conservative independent from Bedford who, in his 51st House session, is Virginia’s longest-serving legislator in Virginia history, said he had seen nothing comparable Monday’s running rebuff of McDonnell. At one point, delegates of both parties seemed to revel in humiliating the governor. In the budget bill for the final weeks of the fiscal year that ends in six weeks, the House voted 0-95 to reject the conditions that McDonnell’s amendment attached to the 3 percent bonus for state employees. Nearly four hours later, when delegates encountered the same amendment in the new $85 billion biennial budget, they initially voted 2-94 to reject it. Then, amid giddy laughter, reconsidered the amendment only to deepen indignity and defeat it 1-95. Del. Tim Hugo, fearing lasting damage to his party’s governor and potential vice presidential running mate, urged colleagues to temper the beating. “I think we’ve made our point,” he said. Jones spoke against the state employee bonus amendment, calling it impractical and, for some agencies, a hurdle so high it would be insurmountable. The Department of Corrections, for instance, would have had to pare its spending by more than $7 million in a month and a half. The House also resoundingly defeated McDonnell amendments that would have: — modified contingencies to deal with economic damage from federal military base closures in Virginia should Congress not agree to raise the debt ceiling; — allowed greater sharing of sensitive data about Virginia among state agencies and private contractors who run Virginia’s information technology networks; — removed added funding for evaluating sexually violent predators. The House also voted 22-74 to shoot down a McDonnell amendment withholding state funding for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority until Virginia is given seven seats on the MWAA governing board. McDonnell’s most notable Senate defeats were to amendments that would have required elected officials to immediately pay the same 5 percent into the state pension fund that public employees will pay, and another that allowed money from the general fund, which covers such core services as health care, public schools and public safety, for transportation. Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, sai d McDonnell’s pension amendment was flawed because it would have improperly required sitting senators to increase their own pay by 5 percent, then turn the raise over as an increased contribution to the underfunded Virginia Retirement System. No Senate pay raise could take effect until a newly elected Senate is seated in 2016. McDonnell pre-emptively surrendered on three of his amendments. One of them would have cut $2.5 million over the next two years to Area Agencies on Aging, one would have pared $175,000 from a college readiness pilot project, and another would have changed the source of funding for state Poison Control Centers. “This would fall under the category of ‘never mind,'” a weary-looking Del. S. Chris Jones said of the withdrawn amendment to cut funding for the Agencies on Aging. “They would have to exceed the costs by about 50 percent for that, and it would be problematic for certain agencies,” Jones told the House seconds before its emphatic and unanimous rebuke to a governor. The result was equally surprising as Republicans abandoned the governor in an attempted power play in McDonnell’s ongoing feud with MWAA’s management. Without additional Virginia seats that he would fill on the board comprised of appointees from Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and the president, Virginia would withhold funding. Democratic Del. Ken Plum of Fairfax said the amendment not only would pre-empt legislative and court efforts to resolve the dispute between McDonnell and the multi-jurisdictional agency that oversees Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Jones called the amendment “inartfully drawn” and agreed that it should be rejected.

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