Editorial: Senate Democrat Brinksmanship on Budget Harms Virginia

The Virginia Senate has long been a bastion on civility in politics. Despite significant differences between both the ideology and the policy perspectives of the two major parties, the Virginia Senate has historically been able to work across party lines to achieve results that benefit the Commonwealth as a whole.

Yesterday’s deliberate blocking of the state budget by Senate Democrats is an unfortunate reversal of so many years of bipartisanship. While the blocking of legislation one party views as unfavorable is a common occurrence in any legislature, what happened yesterday represents the worst kind of partisanship. The behavior of Senate Democrats throughout these budget debates is nothing short of reprehensible.

Beginning shortly after the seating of the new Senate, Senate Democrats began to posture, making it clear they would not agree to a budget unless Republicans conceded to power-sharing. After failing to win that political argument, they took their argument to the courts. After failing to win the argument in the courts, they compromised and agreed to budget talks.

From the beginning of those talks, however, it became clear that Senate Democrats were looking for any excuse to justify voting down the budget. Doing so provided two benefits that proved irresistible: first, it allowed them to give a black eye to Governor Bob McDonnell in a critical time when the decision and vetting of Vice Presidential candidates is being made and, second, it allows them to put pressure on Republicans for even greater concessions during a federal election year where Virginia will be a key battleground.

These are both purely partisan reasons, reinforced by the fact that the Democrats’ primary reason for objecting to the budget was funding support for a Northern Virginia transportation project. They went so far as to use the exact same arguments that Republican candidates used during the 2011 campaign – arguments that at least one Senate Democrat called misleading and based on bad data. Further, these arguments were relatively novel, appearing over the course of the last two weeks, and not part of past objections to the budget.

The rejection of the budget leaves the General Assembly in limbo, thanks to procedural rules that do not allow for the reconsideration of a portion of it. The General Assembly will need to start over in order to pass a budget that is both responsible and fulfills Virginia’s constitutional requirement of a balanced budget.

Thanks to their brinksmanship, Senate Democrats have put the entire Commonwealth government in a holding pattern. Teachers, police, public sector workers, health care providers and many, many others face the prospect of layoffs or furloughs in just a few weeks if the budget is not passed. The same people whom Senate Democrats claim Republicans don’t care about will suffer thanks to their behavior. And all, purportedly, over an 11.5 mile rail project that benefits one Senate District and one region of Virginia.

The time for compromise is over. House and Senate Republicans, along with Governor McDonnell and Lt. Governor Bolling, have bent over backwards in providing concessions to Senate Democrats, funding their priorities and working with them to craft a budget all could agree to. If the Senate Democrats are willing to torpedo an $85 billion budget over a $300 million earmark, it is clear they were never truly negotiating in good faith. Future budget proposals should reflect Republican priorities and Democrats can either accept them or accept the full blame for shutting down Virginia’s government.

Elections have consequences. It is time that Senate Democrats recognize that reality.

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