At today’s closing of the General Assembly session, one man stood out as the kingpin of the Virginia legislature in a way never seen before in modern history: House Speaker William Howell. Not only did he shepard HB 3202 through several near-death experiences over the past few weeks, but in the last day of the session when it was do-or-die for transportation reform he managed to cement the House and Senate majorities together, and hold them together to the end. It was a classic Senate vs. House battle, but it turned into a Republican vs. Democrat battle.
I recall Bill Bolling describing his experience in the Senate, when as a junior senator he gave an impassioned speech to the Republican caucus urging them to take the fight to the Democrats, and was pulled aside by a senior senator and told “you know Bill, it’s not the Democrats who are the enemy — it’s the House of Delegates.” Perhaps in other legislative bodies the battles are amongst members of competing parties. In Virginia, it has been a battle between the two legislative bodies for as long as anyone can remember. Today something different happened.
When Chichester stood up in the Senate today and threw everything he could into his battle to stop HB 3202, it was certainly a tried-and-true tactic which had worked consistently in the past. Today the landscape has entirely changed, and Chichester failed at every turn to stop a bill that didn’t conform to his unique views on raising taxes. Speaker Howell ruled the General Assembly today, while Chichester was blindsided and ineffective. Through some deft parlimentary maneuvers, considerable arm twisting, and remarkable leadership there is now one Republican caucus in Richmond, and Speaker Howell is in charge.
And that is a Very Good Thing.
Statement of House Speaker William J. Howell
– Regarding the Successful Conclusion of Budget Negotiations on House Bill 1650 –
RICHMOND, VA – Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) today issued the following statement regarding the Report of the Committee of Conference for House Bill 1650, amendments to the current 2006-2008 Biennial Budget:
“The news that budget negotiators on behalf of the House and Senate have successfully reached an agreement on House Bill 1650 is both exciting and encouraging. The completion of these talks before the scheduled adjournment of this session today is a credit to all of the conferees.
“The package of budget amendments approved by the conferees provides substantial funding for the Commonwealth’s core services like education, public safety, health care and the environment. By investing an additional $26 million toward cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, we are now well past the halfway mark of the commitment made by House Republicans just two years ago to dedicate $500 million in ten years. We substantially increased the number of MR and DDR waivers – more than double the number proposed by the Governor – which will help more disable Virginians and their families receive community based services. The package provides funding for a 4% pay raise for state employees, sheriffs’ deputies, and college faculty, as well as the state share of a 3% increase for public school teachers. And, of critical importance to Virginia’s families, we provided incentive funding to make the cost of an education at our state-supported colleges and universities more affordable.
“Reaching consensus on amendments to the budget is also very encouraging news for those of us who want to see a comprehensive transportation plan enacted this session. With the budget agreement reached, there are no remaining legislative impediments to approving House Bill 3202, the Comprehensive Transportation Funding and Reform Act of 2007.
“Now, the decision making process for lawmakers can be characterized by one simple question: Do you want a transportation plan that can pass to be approved this session?
“Similarly, the question for the Governor is equally clear: Do you want to show leadership or partisanship?
“Later today, the Conference Report on House Bill 3202, a comprehensive transportation plan crafted by legislators from both parties and in both bodies, will provide the last realistic opportunity for delegates and senators to improve Virginia’s network of roads, railways, and public transit. For the benefit of commuters frustrated with traffic congestion and highway gridlock, it needs to be approved before this session adjourns, and sent to the Governor’s desk for his consideration.
“Chairman Callahan and his team have done another outstanding job of obtaining an agreement related to the budget that will improve the quality of life of all Virginians. All of the conferees for the House and Senate deserve the thanks of their colleagues, and I, personally, congratulate them on their success.”
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