The central political struggle that grips this year’s session of the General Assembly is quite understandably the budget. With revenues down and plenty of good causes deserving of taxpayer dollars, Senate Democrats in particular have been taking potshots at the Governor and the Republican majority in the House for rejecting the idea of raising taxes on Virginians in this economy. The challenge with this approach is that a Senate-crafted budget which includes tax hikes not only has about zero chance of passing the House (a House bill on then-Governor Kaine’s proposal to raise taxes failed to garner a single vote, even from House Democrats) but likely would have difficulty in emerging from the Senate as well. So what are Senate Democrats, and the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Chuck Colgan going to do?
Colgan could once again cobble together a budget that depends on a massive hike in taxes and fees, but that’s not going to work. He could try to out-do the Republican-led House in promoting fiscal restraint through budget cuts, but tax hike addicted nutjobs in the Senate like Donald McEachin would certainly revolt. This conundrum is a big reason why there’s no Senate budget seemingly making it’s way through the Senate Finance Committee. Could, for the first time since the 1960’s, the Senate finally follow the previously longstanding tradition of having all revenue bills originate in the lower house of government by doing nothing to propose a competing budget bill?
Before then, just like the requirement in the United States Constitution regarding the authorities of Congress, the Senate of Virginia did not draft a budget bill but received it from the House of Delegates. They’d amend it of course, but the House of Delegates would set the framework for the budget and unless the Senate was determined to restructure the bill, they’d pretty much follow the outline of the House of Delegates. Instead of having two separate and competing pieces of legislation that had nothing much to do with each other that ultimately need to be merged, which is what we’ve been dealing with for decades in Virginia, we would have one discussion. One simpler process. One far more sane process. There’s a lot of important reasons why revenue bills originate in the House of Representatives at the federal level, and the circus that happens every two years in Virginia is a good demonstration of those.
There actually could be some political advantage for Colgan and the Democrats in doing this. The members of the Senate would be pretty much absolved of responsibility for spending and service cuts that inevitably will be made, and be able to point at the Republican-controlled House for two years while crying about cuts in education spending that were essentially unavoidable. While it might not be what many consider responsible governing, there is some credible political ammunition to be had in this that would be hard for Democrats to forgo. Senate Democrats would give up some initiative here, but they’d get to hang all the tough decisions on the House Republican leadership.
Perhaps the current paralysis in the Senate Finance Committee can yield a positive result this session. It at least would let Chuck Colgan evade any charges of being ineffective at getting a Senate budget bill out this year. He could claim it was his intent all along to have one House-drafted budget bill to throw rocks at, and not provide a target for Republicans to do the same with. Democrats might gain some political advantage here, but the idea of having both houses draft a budget bill and battle over which one will win is little more than a ridiculous demonstration in the extreme of how brilliant the United States Constitution really is.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.