Virginia lawmakers are heading back to Richmond this week with the expectation of passing the state’s overdue two-year, $85 billion budget on Tuesday.
All eyes will be on Democratic Sen. Chuck Colgan this vote, who, according to the Washington Examiner, is still undecided on whether he will break from the Democrats and vote with Republicans.
There are 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans in the Senate, so Colgan’s single vote could mean passage for the budget.
Colgan supported the Republican-backed budget deal that slashed funds for the Dulles Rail project. Democrats had wanted Republicans to allocate $150 million to $300 million to offset the higher toll fees needed on Dulles Toll Road to fund the plan.
Democrats warned that drivers in the Washington area could end up paying $2,200 more in tolls per year, according to Examiner.
"You can kill the budget, but then we'd have to start all over again," Colgan said, noting that the General Assembly is already operating in a special session after failing to agree on a spending plan last month.
The McDonnell administration, however, warns that if the legislature agrees to Democrats' demands for $300 million more for the Dulles Airport project, 40 transportation projects throughout Virginia would be endangered.
According to the Washington Times, Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton said the state would be forced to borrow the additional money for Dulles rail or take it from transportation projects currently in development.
“The General Assembly did not provide us with either additional revenues or additional bonding capacity, so putting $300 million at this time into Dulles rail will have to come out of unrestricted state monies, and the only other state monies are on that list,” Mr. Connaughton said, referring to a list of projects that could be suspended if Democratic lawmakers have their way.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has notified contractors that they should plan to halt work by May 1 because of the budget troubles, according to the Washington Post
The suspension would affect 473 construction and maintenance projects valued at $2.7 billion across the state.
* In Maryland budget news, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Friday that he plans to speak with lawmakers about the prospects of a special session to complete the state’s tax and spending plans.
The Maryland legislature failed to pass a comprehensive budget by the session’s end date, and instead passed a spending plan with severe cuts to education and other key budgetary items because none of the planned income tax hikes were voted on.
The legislature also failed to pass a gambling bill that would allow for table games and a sixth casino in the state in Prince George's County.
Many say the debate over gambling prevented legislators from passing the budget.
Now, some are asking whether gambling should be included in the special session, if Gov. O’Malley decides to call one.
According to the Washington Post, Senate President Thomas Mike Miller Jr. (D) thinks a gambling bill should be part of a special session because if it's not passed now, it won't be able to be able to go before voters as a referendum before November 2014.
But House Speaker Michael Busch said the reason why legislators would be in a special session is to pass a tax and spending plan, and that should be the focus.
Via the Post:
“It becomes problematic, in my mind, when you’re asking Joe Average to pay more money,” Busch said. “I’m just being honest here.”
* In an attempt to combat childhood obesity, Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to sign legislation that would call for the commonwealth's Board of Education to establish guidelines to incorporate physical education in Virginia’s elementary and middle schools.
According to The Associated Press, McDonnell vetoed a bill Senate bill on P.E. guidelines, but proposed amendments to a House bill that would require the state to develop non-mandatory guidelines, rather than mandatory regulations.
The guidelines will be enacted by 2014.
* The Baltimore Sun had a weekend front-page article about some of the troubles plaguing Maryland’s juvenile justice system.
Gov. O'Malley responded to the article in a blog post yesterday:
Today’s front-page Sun article about the ongoing challenges in reforming Maryland’s juvenile justice system omitted one central fact: the number of juvenile victims of violent crime -- both homicides and non-fatal shootings -- has been driven down significantly since 2007.
Over the past five years, an improved Department of Juvenile Services, in close collaboration with law enforcement, has driven down juvenile homicides by 32 percent statewide. During our Administration, DJS and law enforcement have broken down traditional barriers and achieved an unprecedented level of information sharing. Over the past five years, DJS and law enforcement have achieved a 53 percent decrease in the number of youth killed who ever had any contact with the Department of Juvenile Services, and a 60 percent decrease in homicides of youth under DJS supervision.
* In Sunday's Washington Post, the chair of the Ward 1C Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s committee on alcohol beverage consumption and public safety, wrote that keeping bars open later in D.C. is a bad idea.
Research confirms what many of us intuit: Extending the hours of alcohol sales increases alcohol-related harm. A 1999 report by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention found that allowing bars, clubs and restaurants to sell liquor later into the night results in more drunken driving and alcohol-related injuries and assaults. The World Health Organization has looked at the issue more recently, concluding in a 2009 report that “while extending times of sale can redistribute the times when many alcohol-related incidents occur, such extensions generally do not reduce the rates of violent incidents and often lead to an overall increase in consumption and problems.” The WHO report goes on to argue that the most effective method of reducing alcohol-related harm is limiting hours of sale.