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Virginia Senate Democrats Send Budget Wish List to McDonnell

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    Gov. Bob McDonnell

    Democrats in the Virginia State Senate sent Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell a list of conditions they want addressed before allowing a new state budget necessary to fund state services and operations to pass.

    The letter, sent Wednesday, calls for the elimination of McDonnell's demand that a share of state sales tax revenue, about $54 million, be shifted to transportation instead of the general fund.

    It seeks funding to extend the Washington Metro rail line to Dulles International Airport and to restore $65 million for northern Virginia schools to keep pay competitive for non-teaching staff.

    One condition seeks reimbursement to the University of Virginia for the $576,000 spent defending itself from Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's aggressive inquest into a former professor's climate change research.

    Just three days ahead of Saturday's scheduled adjournment, the 40-member Senate split evenly between Democrats and Republicans has yet to muster the 21 votes it needs to pass a budget. The standoff dates to the opening day of the 2012 General Assembly when the Senate's 20 Republicans seized organizational control of the Senate thanks to GOP Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's bitterly disputed tie-breaking vote.

    Virginia's lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and casts decisive votes on deadlocks, but the Constitution forbids him from voting on appropriations bills. Democrats, who controlled the Senate through last year and were unable to stop a wave of socially conservative legislation this year, have held firm in denying the Republicans a single crossover vote. They have demanded Republicans share more power in the Senate and say the budget is the only vehicle left to make themselves heard.

    Under fire from editorial pages statewide and excoriated by radio ads the Republican Party of Virginia is airing in the districts of Senate Democrats, Wednesday's letter from Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw and Democratic Caucus chairman A. Donald McEachin represents their most detailed list of fiscal conditions yet.

    “Governor, you have asked what is required for us to agree to the biennial budget. Let's begin with the obvious,” McEachin and Saslaw wrote, commencing a familiar Democratic priority of protecting general revenues that pay for such services as public schools and health care from diversions to meet the state's growing backlog of transportation needs.

    “As a rule, those who want to use the monies toward transportation usually make a run on the (general fund). Quite frankly, we are beyond our tolerance for this exercise,” they wrote, advocating a gasoline tax more indexed to price instead of a flat 17{ cents per gallon, unchanged since 1987.

    They ask McDonnell to find about $300 million to help arrest sharp increases in highway tolls on roads in the state's two most populous regions, northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. They want the state to pay for the ultrasound exams now mandated for women seeking abortions under a bill McDonnell signed Wednesday. They want restored funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs that the governor's original budget cut. And they want Medicaid eligibility restored for about 4,500 nursing home residents.

    “This issue will not be resolved in the media or on the airwaves,” concluded the three-page letter that the Senate Democratic Caucus emailed to reporters Wednesday, the same day it was sent to McDonnell.

    The McDonnell administration was not amused.

    “They burnt down the whole house and suddenly they're concerned about what happened to some of the furniture?” said McDonnell's chief spokesman, J. Tucker Martin. But at least, Martin said, the proposals are specific to the budget, something he faulted the Senate Democrats for failing to provide over the first nine weeks of the legislative session.