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At least there's a budget
Virginia lawmakers managed to put together a budget, but not much else.

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RICHARD AMRHINE
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Date published: 3/17/2002

AT LEAST VIRGINIA has
a budget for next year.
Of course, the budget is more noteworthy for what lawmakers had to cut from it than
for what they included.

But at least there's a budget.

There was even a promise of bipartisanship at this General Assembly session's outset, a pledge from both sides of the aisle to work together to make the best of the bad economic times.

But when push came to shove, the true partisan nature of Virginia politics came shining through:

Saturday, Jan. 12: "But give [Gov. Mark Warner] his due, he's good. And I think he really wants to do something," said House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, an Amherst Republican.

Thursday, March 7: "There was no contentiousness to speak of, but there was the usual degree of stubbornness," said Sen. John Chichester, R-Stafford.

Saturday, March 9: "I've been here 22 years. I never in my life and my experience recall a more inept or disorderly conduct of the final day," said Del. Clifton Woodrum, D-Roanoke.

But at least there's a budget.

Gov. Warner faced a trial by fire in his first experience as an elected official. He preached bipartisanship at his inaugural, and after learning that the state's finances belonged more in the intensive-care unit than in the Capitol chambers, he may have figured all would recognize the need for unity. He probably believed--naively--that a reasoned approach would bring him the legislation he wanted.

What he wanted was a statewide referendum on a sales-tax increase to aid public schools, but that idea had wings of lead in Wilkins' House. He thinks localities should fund their own schools, whether they have the money or not.

So the statewide referendum idea went back to being a regional thing, then Northern Virginia's plan became one that would tap its funds to help poorer localities. There was a referendum plan for schools, another for roads, and one for schools and roads. Many lawmakers, however, just can't see the difference between "tax increase" and "referendum for
a tax increase."

Our elected officials might be lousy negotiators, but they get A's in bickering and childishness. The one last chance for a deal was torpedoed when the Republicans took their ball and went home.


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