Did Virginia Democrats' Budget Gamble Pay Off?

Today the Virginia Senate will likely pass a budget. After weeks of deadlock, that's quite a feat in itself. But for Senate Democrats—who had already voted down two previous budgets and prompted a special session—the latest document is a much bigger victory.

For weeks, Senate Democrats had engaged in a risky game of political chicken, demanding both more committee leadership positions and more spending on both state infrastructure and government programs. While the GOP dominates the state House, the upper chamber is divided evenly. However, in split decisions, it falls to Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling to cast the deciding vote—and guess which side he favors. That means that despite a having 50 percent of the seats, the Senate Dems have little committee leadership positions and have been powerless to stop a series of measures, including most famously the state's pre-abortion sonogram measure.

When it comes to the budget, though, Bolling can't vote, and Democrats decided to flex some muscle. They presented their demands to the governor and stuck together in rejecting two other budgets. They forced a special session. I had my doubts that the political risk was worth it. After all, if even one Democrat cracked, the whole plan was kaput, leaving the manuever open for Republican charges of obstructionism. Meanwhile, local governments were getting more and more skittish about uncertainty over their budgets, and at least a partial government shutdown was in the cards if things didn't start to move forward.

But it turns out the Dems' game plan worked. When they agreed to divorce their committee demands from the budgetary ones, it seems Republicans had to show some flexibility as well—and gave the Democrats much of what they wanted. The new Senate budget proposal, approved Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee, includes funding for Dulles rail as well as more money for government programs like pre-K, teen pregnancy programs, and nursing homes. The Washington Post notes the plan pays for the increases through cuts in other areas, including $20 million from Governor Bob McDonnell's proposed rainy day fund and $60 million from other aid for schools. 

Assuming the bill passes in Senate today, negotiators from the House and Senate will then proceed to hammer out differences between the chambers' budgets. The House, unsurprisingly, passed a more austere version of the budget during the regular session, and the final bill will likely not include all the measures the Senate Democrats wanted. Still, it certainly looks like their gamble will pay off.

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