Gov. Bob McDonnell is gunning for Big Bird
JEFF E. SCHAPIRO TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Published: April 18, 2010
The Republican's proposed revisions to Virginia's pending two-year, $83 billion budget would put the state on a four-year trajectory to end aid to public radio and television stations -- long an objective of the GOP-dominated House of Delegates.
McDonnell wants the General Assembly, which returns to Richmond on Wednesday to put the finishing touches on legislation passed this winter, to eliminate $592,835 for public broadcasting in the second half of the 2010-12 spending cycle.
McDonnell, who is approaching the 100-day mark of his fledgling administration, is recommending overall spending increases of $42 million. They would be financed with reductions totaling $51 million, including nearly $10 million in cuts in services for emotionally disturbed children.
To erase a $4 billion shortfall without higher taxes, McDonnell and the legislature earlier this year slashed programs that, at the peak of the recession, had been off-limits or largely shielded from reductions.
"When you have to make those stark choices, particularly for families with loved ones with intellectual disabilities, the choice becomes much clearer," said Robert Vaughn, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee
Some of the governor's recommended tweaks to the budget could lead to a clash with the Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate.
"I'll probably oppose that," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles J. Colgan, D-Prince William, said of the McDonnell proposal on public broadcasting. "It's quite a bit of money for those stations. That's a pretty good hit."
The Senate could prove the last line of defense against McDonnell amendments.
For his revisions to be included in the budget, they require majority votes in both chambers. In the smaller body -- the Senate -- that means McDonnell may have to persuade members of the Democratic majority to break ranks on issues important to the party, such as health care and education.
McDonnell, however, may get the last word. Under Virginia's constitution, the governor has an item veto that allows him to strike features he deems offensive from the budget. Overriding a veto is difficult, requiring a two-thirds vote in each body.
Other McDonnell-written revisions that may spark debate during the one-day spring session include proposed limits on access to some mental-health drugs for new patients under Medicaid, a health-care program for low-income Virginians.
Sen. R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania, who is Colgan's second-in-command on the budget-writing panel, and Del. Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell, a member of the Appropriations Committee, are joining mental-health groups in pressing lawmakers to reject the McDonnell proposal.
Also, there could be dust-ups over further restrictions on public financing of abortion. McDonnell also wants to prohibit coverage, under the state employee health-insurance plan, of the purchase of erectile-dysfunction drugs.
And if McDonnell gets his way, state workers -- who have gone without a pay raise since December 2006 -- may stand a better chance of getting a 3 percent bonus later this year.
McDonnell is recommending that the $82 million to finance the bonus -- the money would come from a possible surplus -- should be held in the state's general fund rather than returned to agencies. That, he said, would be an inducement to employees to save money for their agencies.