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Budget, redistricting still unsettled

We are only a few days away from the end of the 2020 Session of the General Assembly.

Most of those who have contacted me are glad to see that the end is near. However, there have been so many surprises this year, we cannot be sure how things will end up. Some have expressed relief that certain legislation has not passed. I warn you that no matter what comes out, the governor can change it and send it back to the General Assembly.

Already, Governor Ralph Northam is talking about a special session to deal with redistricting because the Democrats in the House and Senate cannot agree upon the issues they both agreed to last year. After carping for most of the decade about the House Republicans partisanship after the last census, majorities in both the House and Senate of both parties agreed to a non-partisan redistricting after this year’s census. Now, the House Democrats want to remove the right of the people to vote to add that to the Virginia constitution.

Budget

Among the many issues that there are differing positions on that have been taken by the House and Senate is the two-year budget that will go into effect on July 1.

The Senate budget was more conservative. We chose to use some of the extra money from this year to pay cash for some needed construction projects that the governor and the House chose to pay with 20-year bonds. We, in the Senate, felt it was wiser to act cautiously. While all of us are optimistically hoping the economy will continue to grow, it is wise to be pragmatic; understanding a Trump loss this fall or something like the coronavirus could change forecasts just as the stock market has shown us last week.

Assuming that this one big issue can be successfully agreed upon, then the six negotiators from each body can sort through the many comparatively smaller issues the two budget versions offer. It was my honor to have been one of the negotiators for the past four years. I understand how that process works. Sometimes the smallest issues can inflame personalities and slow the process. This year, with negotiators who have never been involved, no one knows what the dynamics will be.

During the course of building the Senate budget, I pushed for more investment on dams that need repair and the cost-share program that helps farmers build fences to keep livestock out of streams.

The new chairman of the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee, who has had little input in past budgets, announced that the House and Senate would agree on a budget by March 4. This announcement to the news media came with no input from the Senate – even before the negotiators were announced. I hope he is right, but no budget from either party has been that fast in reaching a compromise. Maybe he has some magic that no one else with no experience ever had.

Other issues

Many more bills have differences between the House and Senate versions. They must be agreed upon by Saturday. The sheer volume of bills in conflict will have people scampering around to settle those differences. Those that do not will die at midnight on Saturday.  That would please many of us who opposed many of these extremist legislative proposals. However, because Governor Northam has been pushing for many of theses bills, it is very possible that, even if they fail, he will revive many of these proposals. If the bills do not go to him to his liking, he will rewrite them to suit his goals and then we would be hard pressed to stop him and his agenda. Another option that he will have is to call another special session or to extend the one that he is threatening on redistricting.

Whatever happens, we will find ourselves in a far different place than we are today. On July 1 we will look far more like California and New York than we will look like the Virginia where many of us grew up and have fought to improve.

Frank Ruff Jr. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen.Ruff@verizon.net, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.