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Sun Gazette: Legislators Cautiously Optimistic as State Budget Process Rolls Forward Print

BY SCOTT McCAFFREY

Created:  Monday, March 26, 2012  8:11AM

Delays in adopting Virginia's two-year, $85 billion state budget likely will make the final product stronger, a number of local legislators said at a recent forum.

"Whatever arguments or tussles we had to get into, it was worth it," state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st) said during Leadership Arlington's first-ever post-session legislative forum, held March 23 at the Holiday Inn Ballston.

Favola and three members of the House of Delegates – Bob Brink (D-48th), Patrick Hope (D-47th) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) – shared insights on the 60-day regular session and the upcoming special session on the budget.

After spending 60 days in Richmond during a legislative session dominated by Republicans, the local legislative delegation seemed happy to be back in Arlington, where most of the more than 100 people in attendance seemed to share their political leanings.

"This is kind of therapeutic, to talk about the session," Hope said.

Brink, the most senior House of Delegates member from Arlington, said he expected a budget would come together within a few weeks. Like Favola, he didn't see delay as a bad thing.

"We've improved the budget product as we've gone on," Brink said, suggesting that funding for education and social services would be restored in a compromise budget.

Douglas Brammer, who represents Verizon's interests in Richmond during the legislative session and who helped introduce the March 23 legislative program, also sounded optimistic about the potential to get a budget without the process grinding to a halt.

"We've got some positive momentum going," he said at a recent forum.

During the regular session, the state Senate couldn't agree on a budget proposal, and senators rejected the budget approved by the House of Delegates. In the special session, a conference committee representing both parties and both chambers will work out a compromise that may, or may not, be acceptable to all sides.

As with Favola, the 2012 session was the first for Lopez, who was elected last November. Although he had previous experience in the ways of Richmond during service in the Kaine administration, Lopez admitted the pace at which the legislature moves – 3,000 bills disposed of in a session that lasted just two months – was dizzying.

"The problem with the General Assembly is that you don't have time to deliberate," said Lopez, the only Democrat among 16 freshmen members of the House of Delegates, and one of just 32 Democrats in the 100-member body.

("It's a position to be pitied," he acknowledged with a chuckle.)

With the exception of passing a budget, most legislative business has been accomplished for the year. Among the matters that remain: Addressing the ramifications of federal health-care legislation and electing new judges.

Arlington's ranks of Circuit Court judges have thinned from four to two due to recent retirements, and will decline to one when Judge Joanne Alper departs in May. So far, the legislature hasn't agreed to replace any of those who have departed, which might for a time leave Chief Judge William Newman Jr. as the lone jurist on the local Circuit Court bench.

"We really do need a third and arguably a fourth judge," Hope said, noting that "the bean-counters in Richmond" are only looking at the budget impact of replacing the retired judges, not on the ramifications of not replacing them.


 



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