The Virginia “business as usual” budget process is predictable. The General Assembly fails to pass a budget. Facing pressure from localities with increasing mandates handed them by state government without any additional funding, one body meets and hammers out a budget (the State Senate this time). The other body then convenes to reject that budget. Now, the state is down to what the leadership wanted all along.
A few select legislators from each body will meet in secret and decide the spending priorities for the next two years. There will be no chance for other representatives of the people to have input about the decisions that will be made. It’s just the “good ole’ boys” (plus, token women Janet Howell and Beverly Sherwood) deciding how many elderly poor will receive state Medicaid money, how much funding local school boards can expect to help pay for education, how much the state will expend for all the vital services the citizens of the Commonwealth need.
This year’s “budget politburo” consists of House members Lacey Putney (the budget czar), Kirk Cox, Steve Landes, Chris Jones, Beverly Sherwood, and token Democrat Johnny Joannou. From the Senate are Walter Stosch, Tom Norment, Emmett Hanger, John Watkins, and token Democrats Charles Colgan and Janet Howell. (Note well the lack of any minority viewpoint in the group.)
So, let’s face facts. Representative democracy, “Virginia style,” means a few long-time survivors of the legislative process determine the level of state (and local) services the rest of us receive. I realize all budgets need a starting point and will be shaped by those in leadership positions, but this process means that all give-and-take is done in secret, all horse trading happens over taxpayer-funded fancy dinners. There will be no committee hearings, no chance for input by anyone else. This is budgeting, Virginia style, left over from the old, dictatorial Byrd machine.