11/30/07

Repeal of Right To Work law may be delayed

An economy growing at a slower pace in fall 2007 may signal possible concerns that must be considered by legislators during the 2008 Virginia General Assembly. That especially may be true with the Democrats now holding a majority in the state Senate, while the House of Delegates remains under Republican rule.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the two parties stand likely to clash over issues.

"The one thing we know for sure is that, with a GOP House and a Democratic Senate and governor, we’ll need negotiation and compromise if anything substantial is to be enacted in the next session," he said. "It’s the long [60-day] session, where the biennial budget is the centerpiece — in fact, 95 percent of everything that’s important about the session is in the budget, as always. "Other issues may grab the headlines, but the budget is the sum and substance of state government."

Sabato said the vast majority of budget items will be uncontested, but there are others expected for hot debate — including Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s pre-kindergarten education program. "As usual, it will be a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing, or very little, in terms of legislative output," he said.

Del. Joe T. May, R-Loudoun County, agreed that pre-kindergarten is a likely target to be opposed by the GOP, especially with state of the economy. "I see it as self-limiting."

He said the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates still should be able to adapt — after all, they have had to work for the last six years under a Democratic governor.

The Senate’s 21-19 Democratic majority does not automatically mean the Republicans will not get their programs approved, May added.

After all, if two Democrats swing on an issue, the party no longer has its majority, he said.

"I’m mildly optimistic," May said. "It shouldn’t be too much to handle, and things tend to work out.

"We also got news that the [budget] shortfall appears not to be as as previously believed."

Shenandoah University business professor Clifford F. Thies said Virginia’s economy still should lead to some positive steps by the Legislature.

He said the concern should be what steps are taken under existing conditions.

"We need to ask the question, ‘Is doing nothing worse than doing the wrong thing?’" Thies said.

He noted that several programs tend to eat up the state budget. Those programs include Medicaid and Medicare, the state’s prison system, and the public educational system.

"Medicaid is out of control, and prison expansion also is a very large drain on the taxpayers," Thies said. "There also is a very significant obligation to public schools, but I expect that we don’t really have politicians this time making comments like, ‘Let’s lower class size.’"

He said the Legislature may be forced to look at ways for programs to "pay" for themselves.

The prison population, for example, generally is comprised of working-age men who are not adding to the work force, yet the state pays for them, Thies said.

He said the current tax system also needs to be adjusted to better reflect economic conditions.

Current rates, Thies said, are not meaningful because they do not reflect today’s economic picture.

Sen. Jill H. Vogel, R-Warrenton, said she expects a concerted effort in the Virginia Senate to consider all means to trim the budget.

She said Republicans have tried to hold the line on a number of issues, including keeping Virginia as a right-to-work state and keeping taxes low — and those issues likely will still be championed by the GOP in 2008.

Vogel said economic conditions may be a wake-up call to legislators, forcing them to trim budget requests as much as possible.

George Mason University political science professor Tim Conlan said the economy likely will make things rocky, regardless of whether the Democrats had taken control of the Senate or if it had remained under a GOP majority.

"It’s going to create a more difficult Legislature," Conlan said. "What I will be expecting is more artful budgeting, and then to pass on [the budgetary crisis] to the next administration."

(winchesterstar.com)

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