Legislators need to assert themselves in state budget review

Virginia covid-19
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Ralph Northam seems to think he can rewrite the state budget with his veto pen.

“We’re just putting a lot of things on hold right now until we have better information, whether it be in a couple of months or five to six months. And at that point we’ll probably look at re-forecasting and know a lot better where we are,” Northam said this week, addressing the budget situation, which is in the oddest of odd places.

The General Assembly passed a two-year state budget back in March, almost literally moments before the governor shut the state down due to COVID-19.

The budget that was passed doesn’t direct state spending until the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, and it’s not law until the governor signs it into law.

The state constitution gives the governor wide latitude via the line-item veto, with oversight from the General Assembly in terms of the ability of legislators to override any veto.

But from the governor’s comments, from a press conference on Tuesday, he’s making it sound like he wants to be the point man on deciding what to cut, then what to ramp back up, whenever it is that he decides to open Virginia back up for business.

Which isn’t the way this is supposed to work.

The ball is in the court of Democrats in the General Assembly, then, right, as to whether they’re going to sign off on giving up their constitutionally-delegated power of the purse?

OK, it’s not entirely the case that it’s just on Democrats, who have a strong 55-45 majority in the House, but a sometimes tenuous 21-19 party edge in the Senate.

It would take just two Democratic state senators saying they don’t want to give the governor carte blanche over a two-year state budget to add more pens to the final budget document.

And you’d have to imagine that whatever is going to happen on this behind the scenes is happening now, with legislators due back in Richmond in two weeks for the veto session.

What’s particularly odd about where we are with the state budget in flux right now is that we’re not really hearing anything from state legislators regarding the next steps to address the budget situation.

The only voice, to this point, has been that of the governor.

We need to hear from Democratic and Republican leaders as to their thoughts on what the next steps need to be.

And we need them to step up and do what they’ve been elected to do.

Whatever you think of Ralph Northam, even if you want to trust the absolute hell out of him to get this right, process is important.

We do budgets the way we do because we value checks and balances in setting spending priorities and then seeing them carried out.

It’s time that we hear from legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle about the next steps.

Somebody needs to step up to remind Northam, who seems to be trending in the direction of drunk on power territory with his recent spate of executive orders and directives, that he’s a one-term governor, and for that matter, that when that one term is done, his political career is done as well, that nothing has changed in that respect since Feb. 1, 2019.

Story by Chris Graham

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