UPDATED: Senate reverses course, passes McDonnell's proposal on oil royalties
If you don't at first succeed ...
On a 21 to 19 vote, the Senate passed a House bill Monday that is also backed by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). The bill declares that 70 percent of any future royalty money the state receives from drilling for oil off the coast would be devoted to transportation improvements. This bill is similar in concept to a Senate bill that the chamber had essentially killed on a party line vote Feb. 10 by shuffling it back to committee, where it was not going to be considered again this year.
The idea was a key part of McDonnell's transportation program during the campaign and he was fairly irked when Senate Democrats killed the bill a few weeks back. But on Monday, several Democrats who voted against the measure the first time voted for it on the second go-around.
Leading Democratic Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), who switched his vote, said he always supported the measure but he had decided to vote against it the first time because the Democratic caucus decided to use the issue to make a show of strength to the governor. "The Democrats were solid," he said. "It was political."
On reflection, Colgan said that he and a few others decided they had achieved little other than upsetting the governor with their message of unity. "A couple of us decided, why do it? What did we accomplish with that?"
Some Democrats don't like the bill because they do not favor oil drilling and they don't like supporting a measure that assumes a day will come when federal law is changed and drilling is allowed. Others, such as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Dick Saslaw (D), are convinced that the federal government will never change current law to allow Virginia to reap royalties from oil drilling. Passing the bill, he believes, would create the false expectation that money will soon flow to roads.
Of course, now that the bill has passed both chambers of the General Assembly, McDonnell has the opportunity to prove Saslaw wrong. He can negotiate with leaders in Washington and with the president and somehow wrangle oil royalties for the commonwealth.
In that sense, passage of the bill declaring how future royalties will be spent might be a curse disguised as a blessing for McDonnell: Now, getting oil drilling royalties to use for transportation improvements is up to him.
UPDATE 5:10 p.m.: McDonnell has released a statement in reaction to the bill's final passage. "I applaud the Republicans and Democrats who voted for this common sense measure that positions the Commonwealth to become the 'Energy Capital of the East Coast', and the first state on the East Coast to produce energy offshore," he said. "The foresight in passing this bill will ensure that when offshore energy revenues arrive, the Commonwealth will immediately direct them to two pressing areas: transportation and renewable energy research and development."
February 22, 2010; 3:11 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2010 , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate
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