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Posted at 1:02 PM ET, 02/ 8/2011

UPDATED: Virginia lieutenant governor breaks rare Senate tie

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) has broken a rare 20-20 tie in the Virginia Senate, casting his vote for a bill that would alter the state's schedule for reviewing its two-year budget.

The tie came as two Democrats crossed party lines in the chamber they control 22 to 18 and joined Republicans in backing the bill, which was first proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) last year.

According to Bolling's office, it is the 14th time he has broken a tied vote in the senate since taking office in 2006.

In Virginia, the General Assembly adopts a two-year budget in a 60-day session every other year, in years that end in an even number. In the odd numbered years, the legislature meets in a shorter session--constitutionally mandated for 30 days but always extended to 46 days--and offers only amendments to the spending plan.

The schedule has long meant that incoming governors, who take office in even-numbered years, start their work by inheriting a budget written by their predecessors and unveiled just weeks before they take over.

Under a bill by Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover), the state would instead review its full budget in odd-numbered years. That way, when new governors take the oath in January, they would immediately face the shorter and less onerous budget amendment session. They would then spend their first year in office learning the ropes and unveil their own full two-year budget 11 months later.

McDonnell suggested the idea shortly after he took office and inherited a budget proposed by Gov. Tim Kaine (D).

The measure would dramatically reshape the work of state agencies.

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) noted the constitution calls for the General Assembly to hold its long session in even-numbered years and argued that the General Assembly would not have time to consider the two-year budget during short sessions.

Democrats in the Senate Monday killed a proposed constitutional amendment proposed by McDougle that accompanied the legislation designed to alter the years in which the assembly meets for 60 days.

Saslaw acknowledged that the General Assembly could extend the short session--as it now does so by passing a procedural resolution to meet in odd-numbered years for 46 days instead of the constitutionally-mandated 30. However, that vote takes a two-thirds majority and he suggested legislative mischief could disrupt the process.

"After witnessing what occurred earlier in today's session, I wouldn't put anything past anybody," Saslaw said.

That biting comment was a reference to a procedural battle Democrats and Republicans held earlier Tuesday, as Republicans sought to force the chamber to hear a bill that Democrats had refused to hear in committee.

It was the first time in at least two decades that members in the normally collegial and tradition-bound chamber have sought to discharge a bill directly to the floor.

The Republicans sought to force a vote on a bill to write private property protections in eminent domain cases into Virginia's constitution. The Senate rejected the motion to suspend their rules on a party line 22 to 18 vote.

UPDATED 3:26 p.m.: Bolling has broken ties twice in one day. He cast the tie vote in support of a bill sponsored by Fairfax Democratic Sen. Chap Petersen that would shield local officials from being required by law to answer questions about speech conducted in the course of the duties of their elected office without the intervention of a court.

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | February 8, 2011; 1:02 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Bolling, General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate  
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