Approval of budget amendments before state lawmakers adjourn still uncertain

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/23/2023, 6 p.m.
For the first time in two decades, the Virginia General Assembly could adjourn Saturday, Feb. 25, without approving amendments to …

For the first time in two decades, the Virginia General Assembly could adjourn Saturday, Feb. 25, without approving amendments to the current two-year budget, a potential boon for Richmond’s casino backers.

A wide gulf separates the amended budget that the Senate Democratic majority has approved and the amended budget plan the House’s Republican majority has issued, with the Senate putting priority into pumping more money into public education and the House pushing tax cuts.

The impasse is bolstering Richmond’s hopes of avoiding the insertion of budget language that would halt Virginia’s capital city from holding a second referendum next November to allow city voters to approve a casino- resort and overcome the 2021 rejection vote.

Budget language is the only hope remaining for Petersburg casino advocates like Democratic state Sen. Joseph “Joe” D. Morrissey.

His bill to add Petersburg to the list of legislature-approved casino cities and let its voters have a first shot at a referendum before Richmond gets a second opportunity died in the Senate Finance Committee earlier in February on narrow 8-7 vote.

The final blow to the Cockade City’s casino dreams came Feb. 16 when the same committee voted 10-6 to junk an identical bill that Petersburg Republican Delegate Kim A. Taylor pushed through the House.

Sen. Morrissey said after the vote that he’s “playing the long game” and is going for budget language to restore Petersburg’s advantage.

However, the prospect of gaining language favoring a Petersburg casino is dimming given the differences between the House and Senate. That has conjured up memories of 2003 when differences between the House and Senate during the administration of Gov. Jim Gilmore prevented a deal on an amended budget.

Hampton Democratic state Sen. Mamie Locke, who has been involved in crafting the Senate version, said she and other Democrats

cannot support the tax cuts because that ac- tion would eliminate increased funding for public education and other priorities.

Republican House leaders, who largely support Gov. Glenn A. Youngkin’s amend- ments to return more money to businesses and taxpayers, are just as convinced their budget would be better for the state.

“The House budget positions Virginia to be economically competitive through lower taxes and business readiness,” House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) stat- ed, adding that it “sets Virginia on a course for decades of multifaceted success.”

Budget talks could continue past the upcoming adjournment, with the governor

able to call a special session to consider budget amendments. But that, as legislators noted, could only happen if a deal looked possible, now considered a long shot.

Last year, it took until June 1 for both houses to finalize the current 2022-24 budget for the governor’s approval and prevent a partial government shutdown.

Given this is an election year for the 40 Senate and 100 House seats and that voters will decide which party will control each of the chambers, the consensus among legislative observers is that the elected representatives have less incentive to com- promise and more incentive to campaign on their competing visions.