Great Expectations Face VA Dems

By Frank Blechman

Democratic leaders in the Virginia General Assembly have created a trap for themselves, from which I see no easy way out.

Because of the economic disruption of the novel coronavirus, revenue projections made six months ago for FY 2021 now look unrealistically positive. New projections, due out later this month, caused the Governor to freeze some spending in the budget just adopted in March, and to call a special session of the General Assembly to amend the budget based on those new numbers.

Advocates who fought for years to get increased spending on schools, environmental protection, affordable housing, and expanded social services (particularly mental health services) are understandably distressed to see gains wiped away. There will be bitter complaints to save each new penny when the Assembly reconvenes .

But that’s not the trap I’m worried about.

When the Special Session is convened in late August, the first order of business will be for each house to adopt an identical “scope” resolution, determining the topics that may be addressed in the short time allotted. Normally, the resolution in a case like this would specify that the entire time of the Session – likely to be just two or three days — would be devoted only to budget matters. Of course, nothing is normal this year.

Faced with social upheaval and street demonstrations calling for reform of policing, Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate have pledged to take up legislation to reform police policies and practices during the special session. Budget negotiations between the two bodies take a week or more during regular sessions. Complex subjects such as changes to policing are frequently referred to special study commissions and given a year or more to develop proposals. This time, the Assembly will have to do both of these tasks in just a few days.

Faced with social upheaval and street demonstrations calling for reform of policing, Democratic leaders of both the House and Senate have pledged to take up legislation to reform police policies and practices during the special session. Budget negotiations between the two bodies take a week or more during regular sessions. Complex subjects such as changes to policing are frequently referred to special study commissions and given a year or more to develop proposals. This time, the Assembly will have to do both of these tasks in just a few days.

I know that legislative work on both subjects has been underway for months. I have some confidence that the Assembly will achieve action on both topics before it adjourns. Yet I feel that advocates will be dissatisfied by the results in both areas.

Expectations about what could be accomplished by a Democratic legislature teamed with a Democratic governor were high after the 2019 elections. The admirable achievements of the 2020 Assembly session raised hopes even higher for 2021. Statements of concern and commitment by legislative leaders have sustained those expectations at levels that may be unrealistic.

No matter what the Assembly does on the budget and social reforms, advocates will be deflated.

I believe that no matter what the Assembly does on the budget and social reforms, advocates will be deflated. The results will fail to meet their high expectations. The timing could not be worse.

Those advocates provided the frontline troops who fueled the electoral gains of 2017, 2018, and 2019. Their vision and energy will be needed in the November federal elections. Legislative and advocacy leaders need to start now defining the long-term plans to accomplish the goals envisioned this year over a longer period of time. Strong, detailed, realistic assurances are needed that the goals have not changed even if the path has hit a detour. Waiting to have these conversations after the August special session will be too late. Ground-level folks need to know that their vital role remains, as it always has and always will. Leaders can sometimes do the right thing, but we have to make them do it.

 

 



Categories: elections, Health Care, Issues, Local, police, politics, State

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