1. The Stimulus vs. Revenue Decline
Rick Brown, the Secretary of Finance, announced this week that the revenue decline for the first seventh months of the fiscal year is the state’s worst on record. All expectations are that the numbers announced tomorrow will peg the state’s shortfall somewhere between $3.5 billion and $4 billion. Ouch! At the same time, the Obama administration has passed an extraordinary large stimulus package, amounting to $775 billion of spending proposals and tax cuts. And Virginia appears to be set to receive billions (perhaps in the mid-single digits). It should enable the state, at least in the short term, to weather cuts in Medicaid and to infuse hundreds of millions into transportation projects. The big question is how much of an impact will the stimulus package have on the K-12 education cuts that have been announced in dozens of localities for the past few weeks.
2. Lifestyle Politics: The 21st Century Social Agenda
Remember when Democrats and liberals loudly deplored the prominence of ”social” issues such as abortion on the political agenda. Government, they said, should stay out of people’s lives and focus on the economic conditions that make a real difference in the world. Well, that was then- before suburbanites decided that they didn’t want to come home from a restaurant with the odor of cigarette smoke in their hair and clothes; before they realized that the teenager behind the wheel talking on the cellphone was a danger to both himself and others; and before they noticed that some of their fellow blackberry addicts were texting while driving. Today, the new social agenda focuses on the nexus between lifestyle choices and health and safety concerns. And no seems to be complaining about the amount of time these issues occupy on the Assembly’s agenda.
3.Strange Bedfellows: Kaine and Howell vs. The Republican House Caucus
The effort to re-strengthen the smoking ban weakened in the House by a set of amendments offered by Terry Kilgore has shuffled the political deck in an unusual manner. Governor Tim Kaine and Speaker Bill Howell are aligned on behalf of a tougher ban, albeit for different reasons. For Kaine, the ban has become a major legacy issue in a Governorship that has struggled to gain legislative approval of his major initiatives. For Howell, the motivation is primarily political- he wants to remove the issue from the elctoral agenda to give Republcans a better chance of competing in suburban House districts this November..
Ironically, Howell’s effort to save GOP seats hasn’t earned him much gratitude within the House Caucus as Republicans like Terry Kilgore are likely to lead the floor fight on Monday against the res-trengthened ban. And Bob McDonnell has publicly opposed the ban. Who would have predicted than Kaine and Howell would have joined forces against a majority of House Republicans and the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate?
4. The Assembly’s Attack on the Court: Personal or Institutional?
Assembly members introduced a set of bills intending to check the power of the Virginia Supreme Court. A term limits bill would have prevented a Chief Justice from serving more than two consecutive four years terms. And the Assembly is considering shifting the judicial evaluation process for the Court to itself. While these proposals did not receive much attention in the media, the legal community was buzzing. Did the Assembly simply want to express its displeasure with some of the actions taken by Chief Justice Leroy Hassell? Or do these bills signifiy a growing concern in the Assembly that the Court, as Ken Stolle says, “is going down a dangerous path… having to control everything?”
5. The Coup That Failed
The GOP thought it was on the verge of retaking the Senate this week when, for a moment, it appeared that Senator Ralph Norham would abandon the Democratic Caucus and force a power sharing arrangement on Senate Finance and Courts of Justice. Northam nixed the deal after an intense session with fellow Democrats and a personal meeting with Governor Kaine. Democrats breathed a sign of relief, but the abortive coup drew attention to just how precarious their margin is in the Senate. With redistricting coming up prior to the next Senate election cycle, Northam and other disgruntled Democratic Senators are likely to be the object of continuing GOP attentions in the next 12 month.
6. Jim Webb (Again)
I know a lot of Democrats who do not believe that Jim Webb will run for re-election in 2012. And if he does run, I think that a Republican such as Tom Davis could wage a very close contest. But I continue to be impressed with just how often Webb shows up in the middle of the nation’s most important debates. According to a number of accounts, Webb was a real player among the Democrats in the Senate who retooled the House stimulus package to make it (somewhat) cleaner and more politically acceptable. Although he has been in office only two years, Webb has shown that it is possible for a dedicated individual with genuine intellectual tenacity to have a real impact in the Senate
7. No Shows
Governor Kaine called a meeting of the Virginia congressional delegation this week and only Democrats showed up. None of the GOP members came to Richmond or sent a staff member in their stead. I presume that the invite officially came from the Governor and not from the head of the Democratic National Committe. But I guess the GOP congressmen were saying that they don’t see a difference.