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The Ghost of T-Mac
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRICHMOND – The 2018 General Assembly began with several unknowns destined to play roles in the outcome of the annual session. There were the obvious ones, such as the drastically new composition of the House of Delegates, a new House speaker and a new governor.

Then there were the less obvious, especially the move of legislative offices from the General Assembly Building, which is under demolition, to a four-year temporary home in the more confined Pocahontas Building on the other side of Capitol Square. In fact, it is outside of Capitol Square. As it turns out, there was more to it than the dynamic of a new legislative nerve center — and the ghost of an old governor was at play.

In 2014, after years of discussion, and many more of disrepair and an unhealthy working environment (heating, cooling, air circulation, pipe and all types of ill-functioning systems) lawmakers agreed on funding for a new General Assembly Building as part of a decades-long improvement campaign of Capitol Square. (From the late 1990s projects have included massive renovations and additions to the Executive Mansion, the capitol and the Oliver Hill, Patrick Henry, Barbara Johns and Pocahontas buildings to house offices for the governor, lieutenant governor, cabinet members and their departments, and the attorney general, among other needs.)

But along came the new governor at that time, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who proposed expanding Medicaid under provisions of Obamacare. When the Republican dominated General Assembly refused to agree because of the fiscal duress such a massive government expansion would impose on Virginia taxpayers, the impetuous governor retaliated by using his executive authority to delay procurement and other processes for the new building for two years. As media reports this week estimate, the delays have cost at least $24 million.

Of course, no one has a monopoly on wasting precious tax dollars. Both the House and Senate passed budgets during the regular session that included as much as $12 million of spending on a new program to fund long acting reversible contraceptives, which amounts to a slush fund for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. It and Medicaid expansion also are in the new House budget passed during the special session, and which is waiting Senate action.

In a period of tight budgeting and fierce debate over the biggest expansion of state government in 14 years — or any other time — why are taxpayers on the hook for something that is not a core function of government? That money, if spent at all, could fund more than a few teacher salaries, for example. Where’s the education cartel clamoring for its "fair share”?

Republicans don’t even seem to understand they are financing their own defeat. All money Planned Parenthood receives is fungible and it gives millions of it back in Virginia exclusively to Democrats. Delegate Scott Garrett (R-Lynchburg) prepared a floor amendment to at least restrict abortion providers from receiving this money but pulled it because there was not enough support among House Republicans.

That’s ironic considering that in 2016 and 2017 a stand-alone bill that stipulated much the same passed both chambers with GOP-only votes, only to be vetoed by McAuliffe in unprecedented, circus like "Veto Ceremonies.” Although there is some hope the "LARC” funding will get stripped out in the conference committee, it’s proof that some ghosts are hard to exorcise.

Stephen J. (Steve) Rossie is a Richmond-based public and government relations consultant. He has been a General Assembly lobbyist since 2006 and has written about Virginia government since 2007.


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