Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Is Special Session Over? What Happened?

You saw our post about the conference budget report. The House and Senate agreed to the compromise budget that included both the funding for the lost sales tax revenues and student enrollment hold harmless language (ADM). This was a huge victory for our public schools. These two actions will save us all from deep and significant cuts to our current school year budgets. You can read my assessment of the budget agreement here.

In normal times, agreement on the budget conference report is the last act before the General Assembly adjourns. This is not the case for this Special Session. One item not included in the conference budget report is funding associated with implementing a new amendment to Virginia’s Constitution. As you may know, there is a Constitutional amendment question on the ballot this Election Day. (Go to our Voter Guide and see the item on Question 1.) The question pertains to the establishment of a Redistricting Commission to construct new House and Senate districts as required every 10 years. If the amendment passes and is added to the Constitution, the Governor will propose an addition to the Conference Budget to cover the cost of establishing the Commission.

Here is where the fun of legislative processes comes into play. If a bill is received by the Governor for his signature while the General Assembly is still in session (not yet adjourned), the Governor has 7 days to take action on the bill. If the General Assembly adjourns, bills that arrive at the Governor’s desk at that point are 30-day bills and he has 30 days to act on those. Knowing that the election is less than 30 days away, the General Assembly has not adjourned so that the budget bill remains a 7-day bill. The goal now is to get the budget bill to the Governor as close to Election Day as possible so that the results on the Constitutional amendment will be known when he acts on the budget. Normally it would take about 7 days to get a bill that is agreed to, enrolled, signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, get it back to staff to send over to the Governor’s office, but the budget can take longer. So, while the budget is agreed to, it will not be signed until after Election Day. At that time, the Governor will make changes to the budget and send it back to the General Assembly for final agreement. It looks like the General Assembly will come back the week before Thanksgiving to take up any action by the Governor on the budget. Of course, the election results will take more time than normal to be certified because of the huge increase in voting by mail (absentee balloting), so this date is still to be officially determined.

In a year with so much uncertainty, I hoped we would have a signed, sealed, and delivered budget as soon as possible. But that just is not the case. It is intentional, but it keeps us waiting. I feel very confident about the items we were able to secure in the budget adopted during the Special Session, but our items are caught up in some of the maneuvering to give the Governor the chance to address the passage of a Constitutional amendment.

2020 just keeps giving me heartburn.