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The State Budget, Redistricting, and Presidential Primary Season: Political Analysis for Friday, February 21, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between them.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week's political commentary. Topics include the state budget, the redistricting process, and the upcoming Presidential primaries.

Phil Liles:  This is VPM News.  With just two weeks remaining in the 2020 session, the Virginia legislature is sharply focusing on some of the biggest and toughest issues.  That includes a state budget for the next two years and how to draw legislative and congressional boundaries next year.  Both are issues that spotlight divisions within the new Democratic majority.  Plus Democrats are taking sides ahead of the Super Tuesday presidential primary March 3.  Here to talk about it all and more is Craig Carper, VPM News Director, and Jeff Schapiro, political columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch,  and good morning to both of you.

Craig Carper:  Thanks, Phil. Good morning, and good morning to you, Jeff.

Jeff Schapiro:  Hi there, Craig.

Carper:  The House and Senate are going through the motions of fashioning a compromise $135 billion two-year spending plan that will begin in July.

Schapiro:  And there are differences as Phil mentioned in the setup - more money for teachers, salary increases for state employees.  Remember the governor didn't take care of the classified workforce.  The late burst of cash from the administration, $300 million or so, a good chunk of that, about a third, goes into this rainy day fund, the emergency fund, but the remaining dollars are helping finance some of these pay raises for public employees.  Remember every 1% in salary increase costs about $45 million.  A related piece on public employee compensation, the state is apparently poised to extend collective bargaining rights to public school teachers.  Lots of differences - the House and Senate aren't as generous as the governor on classroom-to-workplace programs.   There are some different approaches to economic development as well, but they are pretty much in sync over how to use higher taxes for transportation and tobacco.  The former, an increase in the fuel tax, will cover roads and construction of a big railroad bridge up in Northern Virginia.  The higher tobacco taxes are going to be covering healthcare.  A compromise budget, the last real big piece of business for the legislature before it adjourns on the seventh of March.   The governor can get another whack at it after that, and it'll all be pretty much in place by spring.  Remember, this is the Northam legacy budget.  It's the only budget of his non-renewable four-year term of which he'll have pretty much complete control with the spending, largely reflecting his priorities.

Carper:  And Democrats have been playing some games on redistricting reform, intentionally or not.  They're leaving a lot of people with the impression that they're changing their minds about taking the partisan politics out of drawing legislative and congressional boundaries.

Schapiro:  Yesterday, the House and Senate were supposed to act on this constitutional amendment that for the most part would remove the legislature from the redistricting process.  The Speaker of the House, Eileen Filler-Corn is refusing to bring this to the floor, Boss Filler-Corn.  [laughing] This has led to a bit of a dustup yesterday between the Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, and Joe Lindsey, the Chairman of the House Elections Committee.  The problem here is that within the House Democratic caucus, most of the African American members oppose this constitutional amendment.  There are few white liberals who are siding with them.  The fact of the matter is that if this bill were to come to the floor, it would pass.  About 20 Democrats still support it, and of course the entire Republican caucus will.  It’s sort of an interesting display of brute political power by the speaker.  We keep hearing that there’s a chance there will be some sort of a deal before adjournment.  One hears a lot of talk about something sharply resembling a fig leaf that will somehow pass for redistricting reform, but nothing really substantive would be put in place until the next redistricting, next post-‘21 redistricting in 2031 when I think a lot of us might be retired.

Carper:  [laughing] And last week, Mike Bloomberg was in Virginia.  Elizabeth Warren buzzed through Northern Virginia before that.  Now Pete Buttigieg is heading this way for a Sunday town meeting in Arlington.  So Jeff, it must be presidential primary season in Virginia. 

Schapiro:  And Bernie Sanders, Bloomberg and Joe Biden, according to this Monmouth University poll we saw this week, are virtually neck and neck in the run up to the Super Tuesday primary here in Virginia.  Another billionaire running for president, Tom Steyer, spent a lot of money around Virginia, as has Bloomberg, hasn't much of a profile.  One of the things that's interesting is how quiet some of the Democratic big shots are.  We haven't heard from the governor, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine or Mark Warner about their picks for president.  Warner would be particularly sensitive to that, standing for reelection this year.  He tends to be a bit more of a centrist than the Democratic Party as a whole and doesn't seem much interested in running on a ticket that may be led by Bernie Sanders.  But on the other hand, he doesn't want to offend those liberal activists.

Carper:  That's right.  Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will catch up next week.  

Schapiro:  Roger that.

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