|Democrats publicly, and even a couple of Republicans privately, the Richmond Times-Dispatch notes, are blaming McDonnell for what they say is a lack of leadership. McDonnell has chatted with legislators and offered some parameters ("no new taxes") but, unlike previous governors, he hasn't had the courage so far to send to the legislature budget amendments that reflect his priorities.
"There are thousands of jobs hanging in the balance. We need some direction," State Sen. R. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania) said in a floor speech last week, a speech extremely critical of the direction of budget talks.
Republicans are now having to contend with potential state and local job losses that will be huge, losses that were mitigated last year by the very Recovery Act they demonized.
Referring to the size of the cuts that have to be made, Del. Riley Ingram (R-Hopewell), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee said, "I've been here 18 years and I've never seen anything like this." He could also have been talking also about an incoming governor not doing the job he was elected to.
According to Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), any budget that passes the Senate won't include a tax increase, because of overwhelming opposition from McDonnell and the GOP-controlled House of Delegates.
The state budget may include increasing some fees, but McDonnell is already getting heat from his far-right supporters who consider any revenue to any level of government evil on its face unless they personally benefit from the resulting governmental action.
How devoid of ideas is McDonnell? Well, late in January, the new governor actually emailed state workers asking for their suggestions in plugging the $4.2 billion hole in the budget.
The criticism directed at McDonnell is getting louder with each passing day. My favorite came last week from State Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico):
"There is a certain Standard of Leadership that is to be expected of a governor. Virginians expect their governor to conduct his business in the open, not in private meetings with legislators. The people of Virginia elected Governor McDonnell to make the tough decisions needed to manage the state and they deserve to know his priorities as we work to craft the state's budget."
"Every governor has put his mark on the budget, but Governor McDonnell has, thus far, shied away from this challenge. This is a time for leadership," McEachin declared. Yes!
Remember, the budget process we have in the Commonwealth is left over from the time when governors were the handmaidens of the old Harry Byrd machine.
The governor, limited to one four-year term, has the responsibility of submitting a biennial budget, even as he is leaving office. The incoming governor then is responsible for making any changes he sees as necessary. (Using the masculine pronoun exclusively simply describes state history to date.)
Since McDonnell & Co. have rejected the tax increase in Gov. Kaine's last budget, it is incumbent upon them to quickly suggest ways to cut an additional $2 billion, on top of Kaine's $2.2 billion cuts, from the next budget.
Quickly submitting budget amendments for any changes he wants in his predecessor's budget is part of the job description of the governor of Virginia. McDonnell can't avoid putting his imprint on the draconian state cuts that are inevitable this year, no matter how much he tries to hide from his responsibilities.
Dropping back and punting the problem to someone else is not an option, Governor.