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McDonnell vetoes pension increase and transportation measure

Tuesday - 6/12/2012, 7:17am  ET

By BOB LEWIS
AP Political Writer

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday signed the $85 billion state budget scheduled to take effect in less than three weeks, but scratched two provisions of the two-year spending plan.

Major provisions of the 2012-2014 budget _ particularly a major increase in contributions to a critically underfunded public employee pension system _ are unchanged by Monday's actions.

The governor vetoed one amendment to the budget that would have prohibited him from using future surpluses for transportation maintenance, saying it conflicts with two bills enacted during this year's session giving him authority to do just that.

And, in an unusual move, he marked another amendment as "unconstitutional," meaning the executive branch won't enforce it.

The amendment requires a commission made up of legislators to approve disbursements from a new fund set up as a hedge against declining federal support as Congress copes with a $16 trillion debt.

McDonnell said that by making him answerable to a panel of 10 legislators in distributing money from the new Federal Action Contingency Trust, or FACT fund, the legislative branch tried to usurp power the state Constitution vests only in the governor.

"... I believe that any attempt to delegate legislative approval or veto power over distributions from the FACT fund to be a subset of the General Assembly (the commission) is unconstitutional," he wrote in an explanation of his actions to the House of Delegates.

Allocating money from the FACT fund, he wrote, "falls within the Executive Department and by instituting a commission of 10 legislators to cast binding approval or veto votes violates the Division of Powers."

In explaining his veto of the amendment constraining his use of surpluses for highway maintenance, McDonnell ironically claimed lawmakers had "legislated through the budget" in many parts of the massive bill that directs state spending for two years starting July 1.

The General Assembly had already passed and he had already signed into law two bills that explicitly gave him authority to use year-end unspent balances for transportation and transportation maintenance, he reasoned. While the budget with its power over the purse has been construed to override other law, McDonnell said the budget _ approved weeks after the regular session adjourned March 10 _ conflicted that by then was already part of state law.

Ironically, legislating through the budget was the same criticism legislators of both parties leveled at McDonnell during an extraordinary 13-hour session on May 14 when the General Assembly voted by lopsided bipartisan majorities to reject 29 of the record 106 amendments he tacked onto two budget bills.

House leaders from both parties accused McDonnell of using an unprecedented profusion of amendments to micromanage government and to resurrect many of his policy initiatives that had failed to win passage in the winter regular session.

Legislators took such glee in humiliating the governor that at one point, Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, took the floor and urged his GOP colleagues to stop piling on. He said he feared possible lasting damage to his party's governor and McDonnell's vice presidential ambitions.

The budget directs a cash infusion into the Virginia Retirement System by providing state employees and college faculty a 5 percent pay raise _ their first in years _ and redirecting it as individual contributions into their pension accounts. It's an effort to address $25 billion in unfunded VRS liabilities.

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Online:

McDonnell's letter explaining his budget actions: http://1.usa.gov/MwIiL4


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)