RICHMOND -- Virginia Democrats defeated the General Assembly's latest budget compromise Tuesday in a dispute over funding for the Dulles Metrorail line, sending lawmakers back to the drawing board again and furthering the state's political divide.
Sen. Chuck Colgan, D-Manassas, shocked Republicans when he voted against a budget compromise he had supported in committee earlier this month. Republicans entered Tuesday's special session confident Colgan would provide the lone Democratic vote they needed to pass a two-year, $85 billion spending plan in the evenly divided chamber.
But Northern Virginia Democrats, who for weeks had been lobbying Colgan intensely, finally convinced the senior senator and their downstate colleagues to stand united against the budget, effectively killing the measure.
It was the third budget proposal Senate Democrats killed this year. They defeated the latest compromise because it didn't include up to $300 million in additional funding for Metro's new Silver Line to Washington Dulles International Airport and beyond, which they see as an economic engine for the region.
"You can't tell me that there's a single project, a single project, that carries the importance of a Dulles Rail project," said Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.
The compromise budget easily passed the Republican-dominated House, 77 to 19, with some Democratic support, before dying in the Senate.
Republicans said Colgan simply couldn't resist his colleagues' persistent pressure.
"When you're 85 years old and a statesman of Virginia and Dick Saslaw decides he's going to give you some serious kidney punches, over and over and over again, perhaps you cannot resist that," said Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City.
Just before the vote, Norment said he turned to Colgan and told him, "You realize what's happening here, don't you?"
Colgan didn't speak on the floor prior to the vote and avoided reporters afterwards. In a Senate Finance Committee meeting earlier in the day, he was visibly distraught.
Lawmakers are already working overtime to pass a budget after failing to do so before the General Assembly adjourned last month. They will meet Wednesday to try again. They have until the new fiscal year starts July 1 to strike a deal and avoid a government shutdown.
Saslaw said Republicans must free up additional money for Dulles Rail if they want to reach a deal.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, who joined the last-minute negotiations with Democrats, ruled out such funding, and other Republicans warned that a failure to strike a deal could further cloud relations in the divided Senate.
"What we are about to embark on here," Norment said, "is an initiative of partisan brinksmanship that is going to lead to partisan vertigo that is not going to dissipate itself very soon."