Details Emerge on the Chichester-Potts Stuff-Back

Legislative maneuvering in the General Assembly reached a theatric climax earlier this month when Sen. Russell Potts, R-Winchester, withdrew a transportation-tax proposal that threatened to derail the comprehensive GOP transportation package supported by the House of Delegates and elements of the state Senate. Newspaper accounts alluded only briefly to Potts’ explanation for his retraction: the fact that Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling was prepared to rule that his amendment was not “germane” to the underlying legislation.

Potts’ retreat represented a decisive defeat not only for the Winchester maverick but for Senate Finance Chair John H. Chichester, R-Northumberland, and his allies in the Axis of Taxes who see higher taxes and more spending as the best antidotes to what ails the Commonwealth. Remarkably, no one in the press corps, which normally loves high drama, never felt moved to delve behind the scenes of this legislative turning point.

A few new details have emerged from Bolling himself, who wrote about the incident in his weekly newsletter, “The Bolling Report.” In this week’s edition he writes:

The Chichester/Potts bill set up a potentially divisive battle with Chichester, Potts and Senate Democrats on one side and the vast majority of Senate Republicans on the other side. At the last minute Senator Chichester and Senator Potts asked that their alternative transportation proposal be returned to the Committee on Finance and not voted on by the full Senate.

The decision to forgo a floor fight on this issue appeared to be influenced by two factors: 1) a desire to avoid a potentially bitter battle between Senate Republicans, who have historically stood united on important issues such as this, and 2) a desire to avoid an adverse parliamentary ruling that could have prevented the bill from moving forward.

At issue was whether or not the Chichester/Potts substitute was “germane” to the underlying bill it was attached to by the Committee on Finance. Germaneness is an important parliamentary principle which requires that committee amendments relate to the general purpose of the underlying bill and that they do not unreasonably expand the general purpose of the underlying bill.

In this case the Committee on Finance had added the Chichester/Potts substitute to an underlying bill introduced by Senator Potts that was much narrower in its focus than the committee substitute. Because of this, I had been asked, as the presiding officer of the Senate, to determine if the committee substitute was germane.

After completing extensive research on this question I had decided that the Chichester/Potts substitute was not germane to the underlying bill it was attached to. As such, I was prepared to rule that the substitute was not properly before the Senate and order its return to the Committee on Finance.

To avoid this ruling, and to avoid a bitter floor fight among Senate Republicans, Senator Chichester and Senator Potts chose to voluntarily recommit their substitute to the Committee on Finance. The good news is that a vote on the Chichester/Potts substitute, which would have seriously harmed our efforts to reach any agreement on transportation funding this year, was avoided.

As of this morning, Bolling was making no predictions as to whether the full Senate would approve the compromise package.

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5 responses to “Details Emerge on the Chichester-Potts Stuff-Back”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon:

    Given this posting, I am requesting
    you post Raw Fisher written by Marc
    Fisher published in the Sunday,
    February 11, 2007 edition of The
    Washington Post.

    The column discusses the serious frustration of the Prince Wiliam
    County GOP Board of Supervisor’s
    Chairman with the GOP so-called compromise transportation package
    you support now pending in the
    General Assembly.

    That package increases a variety of
    fees and taxes and allows the two most congested areas in the state to raise their taxes, while, as this official expains Norther Virginia is generating 40% of the
    state’s revenue and only receivintg
    17% of the state dedicated transportation money.

    The county leader predicts there will be a palace revolt in Hampton
    Roads and Northern Virginia this
    fall when all 140 members of the
    GA are standing for election.


    Rodger Provo

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Rodger, I agree that Fisher’s column would make good reading. But I sense that you are suggesting that NoVA and Tidewater leaders would generally be supportive of the Chichester-Potts approach. Or have I misunderstood? Please clarify.

    Neither NoVA nor Tidewater wins with any statewide approach. These areas are always likely to contribute more statewide taxes or fees to the State than they would receive in state funding.

    There are many things to dislike about the House GOP plans, but the statewide tax approach favored by Kaine, Chichester and Potts is much worse for anyone who lives in NoVA or Tidewater. Why would we want to send dollars to Richmond for pennies in return?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear toomanytaxes:

    I think the blog would benefit from
    having Jim Bacon post the Fisher
    column. There are many sides to
    this debate and I think that piece
    explores another factor.

    Rodger Provo

  4. Jim,

    I saw this story in the Leesburg paper from last Thursday It gives you some additional background on why Potts backed down on his tax increases. Looks like Bolling’s was too anti-tax for Potts.

    In the Senate chamber, Potts saw his transportation plan fall by the wayside.

    “Lt. Governor Bill Bolling (R), who is anti-everything, never voted for a tax increase in his life, an obstructionist, told me prior to this session he was going to rule the bill not germane as it was drafted,” Potts said.

    Potts asked the bill to be returned to committee, effectively killing the legislation because Tuesday was “crossover,” the last day the House and Senate could work on legislation proposed by their members. It marks the halfway point of the assembly session.

    In a statement released Tuesday, Bolling said the measure “would have resulted in massive statewide tax increases, and if adopted, would have severely jeopardized our ability to reach any agreement on transportation funding this year.”

    Potts’ plan came out of the Senate Finance Committee last Thursday, after the panel killed a compromise plan between House and Senate Republicans. The committee eventually approved Potts’ plan-which used less General Fund dollars-to increase the statewide gas tax by 5 percent.


  5. Jim Bacon Avatar

    GOPJeff, thanks for the additional details. Another angle to this story that I find fascinating is the power that a Lieutenant Governor can wield in the General Assembly. The ability to decide whether or not an amendment is “germane” seems even more important than the ability to cast a tie-breaking vote. As a newcomer to observing the legislative process, I find this quite interesting.

    As for Potts calling Bolling “anti-everything,” let’s see what his constituents have to say about his steadfast support for higher taxes. Let’s see if Potts has the guts to run for re-election, and if he does, let’s see if he can win again.

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