Lost in the shuffle

That rumbling Gov. Mark Warner may hear from his office on the third floor of the State Capitol is the Republican agenda being passed through the General Assembly with the force of a herd of stampeding elephants.

We’re not sure what exactly triggered it, but Republicans in the General Assembly are very close to making Mark Warner an irrelevant figure in the operation of the commonwealth as this year’s legislative session reaches its midway point. Seldom does a day go by without news of the GOP shooting down one of Warner’s legislative priorities or the passage of another Republican initiative that’s all but guaranteed with a near veto-proof majority in both houses.

Warner was able to enjoy a brief honeymoon period last year with a cordial working agreement with lawmakers and the goal of building a budget with dwindling tax revenues. The new governor was even able to get one of his campaign priorities the ill-fated sales tax referendum on the November ballot. Perhaps that’s what doomed him. Or maybe the Republicans were upset at Warner’s decision to close certain DMV offices only to offer a one-time solution for reopening them a couple months later.

Regardless, it seems that all bets are off and the GOP is on autopilot in its defiance of Warner’s constant veto threats. Here are a few signs that Warner’s influence in the Capitol is dwindling:

Warner said he would sign bills dealing with primary enforcement of seatbelt laws and Photo-Red. Both bills were killed.

Warner urged a constitutional amendment allowing his successor to seek a second term in office. This bill initially made it to the House floor but was killed Tuesday.

Against Warner’s wishes, Republicans and some Democrats passed the abolition of the estate tax. The bill allows those who inherit large amounts of land or a business to escape often crippling taxes especially farming families who are often forced to sell to developers to pay the taxes.

The Republicans have also used their majority to push through a number of bills dealing with social issues and abortion. This includes a ban on partial birth abortions and tougher standards on abortion clinics.

Warner’s appointment to the State Water Control Board, Katherine E. Slaughter, was turned down by the Senate by a 20-19 vote. Republicans cited a conflict of interest on Slaughter’s part because she’s involved with a lawsuit against the board.

For the first time since they took control of both houses in 2000, Republicans are asserting their majority. If Warner’s vetoes are overridden en masse by the legislature, he runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. However, there is room for him to take the initiative.

Virginia’s tax code is outdated and is past due for revision. A legislative committee studying mass revision of the code has little to show for two years of work. This leaves an opening for Warner to come forward with new ideas on fixing Virginia’s tax system without a tax increase. That means upgrading the tax code. If he beats Republicans to the punch on this issue, it could make him little more noticeable around Capitol Square.

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