RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — The constitutionality of Portsmouth Senator Louise Lucas' amendment regarding tolls was called into question Monday. Despite that, the Senate passed the house version of the state budget.
Sen. Lucas' budget amendments calls for a delay of the Midtown and Downtown Tunnel tolls until January 2014. That budget amendment passed the Senate Finance Committee which approved the Senate budget. But on Monday, the Commonwealth reminded senators that it is a violation of both the Constitution of the United States and of Virginia that the General Assembly cannot pass a law that interferes with contract laws. The toll project is under contract. WAVY.com obtained a document (see attached photo) that states:
The Commonwealth is concerned that the language contained in this budget amendment violates both the Constitution of the United States and Virginia. Specifically, the language stated that no toll shall be levied prior to the implementation and incorporation of this strategy into the Comprehensive Agreement violates the Contracts Clause because it legislatively attempts dictate a change in contract terms for a previously executed contract.
The state's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli,
echoed the same sentiment in a document given to WAVY.com by the Governor's Office. The talking points cites specific reasons why the budget amendment could be an issue.
Sen. Lucas, in an interview with Andy Fox, said there is nothing wrong with the constitutionality of the language in her amendment, "People are calling it a potential snag, but it is not a snag. This language was vetted 100 percent before I presented it. Had there been a problem, all these lawyers sitting here on the Senate Finance Committee, one of them would have raised it."
Sen. Lucas, a Democrat, voted for the budget Monday.
Gov. Bob McDonnell's Press Secretary released the following statement on behalf of the governor:
“As part of our review of this legislation, the governor’s office consulted with the Office of the Attorney General to determine any legal issues that may result from this legislation, as we do with all bills. During that review, concerns were raised that any action by the General Assembly in regard to legislating changes to a legally binding contract would run afoul of established law. This information was conveyed to the Senate Finance Committee as they consider the proposed budget bills currently under discussion in the General Assembly.”
The House of Delegates will next take a look at the budget with the toll amendment, and has the option of rejecting the Senates approval.
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