State Senator resignation comes in middle of budget impasse

Posted at 7:21 PM, Jun 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-09 20:17:38-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- State Democratic Senator Phil Puckett resigned Monday, and his departure gives Republicans a 20-19 majority in the state Senate.

Previously, Democrats controlled the split body of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans because the Lt. Governor casts the tie breaking vote.

"I am very disappointed that he chose right now to resign," Democratic State Senator Janet Howell said.

This resignation comes as the state approaches the July 1 deadline to have a budget in place.

If no budget is agreed to by that time period, state government could shutdown.

At issue is whether or not to expand Medicaid, Democrats in the Senate -- along with three Republicans -- previously said they would not pass a budget without some version of Medicaid expansion. After Puckett's resignation it remains unclear if Democrats can hold the support of the three Republican Senators (Watkins, Stausch, and Hanger).

When asked if Medicaid expansion is dead in the Senate, State Senator Charles Colgan said "no."

"It has been a very busy 24 hours," said Republican Senate leader Tommy Norment, who is offering little details as to when the Senate will be reorganized.

Norment did say he hopes to get the Senate back-in session as quickly as possible in order to pass a budget and avoid a shutdown.

Norment was swarmed with questions regarding Puckett's resignation and whether or not it was ethical.

"There was no quid pro quo," Norment said.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Pickett was offered a job on the State Tobacco Commission in exchange for his resignation. In addition, his daughter would be confirmed a circuit judge.

Late Monday CBS 6 learned Pickett would not be seeking the job on the Tobacco Commission.

Pickett has yet to comment on his resignation publicly although various senators told CBS 6 reporter Joe St . George that personal reasons are also involved.

Democratic Senator Adam Ebbin has called on the Attorney General to investigate the matter.

Senator Norment said he had knowledge of the potential resignation for several weeks but was not involved in any discussions.

State Senators on both sides of the aisle who wish to remain anonymous tell CBS 6 this will encourage "de-coupling," or passing a budget without Medicaid expansion and then coming back to address the issue during a special session.

Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe called the resignation "disappointing."

McAuliffe had previously said he will not sign a budget without Medicaid expansion.

In a statement Sunday, McAuliffe said he will work to pass a budget with bipartisan lawmakers as well as close the coverage gap.