I know everyone is tired of the snow, the rain, the overcast skies. But there will be a little more sunshine in Virginia before too long. This isn't a weather forecast. But thanks to SB 431, the books in Richmond will be easier to inspect. Monday morning, the House Appropriations Sub-committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities, amended, then passed unanimously SB 431. Later that day, it passed the full committee 22-0 and is on its way to the House floor.
The bill, patroned by Senator Mark Herring (D-33, Leesburg) builds on the landmark spending transparency bills last year by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) and then-Senator Ken Cuccinelli. Although it was more detailed in its original incarnation — it was stripped down due to the ever-present and dreaded “Fiscal Impact Statement” — it adds yet more sunshine to the current law. It will require each state agency to put their check and credit card purchases online, including a description of the good or service and the date of purchase. It also makes finding this information easier for citizen budget hawks — each agency must place an icon on its home page that links directly to a page that details its spending. Believe it or not, this simple procedure has been lacking and will make navigating the often confusing state spending trail much easier for concerned citizens, watchdog groups and grassroots organizations who care where or hard-earned tax dollars go.
Perhaps most important, it will save the Commonwealth money because the more people looking, the more waste and duplication is caught. This has been the case in every state that has opened itself up, and even with the federal government. After all, private citizens looking over the federal budget online detected the infamous “Bridge To Nowhere.”
Along with Senator Herring, thanks go to the sub-committee chairman, Delegate John O’Bannon (R-73, Henrico), who arranged the committee meeting late in session to guarantee the bill’s fair hearing. The Virginia Coalition For Open Government and Americans For Tax Reform joined us in supporting SB 431. Once passed by the full House, it will go back to the Senate to work out differences but is expected to maintain the features outlined above.
You never know during the General Assembly where a bill is going to come from that will give an unexpected lift for good policy and constitutional government. Sometimes, less publicized bills pop up on your radar screen and other times high profile bills crash and burn. Better the former than the latter when it actually accomplishes something.