Best Managed State

If It's Good Enough For New Jersey, Shouldn't It Be Good Enough For Virginia?

Every legislative session we make open government, transparency and spending reform major issues on our legislative agenda. In 2009, after years of trying, we were successful in helping guide the passage of a online spending transparency bill into law. While it did not put an online a search mechanism as straightforward and simple to use as those put into online in Nebraska or Missouri, it was a significant step forward. Since then, we have advocated for transparency on the budgeting side of the issue, as opposed to after-the-fact spending transparency. While it is great for citizen watchdogs to have the ability to investigate how much and with whom the commonwealth spends our money, it would be better to see where our lawmakers are appropriating it before it gets that far, in order to stop the wasteful spending before it becomes law. That's why we've supported bills to flag down earmarks in the appropriations process, to require a 48-hour or 72-hour reading period before the budget is voted on, to require agency budget prioritization, to spotlight new major spending priorities and for zero-based budgeting.

Not only would each of these reforms help taxpayers learn where there money is going, as well as reduce wasteful spending (and keep overall spending under control), it would help lawmakers — ostensibly. One would think, anyway. After all, it's pretty hard to keep up with 80-plus billion dollars over a two-year budget when you're a part-time legislator, even if you are a Prince of the Highbacks. But each of these bills died silently in General Assembly money committees, including five unanimously in sub-committee in the Republican controlled House.

The reason given was pretty simple and seemingly on the up and up: The House and Senate leadership of both parties and  both chambers made a fairly well publicized "we're all getting along" declaration prior to the legislative session's start that many of the transparency principles would be adhered to in a gentleman's agreement, while the budget prioritization stuff was coming from the executive branch with its new $15 million "performance based budgeting" software. Easy to say then, with fresh-off-elections, beginning-of-session-optimism reigning supreme. Not as easy to do without a budget. Or even a process.

That all as prelude, or even an aside, to the news today, about another reason transparency is important: corruption. It turns out that an unprecedented — in size and scope — 18-month investigation of state corruption safeguards ranked Virginia — Yes, Virginia — sweet, innocent, stately Virginia, as the 47th ranked state for anti-corruption laws and regulations (see report here). We received a big, fat, F. Kind of puts a new spin on that "Best Managed State" stuff, doesn't? Said Randy Barrett, a spokesman for the Center for Public Integrity, one of the sponsoring organizations of the State Integrity Investigation (see The Daily Press):

The bottom line is that Virginia did really poorly in nine of the 14 categories. The areas where Virginia did well were in procurement and internal auditing and it did fair or OK in redistricting, and civil service management did pretty well. The rest of it was pretty weak. 

What constitutes "the rest of it"? Take a guess: access to information, campaign finance, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, budgeting and ethics enforcement, among others. "Follow the money" isn't a cliche. It certainly follows that if the money is spent in the light of day, there will be less temptation (former Delegate Phil Hamilton, for example). One year, when the spending transparency bill was defeated in a Senate committee, then-Senator Edd Houck infamously bellowed out that the whole idea of the bill implied that General Assembly appropriators were doing something "in the dark" and evil, and they couldn't spend the money for an online transparency program because they were trying to "educate the children." (Seriously.)

Perhaps the most ignominy about this study is that New Jersey was ranked first (see Reuters and Real Clear Politics). New Jersey, where an elected is arrested ever other week, has stronger anti-corruption laws than Virginia (which is probably why New Jersey officials regularly are arrested.)

Then there are those fiscal conservatives went after their social conservative colleagues this session, complaining that "social issues" distracted our representatives from doing "real" work. But there was plenty of fiscally conservative spending reform bills far removed from "distracting" debates in other areas. Oh, for those halcyon days of early January when handshake deals were transparent for media consumption. All of which begged the question: If it's good enough for a handshake deal, why isn't it good enough for a law? Put another way, if it's good enough for New Jersey, isn't it good enough for Virginia?

Today,  the sun shines only on New Jersey. New Jersey!

House Sub-Committee To Get Another Crack At "Earmark" Transparency Bill

The House Appropriations Committee chairman was quoted in the Washington Post last week, saying:

Do you think I know everything in the budget? I don't know what’s in a $78 billion budget . . . I don't know.

If the chairman of the budget writing committee doesn't know, who does? Tomorrow morning, members of a House Appropriations sub-committee can help rectify this situation. It will vote on an important reform that will bring greater transparency — and thus, less government — to the Commonwealth's budget and spending practices. It previously defeated a similar measure, so urgent action is needed to contact sub-committee members and ask them to vote in favor of SB 1353!

SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), passed the Senate unanimously. It would prohibit the House-Senate Budget conference committee (12 members of the General Assembly) from including in its budget any funding for non-state agencies, funding for projects that were not introduced as legislation during session, and items that were not included in either chamber's version of the budget — unless the chairmen of the money committees enumerate those items in a letter to all 140 members of the legislature (see Daily Press editorial).

This is a long overdue and simple reform that will reduce government spending — with this ray of sunshine on them, the few legislators with this "earmark" privilege will be reluctant to spend money that didn’t go through the normal legislative process.

Much of the final budget is a mystery. Lawmakers get it a few hours before the vote on the final day of session. SB 1353 would make it apparent what items are in the budget that were not voted on at any stage during session. If members want to spend, it should be voted on separately, up-or-down, and on the record, not buried  in a mammoth spending bill that funds our police, schools and transportation.

Virginia's budget process leaves much to be desired and is no way to run the country's best managed state. This bill would provide transparency for citizens and help lawmakers make informed decisions.

New Poll Question: Who Mismanaged Worse? Kaine Or Warner?

Find $1.45 billion laying around your local VDOT recently? Kind of puts in question those "Best Managed State" awards Tim Kaine and Mark Warner loved to brag about. Which got me thinking: Who did worse? Tim Kaine in mismanaging VDOT and letting nearly $1.5 billion languish in various accounts while trying to raise our taxes (against his own campaign promise) "for transportation needs"? Or, Mark Warner, who also violated his no-tax pledge when he grossly underestimated general fund revenue, saying we couldn't pay teachers, police and firefighters unless we raised taxes, only to find a huge surplus weeks after signing the tax increase bill? Or, back to Mr. Kaine, who overestimated general fund revenue during a recession, despite advice to the contrary, so that when revenue fell short, he could kick and scream for a tax increase to fund his new programs?

We ask. You decide.

Virginia News Stand: September 30, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations  Virginia Borrows Now; IOUs Next?

Who said Virginia isn't for borrowers? We've always prided ourselves on being different than the federales. In Virginia, we balance our budgets. In Virginia, we don't use gimmicks. Of course, states can't print money, but they sure can borrow it. In Virginia's case, it's more than $1.2  billion worth, or the size of a potential Creigh Deeds tax increase. Whatever happened to the "Best Managed State"? This is what Senator Deeds wants to "continue"? First, it was California-style state employee furloughs. Now it's federal government-style borrowing. What's next? Left coast-style IOUs?  

If that wasn't enough, the Dems in Washington now are considering shielding banks from state laws. So much for federalism and that constitution thing. Finally, be sure to check out Michelle Malkin's exclusive on the President Obama's friends and their Olympic connections. Nothing like having a friend in high places lobby your case for the Olympics.

News:

Va. To borrow up to $1.27 billion for unemployment payments (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Bolling Vows Fiscal Reform (Harrisonburg Daily News-record)

Polls find competing results for campaigns (Northern Virginia Daily)

A Tug of War For Women's Votes in Race For Governor (Washington Post)

Holton backs Deeds; Republicans talk mental health (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Deeds happy with Holton endorsement (Roanoke Times)

Paths diverge over budget, roads in 17th District debate (Roanoke Times)

November election voter registration deadline nears (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

5th hopeful from GOP runs for 5th (Charlottesville Daily Progress)

National News:

More thorny challenges ahead for health overhaul (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Dems debate sheilding banks from state laws (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Analysis:

Virginia's Regional Divide on the Issues (Jennifer Agiesta/Washington Post Voices Blog)

In Virginia Culture Wars Look Very Much Alive (Stuart Rothenberg/Rothenberg Political Report Blog)

Commentary:

All The President's Olympic Cronies (Michelle Malkin/GOPUSA.com)

Health Care and the Constitution . . . Remember that Document? (Bobby Eberle/GOPUSA.com)

Coming: The Economic "W" (Dick Morris and Eileen McGann/GOPUSA.com)

Is Disagreement With Obam Racism? (Walter E. Williams/GOPUSA.com)

Pittsburgh Protest Promoters (Brent Bozell/GOPUSA.com)

Did Forbes Magazine, CNBC Do Their Homework In Naming Virginia Best State For Business?

We're as thrilled as the next guy that Virginia continues to rack up victories in prestigious national rankings for business and management. The PR can't hurt, especially in these times. Governor Tim Kaine certainly couldn't contain his enthusiasm this morning on his monthly call-in show on Richmond radio station WRVA when he announced Forbes again named Virginia the best state in the nation in for business. (Never mind the fact that, by Forbes' own admission, Georgia, which moved from 15th to fifth, is the real story this year). This adds to the Old Dominion's CNBC Number 1 ranking, announced last month.   Virginia has won so many "Best State For Business" and "Best Managed State" awards over the last 10 years (all without major league sports franchises and new stadiums, by the way) that one has to wonder how much of it is earned and how much is based on reputation. It makes one question whether CNBC and Forbes have even heard of VITA and Northrop Grumman (see Daily Press). How can either one claim the current administration has managed the state well with a massive agency/private sector partnership in meltdown (see Charlottesville Daily Progress)? What about the constantly missed budget revenue forecasts despite repeated warnings from outside sources and the General Assembly? Not to mention four years without a transportation plan. We don't hear the governor championing those aspects of his government.

No Confidence Vote?

Everyone remembers Queen Elizabeth's visit here in May 2007 to celebrate Virginia's quadricentennial. Although figures show her visit's impact didn't give historic Jamestown more than a short-term boost in visitation, apparently Her Highness did have an influence among some General Assembly Democrats. For as much as state Dems are publicly giddy over the possibility that Governor Tim Kaine may be nominated by their national party for vice president, they don't want to be seen in his presence — kind of like the British Parliament's vote of no confidence. You see, His Excellency had to make a tail-between-the-legs-presentation to the General Assembly money committees Monday, where he had to admit he overestimated revenue projections when crafting his budget — perhaps conveniently, so as to add new programs, such as pre-K. He did this despite repeated warnings by lawmakers of both parties, as well as Delegate Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who released a statement he sent to the governor last winter (read here). So on Monday, Vice Pres, uhhh, Governor Kaine had to suck it up and announce plans for cuts to the $78 billion two-year budget.

But some didn't get the message. Not first hand, anyway. That's because several key Democrat legislators were missing. Some  pretty big donkeys, too, including House Democrat Leader, Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), a member of the House Finance Committee; House Democrat Caucus Chairman Delegate Brian Moran (D-46, Alexandria), also a Finance Committee member and a 2009 candidate for governor; and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee. They are in addition to Jody Wagner, who just happened to make her resignation as Finance Secretary effective the previous Friday. She's the one who advised then-Governor Mark Warner that we needed a tax increase because Virginia's budget was running a "deficit." It was that pretense under which we had shoved Virginia's largest-in-history-tax-increase at us. Turned out, we ran three consecutive years of record surpluses. So, for four years she underestimated; the last three she's overestimated. Now, she's running for lieutenant governor. (How will she know how much money she needs to raise for her campaign?)

So why did all these people avoid VP/Governor Kaine? Wagner's absence is easy to understand — the target on her back already is bigger than the ones at the Olympic rifle range. The legislators were afraid, perhaps, of being perceived as accepting of budget cuts, which would anger their liberal base. Or maybe they don't want to be identified with the financial mismanagement of the nation's "Best Managed State." Whatever the reason, it was a no confidence vote on the man they think should be the country's number two.