Finance Committee

Quote Of The Day

From one of our favorite senators, Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), who previously graced the QOD when she admitted she didn't have to read a bill to vote on it, comes this gem today, while chairing the Privileges and Elections Committee: When presenting a bill, Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spottsylvania) admitted it had a fiscal impact of around $75,000. But, he said, "it's already in the House budget."

Senator Howell, in the leadership of the Senate's  majority party and member of the Finance Committee, asked:

"Is it in the Senate budget?"

Umm, senator, the Senate famously and deliberately refused to pass a budget by its deadline last week (see Washington Examiner, here). Let's see. Senator Howell doesn't read the bills upon which she votes and doesn't pay attention in Finance Committee. Yes, we're in good hands.

 

One Transparency Bill Alive, One In Limbo

Today, in Senate General Laws, Senator Ken Cuccinelli's spending transparency bill, SB 936, stayed alive. It almost just plain won. In a nutshell, here's what happened: He streamlined the bill with new language worked on with Senator Walter Stosch and the director of public accounts, two people who were adamantly against it last year. It seemed to work. It wasn't going to be "Google Virginia" like supporters want, but it was a sure step forward.

Then, Senator Edd Houck asked where the dreaded fiscal impact statement was. The answer is that there is none, because the substitute bill was drafted with input with the auditor to endure he could do the search upgrade with existing funds — and clearly stated it and supported the bill in his testimony.

But Senator Houck wanted more assurances. Unlike last year, however, when he went on a tirade against the bill and claimed the cost would keep Virginia from educating children, he seemed genuinely interested in it, even withdrawing a very restrictive enactment clause amendment when the clerk read it aloud and he heard how it would kill the bill. Unfortunately, however, he was able to refer it to the Finance Committee. He and Senator Cuccinelli talked afterward and were all smiles. Legit? Seemed so. Senator Cuccinelli said the bill is still alive and it has a chance. We'll see.

Click here and start contacting members of the Senate Finance Committee now!

As for Delegate Ben Cline's version, here's the story: He is adopting the Senate substitute language. However, his bill was referred by the House Science and Technology Committee to House Appropriations and the jurisdictional sub-committee. Problem: The sub-committee doesn't meet again before crossover.

There is a mega outcry over this, with some very high ranking people not particularly pleased, because bills they support will get the silent death treatment without a meeting. Rumors are that negotiations were held with Appropriations Committee Chairman Lacey Putney and affected parties to schedule a Technology Oversight and Government Activities sub-committee tomorrow. But where? At the chairman's desk on the floor after session, where the public is excluded? If in a regular committee room, when? 7:00 a.m.?

Click here and contact Chairman Lacey Putney now and tell him you want HB 2285 to get a fair hearing.

Family Foundation's 2009 Legislative Agenda: Budget Transparency

Yesterday, we posted information about our efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and abortion in Virginia, through grants it receives through the state budget. One of the challenges we face is actually finding the expenditures. You see, there isn't a line item in the budget that says "Planned Parenthood." The money is distributed by local health clinics from money appropriated to the Department of Health. At least the money we know about. An example of the difficulty in finding the truth came just last year when we sent Freedom of Information Act letters to every school board in Virginia concerning contracts with Planned Parenthood. The City of Richmond schools responded that they had no contract with Planned Parenthood but, just days later, we learned from Planned Parenthood that they were holding workshops in Richmond City Schools. Who is paying for this has yet to be determined, but we're working on it.

Several years ago The Family Foundation introduced legislation that was an attempt at making state budget expenditures more available to citizens. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Glen Allen), resulted in Commonwealth Datapoint (click here), a Web site where one can look through every check written by the state.

But plan on spending a lot of time, because while everything is there, it is about as user-friendly as Windows Vista. 

Last year, Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Centerville) and Chap Petersen (D-34, Fairfax) and Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) introduced legislation that would make the budget Web site more user-friendly, including a Google-like search engine. That legislation was killed in committe in both the House and Senate. Senator Edd Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania), a member of the Finance Committee, was particularly offended by the idea that taxpayers should have the right to hold him accountable for budget decisions. Similar legislation will be introduced again this year by those same legislators.

As the Commonwealth now deals with a spending surplus of at least $4 billion, finding where we can save money is extraordinarily important.  Most legislators will tell you that there isn't much waste in state government or any more "trimming of the edges" that can be done. While it would be great to take their word for it, the fact that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Planned Parenthood gives us doubt.

The way to righting this large ship of state begins here: It cannot be done without knowing exactly where and how government spends our hard-earned money; it cannot be done if we continue to sit in darkness while extreme organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, are provided with taxpayer bailouts.

In short, online budget transparency is a just concept of open and good government; of sunshine; of the people having oversight of their government, as the Founders intended. This year's legislative battle will be one of the bureaucrats and politicians who put power (via the purse) over the people's right to know.

Who will win? Rather, who has the will to win?