HJ 615

Major Tax And Spending Reform Once Dead, Now Alive And We Need Your Help!

Last Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee appeared to send a major reform to oblivion without having to go on record: Although it had jurisdiction of HJ 615, a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent tax increases from appearing in the budget bill, it decided instead to refer it to the Finance Committee. Such referrals this late in session normally are a quiet way of killing a bill without having to vote to do so. Furthermore, it was done without the notification of the resolution's patron, also a normal telltale sign of no good. However, today, the Finance Committee announced it would, in fact, hear the resolution Monday afternoon! There is no time to lose. Please contact members of the Finance Committee to vote for this resolution that will bring much needed reform to Virginia's budgeting process, slow down tax and fee increases, and bring some transparency to the way our lawmakers raise and spend our hard earned tax dollars. We need you to contact members of the committee, urgently, and encourage a vote for HJ 615!

HJ 615, patroned by Delegates Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico) and Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), will safeguard your tax dollars by banning tax and fee increases, as well as banning the termination of tax credits, in the budget bill. The budget bill is supposed to be a spending bill only. But in recent years, governors and legislators of both parties have stuck tax and fee increases in it (such as when Mark Warner pushed through his infamous tax increase). The budget bill, which contains more than $70 billion, is given to lawmakers on the last day of session and they only have a few hours to digest it. It is nearly impossible to identify tax increases of any type.

HJ 615 would subject the budget to the Single Object Rule, which prohibits non-germane amendments to bills, a rule all other legislation must live by in the General Assembly (unlike Congress where members attach pet projects to must-pass bills, such as funding military personnel). Unfortunately, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the budget bill, which takes precedence over all other laws once enacted, is not subject to the SRO.

This resolution passed the House 80-15. It even passed a Senate P&E sub-committee 5-1 before the full committee sent it to Finance. So there is widespread support for it, but that doesn't always translate into victory when a few people hold the fate of legislation in their hands. Let's not let this second chance go to waste.

If the General Assembly needs more revenue to fund its projects and programs, it should have the courage to propose and vote on ending tax credits and increasing taxes and fees separately, up or down, on the record. Increases in our tax burden should not buried in a must-pass budget with deadline pressure to approve so that state government can continue to function. But with transparent, separate tax increase bills and up-and-down on-the-record votes, we doubt lawmakers will be in any hurry to raise our taxes. So, this not only is a reform of the budget process that adds transparency, it's a step toward reducing the size of government.

Click here for links to contact information for Senate Finance Committee members.

Major Tax And Spending Reform On Verge Of Passing?

This Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee will consider an important constitutional amendment that will bring much needed reform to Virginia's budgeting process, slow down tax and fee increases, and bring some transparency to the way our lawmakers raise and spend our hard earned tax dollars.

Contact members of the committee, urgently, and encourage a vote for HJ 615!

HJ 615, patroned by Delegates Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico) and Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), will safeguard our tax dollars by banning tax and fee increases, as well as banning the termination of tax credits, in the budget bill. The budget bill is supposed to be a spending bill only. But in recent years, governors and legislators of both parties have stuck tax and fee increases in it (such as when Mark Warner pushed through his infamous tax increase). The budget bill, which contains more than $70 billion, is given to lawmakers on the last day of session and they only have a few hours to digest it. It is nearly impossible to pick out tax increases of any type.

This resolution passed the House 80-15. If it passes the Senate this year and both chambers again next year, Virginia voters will vote on it in November 2012. But we must start with a positive committee vote Tuesday so it can get to the Senate floor.

If the General Assembly needs more revenue to fund its projects and programs, it should have the courage to propose and vote on ending tax credits and increasing taxes and fees separately, up or down, on the record. Increases in our tax burden should not buried in a must-pass budget with deadline pressure to approve so that state government can continue to function. But with transparent, separate tax increase bills and up-and-down on-the-record votes, we doubt lawmakers will be in any hurry to raise our taxes. So, this not only is a reform of the budget process that adds transparency, it’s a step toward reducing the size of government.

This resolution received a positive vote in sub-committee this week (5-1 with one abstention), but some of the senators who voted for it and the abstention expressed reservations and said they may still change their vote in full committee. Your voice is crucial to ensuring this much needed open government resolution passes so that we voters eventually get a chance to pass our own judgment on it.

Your Constitutional Protections At Stake Tomorrow

The pace of the General Assembly moves very fast, especially during the short session when committee hearings are compressed into a shorter period. Just this morning we were notified that four important proposed constitutional amendments, passed last week by the House, already are scheduled for tomorrow morning in a Senate Privileges and Elections sub-committee. Usually, there is at least a day or two respite and time to regroup right before or after "crossover," but the pipeline is full of bills and the legislation continues to flow. We need your urgent help to contact members of the sub-committee and ask them to vote for these important constitutional protections. Only four votes stand in the way killing these highly popular and needed measures without the full debate of the Senate, much less the full committee. So, your action is needed now.

HJ 615, patroned by Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico) and Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), would safeguard your tax dollars by banning tax and fee increases in the budget bill. The budget bill is supposed to be a spending bill only. But in recent years, governors and legislators have stuck tax and fee increases in it (such as when Mark Warner pushed through his infamous tax increase). If those revenues are needed, delegates and senators should have the courage to vote on tax increases separately, up or down, not buried in a must-pass budget with deadline pressure to approve so that state government can continue to function.

HJ 539, patroned by Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spotsylvania), is another important safeguard to your hard-earned tax dollars. It would require a three-fifths super majority vote of the General Assembly to raise state taxes and the same super majority for your city, town or county governing body to raise local taxes.

HJ 593, patroned by Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax), would protect Virginians' right of religious expression by allowing prayer and the recognition of religious beliefs, heritage and traditions on public property, including public schools. This will safeguard from court action, for example, students who offer prayers at school assemblies.

HJ 614, patroned by Delegate Tag Greason (R-32, Potomac Falls) would allow the General Assembly to provide for loans and grants to, or on behalf of, candidates for the military chaplaincy who attend in-state nonprofit institutions of higher education whose primary purpose is to provide religious training or theological education.

Urgent action is needed since the sub-committee meets tomorrow! If these resolutions die in sub-committee, the opportunity to incorporate them into the Virginia Constitution will be set back three more years. Contact the members and ask they vote for HJ 615, HJ 539, HJ 593 and HJ 614 tomorrow morning in Senate Privileges and Elections sub-committee.

General Assembly Week In Review: Several Victories, Much Craziness (And More To Come)

Nothing adequately can explain the pace of the General Assembly. Especially the short session. More goes on that we can — and would love to — report. It is no exaggeration to say that we could employ an entire news team to cover all that we see (and hear). Lobbying and blogging is a killer. But here's a week in review of some significant legislation.  We had several legislative victories this week, including five resolutions to amend the Virginia Constitution this morning in the House Privileges and Elections Committee:

HJ 593, patroned by Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax), is a religious liberty amendment that protects public prayer. It passed by a 14-7 vote after some committee liberals raised several objections.

Also regarding religious liberty, HJ 614, patroned by Delegate Tag Greason (R-32, Loudon), which prohibits the state from blocking tuition loans and grants to students seeking theological education for the purposes of becoming a military chaplain. It passed with only three dissenting votes. This bill was debated thoroughly in sub-committee earlier in the week. The state already pays the salary of chaplains and Delegate Greason's amendment would allow for tuition assistance as well.

Three limited government resolutions also passed. HJ 539 requires a super majority vote by the General Assembly and local governing bodies to increase state and local taxes; and HJ 540 limits increased spending by the General Assembly and local governing bodies to the previous year's level plus the percentage increase in population and inflation. Both are patroned Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spottsylvania). HJ 539 survived a procedural vote to kill it, and then was reported by an 13-8 vote, while HJ 540 passed by a 11-9 vote. 

Finally, this morning, after extensive debate, HJ 615, patroned by Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico), the House Majority Whip, passed by a 14-7 vote.  This resolution precludes tax and fee increases in the state budget. Any revenue increase, including the termination of tax credits, would have to be introduced as a separate bill for an up or down vote. In recent years, governors and lawmakers have buried such increases within billions of dollars of spending in the budget. Even when promulgated, many lawmakers had no choice but to vote for such budgets or else precipitate a government shutdown.

The proposed constitutional amendments to protect property rights were carried over and will be heard a week from today. Yesterday, there was good news on taxes: The House passed by a 94-5 vote HB 1437, also patroned by Delegate Cole, which would allow localities the option of ending the BPOL tax. This tax, which was started 199 years ago to fund the War of 1812, is a job killer and well passed its own life expectancy. The same day, by a 97-2 vote, the House approved HB 1587, patroned by Delegate Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach), which would exempt start-up businesses from the BPOL tax for two years.

Earlier this week, the House of Delegates passed another Family Foundation priority piece of legislation:  HJ 542, The Repeal Amendment. Patroned by Delegate Jim LeMunyon (R-67, Chantilly), it would repeal any federal law if two-thirds of the states agree. The bill was hotly debated in both committee and on the floor of the House of Delegates, with opponents making subtle and not so subtle accusations of racism toward supporters.

Next week is the final week before "Crossover," and with many bills still left to be debated, almost anything imaginable will happen. Even some unimaginable.

"Which" Or "That"? How About "Where"? And Other Strange Things Today At The Capitol

Things couldn't be stranger than fiction anywhere outside of Hollywood than on Shockoe Hill, where Mr. Jefferson's capitol sits. Today, in the House Privileges and Elections Committee, members debated for about 20 minutes if the word "that" should be amended to "which" in HJ 615, a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit tax increases and fees in the budget bill, thus honoring Virginia's "single object" rule. After several minutes of back and forth between committee staff and Delegate Dave Albo (R-42, Fairfax) — who continued to remind the committee they were discussing amendments to a bill that still was not the committee —and various others who chimed in, Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville) recommended "where." A brief silence fell over the committee as it realized that, hey, a magic bullet has been found. Delegate Bell was at the center of another oddity. After much negotiation with interested parties — local governments and utilities — a compromise on a constitutional amendment to safeguard property rights was reach. Peace in the valley? Not quite. Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth), with whom Delegate Bell has been working, had the exact same bill and amendments with opponents. All that was left was to decide which bill went forward. When the committee refused to adopt the Senate procedure of passing multiple bills with exact same language, there was no consensus as to which resolution should go forward. After several minutes, a frustrated committee ordered the resolutions held over to next week. ... Only at the Western Hemisphere's longest continually serving representative body.

On a scary note, Senator Toddy Puller was taken to the hospital by ambulance after choking on her lunch on the Senate floor (see Richmond Times-Dispatch). Senator Ralph Northam, a physician, rushed to her desk and assisted her. She is reported to be fine from this incident. However, Senator Puller, a stroke victim, needs special help to get around Capitol Square and the General Assembly Building. The Senate already is missing one member: Senator Yvonne Miller is recovering from heart surgery and may not return before February 1. Both women are Democrats. Without Senator Miller, there are 21 Democrats and 18 Republicans.

Constitutional Protections At Stake Friday Morning In House P&E

Tomorrow morning, the House Privileges and Elections Committee will consider a number of important constitutional amendments. Please contact committee members at the link above and encourage a vote for all three resolutions. One, HJ 615, patroned by Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico), will safeguard Virginians' tax dollars by banning tax and fee increases in the budget bill. If those revenues are needed, delegates and senators should have the courage to vote on tax increases separately, up or down, not buried in a must-pass budget with deadline pressure to approve so that state government can continue to function.

Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spottsylvania) has two resolutions before the committee. One, HJ 540, will limit the amount state and local government can spend each year to the previous year’s budget, plus the percentage increase in population and inflation. This is a proven way to limit the size and scope of government. His second resolution, HJ 539, would require a super majority vote by the General Assembly and local governing boards to impose a tax increase.

The fourth resolution, and a major priority by several limited government advocates, is HJ 647, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville). It passed sub-committee by one vote and its full committee vote was delayed a week. In committee and behind the scenes, local government interests, who use taxpayers' hard-earned money to lobby against their own citizens, and large utilities and telecoms, are throwing every resource they have to defeat this proposal. Afraid of allowing Virginians to vote on the issue of protecting their own property, these special interests think property is private only until such time as they need it for their redevelopment schemes or transportation boondoggles. No less than 10 government and corporate special interests testified against the resolution in sub-committee, with only The Family Foundation, The Farm Bureau and the Virginia Agribusiness Council speaking in favor.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its deplorable Kelo decision several years ago (see Examiner.com's Kenneth Schortgen for a new, heinous eminent domain case), it said federal courts could not protect property owners from local and state governments. But it did rule that states could protect their citizens and basically invited states to enact their own protections. Most states did. Why are Virginians still waiting for their legislature to act?

These much needed policies will protect Virginia families’ homes, farms and businesses; enact honest state budgets; and put a limit on out of control taxing and spending. Together, these proposed constitutional amendments form a unique opportunity to reform state and local government, limit its power and focus it on its proper role.