House Appropriations Committee

House Budget Advances Life; Senate Version, Not So Much

The budget (HB 30) advanced by the House Appropriations Committee Sunday included several limitations on taxpayer funding of abortion, abortion providers and, maybe most importantly, on the governor's office. For good reason. When he campaigned for governor, Terry McAuliffe infamously proclaimed that he would issue a "guidance opinion" to stop the enforcement and implementation of Virginia's abortion center health and safety standards (see video here). Never mind that no one has ever heard of a "guidance opinion" (another rookie mistake) and the fact that a Virginia governor cannot unilaterally overturn a regulatory board's decisions, McAuliffe's statement revealed his desire to undermine the abortion center safety standards.

No wonder. He received nearly $2 million in reported campaign contributions from the abortion industry, which has fought against basic health standards for its $1 billion industry for years.

The House Appropriations committee, in an effort to ensure that the governor cannot circumvent the law, has introduced a budget amendment that would prevent . . .

funding in this budget or any matching funds . . . provided to implement any Executive order, Executive directive, guidance opinion or other direction from the Office of the Governor to suspend the regulations surrounding the operation of abortion clinics.

Essentially, if the House gets its way, any efforts by the Governor McAuliffe to undermine the law that could cost taxpayers money will be unfunded.

The House appropriators also included budget language that would bring Virginia in line with the federal "Hyde Amendment," which prohibits Virginia from funding abortion beyond rape, incest and life of the mother. Virginia currently funds abortion beyond those cases to include abortions for the severely disabled.

The Appropriations Committee included another amendment to prohibit taxpayer subsidizing of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest and wealthiest abortion provider. Nearly half of Planned Parenthood's funding comes from the taxpayers. Unfortunately, as expected, the Senate, controlled by pro-abortion legislators, included no amendments restricting abortion funding.

This week, the House and Senate will debate and amend their respective budgets, and vote on them Thursday. Later, each chamber will reject the other's budget, and a conference committee of select members of the House and Senate will work to create a final budget.

The battle over the budget is likely to last well into spring, but one thing is for sure: Thanks to the House Appropriations Committee, protecting unborn human life won't be missing from the discussion. We very much appreciate that it made protecting human life an important part of its budget.

Budget-Making Transparency Bill May See Light Of Day, Finally

Persistence is one of the most important ingredients in the legislative process. Defeat of a bill cannot deter a lawmaker, nor even people who support the idea. Some laws languished as remains in the sausage grinder for years before they met a governor's signature, shred to bits by designated "kill sub-committees" designed to ensure they would never see the light of day (i.e., a floor vote). But a good and just idea won't die, at least not quietly, especially if its patron carries on the fight session after session. One such bill, a perennial budget-making transparency bill from Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), may earn its long overdue status as a law this year. That is, may, as in there is a potential sliver of a window crack of opportunity for SB 1129, a bill that would require some disclosure during the crafting of the state budget by the House and Senate conference committee. It passes the Senate year after year but meets its fate in a House Appropriations sub-committee. One can tell the disposition of the respective chambers toward certain bills by the committees to which they are assigned: The Senate sends this bill to Rules each year; the House to Appropriations — a committee more keen to efficiency than eyeballs.

This glimmer of hope comes from a noticeable change in the fiscal impact statement attached to the bill.  Originally a terrific stab at legislative reform, fiscal impact statements were designed to show lawmakers how much a bill would cost so as to reduce the likelihood of pork barrel spending. But years ago they evolved into weapons by the bureaucrats who compile them to kill off needed reforms by placing contrived and/or vague figures on the alleged added cost the bill would incur to government.

They were used in past in attempts to scuttle property rights legislation and transparency for payments to state contractors, both of which eventually became constitutional amendments and/or statutes — and never mind that tax increase bills never have attached to them the impact they would have on families (so we did it for them on these bills as well as on this infamous proposal), while tax reduction bills must have impact statements showing the "cost" to government. A double-double standard.

The bill itself requires the chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees to issue a listing with the budget that provides "a narrative description, dollar amount, and name of the member of the General Assembly who inserted" . . .

» any non-state agency appropriation (supposed to be illegal, anyway),

» any item in the conference report that was not included in a general appropriation bill as passed by either the House or the Senate, and

» any item that represents legislation that failed in either house during the regular or a special session.

Doesn't sound like a big inconvenience, does it? Over the years, however, the impact statements made it sound as if this simple disclosure would bring the entirety of state government to a halt. From the same bill last year (SB 267) the impact statement said:

This legislation could potentially increase the workload demands on House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee staff and may require changes to existing systems to provide this information.

In other words, "time and money, and we have neither," even though specific numbers were not provided. We didn't know taking hand written notes of line item insertions and typing them up required new systems. But this year, the exact same bill offers this backtrack on the impact statement:

This bill would require additional work by the staff of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees. The staff time would be needed to generate the reports required by the bill. Both committees staff leadership have indicated that they can absorb the extra work and any additional costs within their existing operational budgets.

Why the change of heart? Does it portend passage? In the past, the potential cost and time have been the excuse for the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities to table the bill on unrecorded voice votes. But this seems to signal the all clear from the money committee staffs, which have an influence on its members not seen in any other committee. Hopefully, we'll find out when the same sub-committee considers the bill in the next week or two. But we're likely to see it law before we get an explanation. Of the two, we'll gladly take the latter.

Budget transparency is important for accountability of the budget writers by the public, for non-budget writing members to make an informed decision, as well as reigning in unnecessary spending. The more eyeballs on the budget, the less funny business. If there is no funny business, appropriators have nothing to worry about and should pass this bill, finally.

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.

If The Chairman Doesn't Know What's In The Budget . . .

It makes you wonder . . . what exactly is in a $78 billion budget? How much waste and unwanted and unneeded programs are embedded in it? While it is pardonable that the average Joe and Jane Virginian does not to know, most might think the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee — the budget writing committee — would know. But Delegate Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) was candid with the Washington Post Monday, telling Anita Kumar, regarding a special appropriation patroned by House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights) and Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Stafford):

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

Realistically, he is exactly right, and no blame goes his way. But if the chairman doesn't know, that tells us all we need to know — the amount of state spending remains considerable and much more needs to be done to get it to a reasonable level.

Property Rights: Your Rights? Or The Government's Right To Take It From You?

Yesterday, HB 652, the property rights reform bill, was referred by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee to the Senate Finance Committee because of an alleged "fiscal impact" to the state. The bill will be heard tomorrow morning in Finance. The impact simply is hypothetical, conjecture and/or assumption. Take your pick. Fiscal Impact Statements are supposed to identify the cost of bills that require certain new expenses, not something VDOT says "might happen." This is nothing more than big government bureaucracy trying to kill a bill that would have them rightly compensate people whose property they take. Yesterday, in Courts of Justice, when committee Chairman Henry Marsh (D-16, Richmond) said he was bringing up a motion to refer the bill to Finance, Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath) was rightly surprised. He asked if the bill had a Fiscal Impact Statement. The reply from a senator opposed to the bill was, "Yes, a big one. One that will affect future budgets." Oh, how the big government lobby has them fooled. There was some discussion, but the bill had its course set — not much anyone could do at that point. The vote was taken and it was sent to Finance unanimously.

But facts won't die. When the House Appropriations Committee thoroughly vetted this bill, it found no fiscal impact! There is no more of a fine tooth comb in the General Assembly than the House Appropriations Committee. But the forces of big government, such as lobbyists for the counties and cities, as well as VDOT, will do everything they can to prevent liberty and scuttle property rights that affect families, small businesses and farms.

Were HB 652 to become law, it would go a long way toward making whole families whose businesses, homes and farms are horribly affected by eminent domain. The bill, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and co-patroned by several Republicans, passed the House 98-1. It would allow property owners a chance to present evidence that a government property taking has rendered other property useless, and therefore receive adequate compensation. It is a fairness bill — it guarantees nothing — only that such evidence can be presented to a jury in eminent domain cases. The government can still make its case and if it has a good argument it will win. Fair is fair.

But the big government types — who use your tax money to lobby against you — are trying hard to kill this bill. They say it is "too expensive" even though all alleged "costs" are speculative. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) said it best: "I don’t know how VDOT can arrive at an impact. It’s like they’re predicting juries!" We agree and if VDOT and other agencies say they’ll have to pay more money, it’s an admission that they have been ripping off landowners in Virginia for decades. Enough of that! Let them take only the land they need and pay a fair price for it or don’t take it at all — then they won’t have to worry about a "fiscal impact."

According to our property rights expert witnesses, this is the biggest eminent domain reform law in Virginia in decades, apart from the 2007 law that defines public use. It would be a shame for it to get this far only for a Senate committee to rule against the people in favor of big government interests whose appetite for your tax money never abates.

The Finance Committee meets at 9:00 tomorrow morning. It has a short docket, so a lot of attention will be focused on this bill. Do you part to ensure constitutional protections of property rights. Please contact members (click here) of the Senate Finance Committee now and ask them to pass HB 652.

A Year Later, Transparency, Again!

You may remember last year one of our priority areas of legislation was government spending transparency. After two years of persistence, Virginia now is in the process of creating more windows and letting in more sunshine to the way it spends the hard earned money we send them, thanks to bills patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) and then-Senator Ken Cuccinelli. But the issue hasn't gone away because to have true government by the people and for the people, the people must be given every tool to monitor its own government's operations. This session, two very good bills were introduced. One, HB 62, patroned by Delegate David Toscano (D-57, Charlottesville), would have added transparency to the budget making process. Unfortunately, it was left in the House Appropriations Committee where it died, having never received a hearing.

The other bill, SB 431, patroned by Senator Mark Herring (D-33, Leesburg), would fill in some gaps in the laws written by Cline and Cuccinelli. Although the bill as originally crafted had a lot more to it — it was pared down due to the inevitable Fiscal Impact Statement — it retains two important provisions: That each agency post online all checks and credit card purchases it makes, including the vendor name, date of purchase and purchase description. It also stipulates that each agency install an icon on its Web site that links directly to a page on Commonwealth DataPoint, the state's window on government spending and accountability. In an editorial yesterday in the Loudon Independent, called "Checking the Checkbook," the paper wrote:

A bill is being reviewed by the House of Delegates that could shed light on the age-old question, "Why does government spend so much?" For those with a bit more innate trust in government, the question could also be, "Where are my tax dollars going?"

We agree. Making it easier to find and locate government spending has numerous benefits, among them that the more eyes looking into how bureaucrats spend out money, the more chances we have of saving it by catching waste and eliminating it. That's something lawmakers should embrace anytime, not to mention these challenging times. Currently, the bill sits in the Appropriations Technology Oversight and Government Activities Sub-committee, although a hearing date is not scheduled. However, we are hopeful one is in the works and look forward to supporting it once it's scheduled.

Property Rights Bill Faces Key Senate Test Tomorrow!

Yesterday, we posted an update on HB 652, a bill that would allow property owners to present certain evidence to juries in eminent domain just compensation cases. The bill, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), will be up tomorrow for a key vote at a 4:00 hearing in the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee. We don't know yet if the big government lobby will try to make a last stand to block or water down this important legislation in the Senate. Their attempt in the House failed. We and several allies are working hard to ensure the bill gets reported unamended. But, to give you a taste of what has happened in the past — and what may happen still — here is video of the hearing in the House Appropriations Sub-committee on Transportation. You will see a VDOT representative try to defend a speculative Fiscal Impact Statement designed to sink the bill because of alleged costs to the Commonwealth. Notice his nervousness. He knows the numbers don't fly (as we explained here).

The sub-committee didn't buy it either. It unanimously reported it to the full committee — which deals with all money bills and knows a red herring when it sees one — and which also reported it without a dissenting vote, thanks in large part to Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) who spoke some plain common sense during its final vetting. Then it passed the full House 98-1. But overwhelming numbers in one body has never stopped determined opposition from trying in the other chamber. Remember: Contacting committee members (see here) never hurts.

Constitutional property rights upheld in the House. Will the Senate follow tomorrow?

The Truly Big News Today At The General Assembly: Richbrau Closes!

Today, the news making the biggest waves throughout Capitol Square isn't the budget, or liberals' reaction to Governor Bob McDonnell's proposed cuts. It's not the speculation on the budget the House Appropriations Committee will produce Sunday or whether the Senate Finance Committee will even meet its budget deadline at all (apparently, it will, Sunday afternoon). It's not conservatives' outrage toward Speaker Bill Howell and the governor over letting HB 119 die in Appropriations. It's not concern over any bill or policy making headlines in the Mainstream Media. The big conversation is about the closing of Richbrau Brewery, a hometown institution that brewed a locally made beer; a microbrewery and not a bad restaurant either, and a fun nightspot. Owner Michael Beirne is something of a city father, serving on the Wilder-Bliley Commission that led to the total scrapping of Richmond's old form of government in favor of the full-time, strong mayor format. He also has served on other boards and commissions and has been a visible and constant booster of the city, especially downtown and the historic riverside neighborhoods of Shockoe Slip, Shockoe Bottom, Tobacco Row and environs.

Richbrau also was the host of the weekly Thursday Night Caucus, where lobbyists, staff and legislators get to know each other a little better away from the business confines and battles within the GAB and the aura of the capitol, while playing pool, drinking an adult beverage, even dancing. It's also where the session-ending Sine Die Party is. Talk about a blast. Despite two months of haggling and outright legislative war, Sine Die is like a college reunion, where liberals and conservatives, lobbyists and lawmakers, this side and that, get together and reminisce, tell war stories and even let the other side in on secrets not dared to slip upon penalty of losing major clients and/or bills going down in flames. . .

You knew what? If you had told me that then I would have voted . . . !

You gotta hear this — remember that blight bill? You know what I told my deskmate before the vote? 

Each Thursday (and one Friday) for about eight weeks, Richbrau is where informal strategy sessions and favor promising took place. Now, it's consigned to the sign of Richmond's times. Fortune 500 companies Circuit City and LandAmerica went belly up last year, not to mention S&K and a number of local prides and joys. Adding insult to injury was the recent news that local grocery giant Ukrop's, which had expanded into the Petersburg area, Fredericksburg, Williamsburg and Roanoke, was selling to a Dutch company. Now, Richbrau, which had remodeled two historic buildings in Shockoe Slip and prompted a microbrewing industry in Richmond that now boasts regional favorite brand Legend's.

It's another blow to the capital if not the capitol as downtown Richmond has no shortage of remarkable places for our two-month visitors to eat, drink and unwind. Surely, as of right now, the Sine Die commitee is scrambling for a new venue. But just as every two years, the General Assembly has different legislators, it remains intrinsically the same. In the end, this, too, will be the same. But it will be different, as well.

Stat Of The Day (It Should Send The Educrats Running For Cover)

House Majority Whip and Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Delegate Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights) appeared on Richmond's Morning News with Jimmy Barrett this morning on WRVA-AM, with the Lee Brothers substituting for Barrett. Most of their questions focused on the budget and some of the myths promulgated by the left and certain media types. Delegate Cox was refreshingly candid and said he was tired of the whine coming from certain local government officials, especially when it comes to education funding. Thus, the Stat of the Day:

In Virginia, since 2000, while student enrollment in Virginia K-12 public schools has grown by 7.2 percent, state spending on same has increased 60 percent!

Okay. You know me by now. I can't stop there. Get this:

Two-thirds of the Virginia budget goes to K-12 public education and health and human services.

So much for the liberal charge about those mean conservatives in the House of Delegates who cut, cut, cut education whenever they can. The fact that Virginia has cut public education spending is a myth, plain and simple. There's about as much truth to the fact that public education funding has been cut as there was that we were in a deficit when Mark Warner shoved through the largest tax increase in Virginia history.

But the education establishment (the educrats) use every opportunity to kick, scream and cry about a lack of funding to block any type of reform possible. Worse, they try to block discussion of reform with General Assembly lobbyists paid for by taxpayers and teachers' dues. Thus, Virginia's worst-in-the-country-charter-school-law, which has been on the books more than a decade and resulted in a meager three charter schools (with a fourth on the way).

Now, after eight years, there's a new team in charge. Hopefully, that will be the catalyst for the truth finally to get equal billing with the myths — and for something positive to get done.

Click Here To Listen To The Entire Interview With Delegate Kirk Cox (5:45)

BREAKING: Big Win For Property Rights In Virginia

In what amounted to a sweep of a day-night double header today, HB 652, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), a bill that would allow property owners to make a case to juries in just compensation hearings for damages incurred by land no longer accessible though not taken, swept by VDOT's objections and its speculative Fiscal Impact Statement in the House Appropriations Transportation Sub-committee by a 7-0 vote. It then swept through the full committee early this evening by a 22-0 vote and should now go on the uncontested calendar on the House floor early next week. This is a huge win in the effort to reform eminent domain laws in Virginia. We'll have more details on this, including video of VDOT's arguments, Monday.

When You Need Help, There's Always (Clarke Hogan's) Mom

Of all places and of all people. ... Today at the monthly Tuesday Morning Group meeting a polite older woman approached me about helping out on a bill I mentioned in a short presentation. She asked, "Could Clarke Hogan help?" Hogan is a former member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and House budget conferee who did not seek re-election last year. So I replied that the thought was hypothetical since he's no longer a delegate. She replied:

But I'm his mom. Maybe he can call someone.

Ohhhhhhh kay! Boy could he. So, yes, mom, let him call away! It's not like Mary asking Jesus for a favor at Canaan, but it might help.

I gave her the bill number and the pertinent information. Man, it's great when moms show up at grassroots activist meetings.

The Virginia Budget: More Reform Ideas Now

Speaking of Virginia's budget process and Governor-elect Bob McDonnell's idea to reform the process whereby the lame duck, outgoing governor proposes the next two-year budget, more is needed to be done. For one, zero-based budgeting. Even Creigh Deeds supports that. As it is now, agency budgets are based on the previous year's budget. They normally get an increase, however small (and usually not small), despite its performance (see the Department of Education). Zero-based budgeting starts from scratch each year and determines what money is needed to achieve that year's objectives. But even with zero-based budgeting some unnecessary government programs remain intact. So, instead of reducing some agency budgets, some should be merged (as the House tried to do two years ago) or, better yet, eliminated. Still, zero-based budgeting would be a nice starting point for reform. Two planks out of the McDonnell-Bolling budget and spending reform platform released in September are along these lines: agency performance audit reviews and evidence based budgeting. We hope this at least moves us toward reducing the scope of spending in Richmond, if not actually significantly limiting state government's ever expanding reach (and we haven't even touched on SOQ reform).

While the budget cycle and agency appropriation formulas are the headline grabbers, there are many needed common sense reforms. Some have been proposed form time to time in the General Assembly only to be shot down for reasons serious and not. For example, one bill last year from Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), oddly enough, would bring more transparency and probably scare off lawmakers from voting in pork. It would have required that anything budget conferees stuck in their final budget report — which the two chambers must vote up or down — that was a non-state appropriation, an item not included in either chamber’s budget, or an item that represents legislation that failed during session, would have to be announced as such in letters to all 140 members by the chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees.

Another idea last year came from Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) which would require at least a day pause for reading the budget before it could be voted on. That, too, went nowhere fast.

Getting ourselves into a fiscal mess was pretty simple — the legislature and the executive over the years simply saying yes to every plea for help and imaginary solution that supposedly only money can provide. Getting ourselves out of it is pretty simple, too. But it's amazing how many simple, time tested ideas there are that can save taxpayer money and provide efficiency that never get anywhere (not to mention just saying "no").  

Many of these ideas have been studied or have worked elsewhere. There's no need for delay. The need is great to reform. The moment, with newly elected officials and a teetering economy, is now. Delay, for any reason, no longer is necessary. No that it ever was.

Virginia News Stand: November 19, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations Breaking News: Next Budget Shortfall $3.5 Billion!

Breaking news this evening: Senate Finance Committee analysts told that committee's members this afternoon that the next two-year budget will be $3.5 billion short, not to mention the current budget lacking another $209 million.

In other news, Governor Tim Kaine told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he has concerns with some of Governor-elect Bob McDonnell's positions. He is afraid the new governor will sign certain bills he vetoed, not continue his executive order banning "sexual orientation discrimination" in state government hiring, and fears meat ax budget cuts (apparently only Mr. Kaine knows how to cut spending correctly). He also said he's not afraid of being unpopular. Good thing. 

Speaking of cuts, one state budget analyst told the House Appropriations and Finance Committees yesterday the commonwealth of overbuilt for prisons and that perhaps construction and maintenance costs could be pared for the time being. A harmless cut, manna for pols!

In national news, the Senate showdown on health care approaches and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius tries to put out a fire by now saying, of course the administration wants women to get mammograms by age 40. Uh-huh, right. Meanwhile, the public embraces common sense proposals, such as tort reform, but no one's listening, and the president has hired another tax cheat at the Treasury Department.

In Commentary, Larry Kudlow, Michael Barone and Michelle Malkin take on different aspects of President Obama's bowing and tripping Asia excursion, Walter E. Williams excoriates the horrendous moral relativism taught to our students, and Christopher Adamo explains the GOP-Palin disconnect.

News:

State facing $3.5 billion shortfall in next budget (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Virginia's road budget slashed another $851.5M (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

State transit plan faces $851.5 million cut (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Analyst proposes putting corrections projects in Va. on hold (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Gov. Kaine cites concerns on Virginia's budget, roads (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Gov. Kaine wants ethics probe of ex-delegate Hamilton to continue (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Federal grand jury subpoenas Hamilton documents (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Study highlights tax burden disparity (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The GOP: Luddites or high tech? (Washington Post Politics and Policy Blog)

National News:

Senate girds for historic debate on health bill (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Thousands cheer Palin in Mich. for book tour (AP/GOPUSA.com)

AP Poll: Support for curbs on malpractice lawsuits (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Another Obama (Treasury) nominee runs into tax problems (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Sebelius: Women should get mammograms by age 40 (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Commentary:

President Zero Sum Goes to Asia(Larry Kudlow/GOPUSA.com)

Obama Bows, but the World Refuses to Bow Back(Michael Barone/GOPUSA.com)

Excused Horrors (Walter E. Williams/GOPUSA.com)

Obama's Doubletalk On Political Dissent(Michelle Malkin/GOPUSA.com)

Palin, Conservatism, And The Disconnected GOP (Christopher Adamo/GOPUSA.com)

BREAKING: Spending Transparency Will Go To The Governor!

The Senate earlier this afternoon passed by a vote of 38-0 SB 936, by agreeing to the House's amendments, thus avoiding a conference committee and sending the spending transparency bill to Governor Tim Kaine (contact here). The bill, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), did not receive a single negative vote in two Senate committees, one House sub-committee, two House Committees, one House floor vote and two Senate floor votes, three bill versions and three fiscal impact statements. Within the last few minutes, on the House floor, the House agreed to the Senate substitute of HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge). Then, by a vote of 93-3, it rejected the Senate floor amendment which would have added legislative transparency to the budget writing process, but had nothing to do with the posting of actual state spending online. It was rejected because the same basic idea of the amendment was rejected by the House Appropriations Committee earlier this session as a free-standing bill. Lawmakers are hesitant to approve policy on the floor as bill amendments when previously rejected in committee where the pros and cons were aired out.

This action makes the bill conform to SB 936. It goes back to the Senate to accept or reject the House's action, probably tomorrow. If it accepts it, it will go to the governor as an identical bill as SB 936. If not, there will be a committee of conference at which point the amendment will be accepted, rejected or negotiations will fall apart and the bill will die. Either way, SB 936 is a baseline, and there is the slimmest of chances — if the amendment is included — HB 2285 can be made a bit stronger. At the very least, SB 936 will go to the governor!

Update: Transparency Bills Likely Headed For Conference

In what may have been a record for the House Appropriations Committee, it got through a 25 item docket in about 17 seconds around 2:00 p.m. today. Committee members were far ahead of staff, who struggled to keep up with members who made rapid fire motions to adopt substitutes and report bills as soon staff read the first line of bill summaries. Every item was adopted by unanimous voice vote. Can you tell it's getting near the end? One beneficiary was you humble admin who got out of the committee earlier than anticipated. So did SB 936, which should head to the House's uncontested  calendar tomorrow. That's where HB 2285 sits on the Senate side. Not to count chickens or anything, but the two should go to conference unless some type of amending happens to conform the two. We'll know more tomorrow and keep you posted.

Another Hurdle For Spending Transparency

Spending transparency (SB 936) cleared another hurdle today only to have another one thrown in its path — a trip to House Appropriations (click here for contact information), this Friday. However, things look positive. It passed on a 21-0 vote and in the House Science and Technology Committee late this afternoon, but then referred to the Appropriations. Delegates Bob Marshall (R-13, Prince William) and John Cosgrove (R-78, Chesapeake) tried to avoid the hurdle by asking for a vote to report straight to the floor. According to committee Chairman Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg), it simply is a safeguard measure — if a cost to it was discovered on the floor, the bill would die because Friday is the last Appropriations Committee meeting. Better for it to be vetted there, and amended if necessary.

However, Auditor of Public Accounts Walter J. Kucharski and Joe Damico, deputy director of the Department of General Services, both testified that the bill, offered in its third version today, would have no fiscal impact. Amazingly, the Department of Planning and Budget posted a fiscal impact statement claiming that the second version of the bill would cost these two departments and state government $1.5 million in new equipment and software, man-hours, and more employees. One small problem: no one asked the departments.  

It's no time to rest, however. SB 936 and HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), and which emerged yesterday with unanimous approval in the Senate Rules Sub-Committee on Studies and now is in the full Rules Committee (contact information here), should both be heard Friday in those committees. Contact members of both committees. We're very close to victory on a major priority this session. Let's not take it for granted.

Second Quote Of The Day

Things went from conversational to slightly antagonistic to outright hostile in the House Appropriations Committee late this afternoon when Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer was called up by committee Democrats to testify on Delegate Glen Oder's bill to take a percentage of future profits from the Port of Virginia and apply them to transportation instead of the general fund (HB 1579). Committee Republicans, who had been patient with the Democrats questioning of Delegate Oder (R-94, Newport News), took exception to what they believe was the repeated mischaracterization of the bill by Secretary Homer when he had his turn. Finally, Delegate Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights), asked Homer where the administration's transportation bill was. Homer said it had submitted five bills over the last three sessions and two special sessions.

Delegate Cox, after the secretary could not say the administration had a bill this session, let loose with this:

"So, you've had time to analyze this bill but not write one of your own! Thank you for your no bill answer."

BREAKING: Spending Transparency Approved In House Committee!

Just a few minutes ago, the House Appropriations Committee approved by unanimous voice vote, HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst). Were it so easy. This is the background: The bill wasn't heard until late in the process by its committee of jurisdiction and, with an unjustifiable price tag by the Department of Planning and Budget of up to $3 million, it was doomed for Appropriations.

Plan B: Scale it down. Instead of a new or rebuilt data collection system, both Delegate Cline and Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), patron of the Senate companion, SB 936, worked with the Auditor of Public Accounts to improve current data collection and "retrievability" by the public, to go along with "searchability" improvements the auditor instituted since last year.

Problem: Despite all that, the jurisdictional Appropriations sub-committee had finished its pre-crossover meetings. Solution: Pressure and persuassion, and the chairman allowed for an additional meeting.

What just happened: After all that, and a glowing endorsement for two days running in Senate committees by the auditor, and Senate Finance taking the first step in the water, you'd think all was a slam dunk. More like those blooper reel missed dunks. At the sub-committee this afternoon, Delegate Cline was late and almost got passed over. Then, once he introduced the substitute, he and committee staff realized he had no substitute. Legislative Services, which drafts legislative language, and Delegate Cline had a failure to communicate, apparently, and either there was no substitute in front of the committee or there was, but with the original bill's summary attached. That meant is that the FIS was still in play. Not gonna pass in that posture. A sinking feeling if ever there was one.

What to do? Or is there anything to do? Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge) attempted to save it with a motion to report to the full committee with the understanding the Senate language would be introduced. Not what the chairman, Delegate Steve Landes (R-25, Augusta), wanted.

Delegate Landes then threw Cline a lifeline of sorts, agreeing to report with no recommendation if the proper substitute could be drafted by the full committee's last hearing, about a half hour hence. Proviso: Bills recommended in this manner only are brought up at the full committee chairman's discretion.

Scramble: Cline, committee staff and Legislative Services hustled to unravel the knots. Meantime, potential wolves at the gate: A guy from Virginia Enterprise Application Program showed up with questions and talked with yours truly and another pro-transparency lobbyist. Not against, but concerns, and concerns are enough for Appropriations to put the kibosh on apple pie and the flag. More: He tipped us off that General Services was against it. What a perfect Friday early evening.

Finally, full committee in progress and after a few bills were heard, and wondering exactly how many days it would be before I'd see family and friends, a mini-miracle. After a lengthy and contentious debate on transportation funding, where Democrats grilled Delegate Glen Oder (R-94, Newport News) on his innovative plan while Republicans grilled, in turn, Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer for not having a plan at all, the Chairman, Delegate Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) called up HB 2285, substitute ready and all!

Here's what I don't get: The committee has the correct substitute language, and during discussion of the bill several key members say they have had conversations with people who could be affected or must administer the bill if it becomes law, including the auditor and the Secretary of Technology,  and they report these people say there are no costs. (Question: How did they know what to ask if they didn't know what the substitute language was?) But they want the committee staff's opinion. Not that committee staff isn't great. They are. But how much vetting do you need when the members have gone to the top guys to begin with and they can see the difference in the substitute and original?

More discussion. Costs or no costs? How can we be sure? No one from Public Accounts to verify, but luckily the VEAP guy is silent and no one from DGS is around. Then, what's the purpose? If the information is out there, why do we need this? Is this about transparency? Is this about good government? Come clean Delegate Cline.

Finally, a motion and a second. Unanimous voice approval. I wiped the sweat off my brow and made the Sign of the Cross.