House Rules Committee

Moldy Oldy Wayne Newton

Last week, on February 2, old-school crooner Wayne Newton made his way to the General Assembly to testify on behalf of a bill to recognize a Virginia Native American tribe (see Washington Post article and video), to which the Virginia native belongs, in the House Rules Committee. Women staff and lobbyists alike swooned and several got pics and pecs with and by him. Three days later, however, reports the Detroit Free Press, "Mr. Las Vegas" got stuck with a $61,000 bill for abandoning his plane more than three years ago at an area airport and leaving it to rot and gather mold. Ewwwwwwwwww . . . and they kissed him!

Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Henry, Randolph and a host of legends once met in Richmond to discuss the great issues of the day. But, hey: These days we'll take our celebrity witnesses where we can get them. We're just glad Mr. Newton left his plane in Detroit to rot, and saved for that city something more than just a little symbolic given that area's rapid decline and near 20 percent unemployment.

Deja Vu All Over Again Twice In One Day

Four years ago, only a few weeks after taking office and proposing (against his campaign promise) the largest tax increase in Virginia history, Congressional Democrats chose then-Governor Tim Kaine to deliver their party's response to then-President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address. Yesterday, it was reported (see Washington Post), that Congressional Republicans have chosen newly sworn-in Governor Bob McDonnell to give the GOP response to President Barack Obama's January 27 State of the Union. How about that for asymmetrical karma? But there's more.

Yesterday, House Republicans brought to the floor Delegate Bob Brink's (D-48, Arlington) HB 1155, legislation that would enact former Governor Tim Kaine's proposed income tax increase (see Richmond Times-Dispatch). The bill was referred to the House Rules Committee, which alone has the authority to report bills to the floor without recommendation. Thus it did with HB 1155 in order to put Democrats on the spot — vote against their friend and national party chairman or be on record for higher taxes in a recession. Delegate Brink requested that the bill be pulled, normally a pro forma request that's granted at the will of the patron. Not yesterday!

Instead, it was put to a vote while Democrats vehemently protested. As if they couldn't have anticipated it. Remember, last year Republicans did the same thing on a bill that would have repealed Virginia's Right To Work Law (see post here and video here). They forced a vote by bringing that equally controversial bill through a no recommendation vote on the Rules Committee. The Democrats reacted by abstaining, but through a parliamentary procedure that says if a member is in his seat but not voting, and another member points that out, the vote must be recorded in the negative. Thus, Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem) forcibly recorded no votes against the bill which put Democrats at odds with their Big Labor allies.

With this as background, certainly they knew something was coming with a monstrous tax increase bill, and they knew they couldn't abstain. On the first day of session, when the rules package is adopted, Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) said as much when he objected to the Rules Committee exception. As it turned out, it was a unanimous blowout, with the House voting 97-0 (with Delegate Brink abstaining) to reject one last Tim Kaine tax increase, sending it down with all his others, this one posthumously, in the political sense.

So, the question is, why file the tax increase bill to begin with? Only Delegate Brink knows for sure, but we suspect some members of the General Assembly like to give a peek of their colors to satisfy certain constituencies, but seek to conceal them altogether from the greater electorate. Increasingly, however, these lawmakers get found out.

The Best Government Is One Not In Session

The Special Tax Session of the General Assembly recessed yesterday after a week in which Governor Tim Kaine's (contact here) massive tax increase plan was defeated 11-4 in the House Rules Committee (including two Democrat votes against) and where Senate Democrats killed two commonsense bills that would not increase taxes while passing its own massive 6-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase — Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw's (D-35, Springfield) bill passed on a party line vote 21-16. Governor Kaine's tax bill was not introduced in the Democrat controlled Senate. But the unapologetic Senate Democrats, despite yet another record per-barrel price of oil, and gas at $4 a gallon, will be hard pressed to look like the party protecting the hard-working little guy and families with stretched budgets. But will the GOP easily pick up that mantle? When they return July 9, we'll learn if the Republicans, as some claim, are going to stage "Son of 3202."

Meanwhile, the Rules Committee passed the gas tax increase without recommendation to the full floor by the same 11-4 vote. Confident of the votes to defeat it there, House Republicans want all House Democrats to go on the record on taxing working people with the 2009 elections in sight.

Of course, the best government is a government not in session (thanks, Lee Brothers), so this interlude in the Special Tax Session gives all citizens an opportunity to contact their delegates and senators while they take up residence again in their home districts. This is the time to let them know what you think of the proposed 35 percent increase in the state's gas tax and any other schemes to separate us from our hard-earned money during these difficult economic times. If you don't want to see your earning and purchasing power erode further, if you want to limit the government to what it already takes from the sale of your home, what you pay at the pump and for a car, and any number of assorted cash grabs, contact them now, before they return after the Independence Day holiday.

You can't have an impact if you don't act, and it's easy to do. Please express how much a burden a 35 percent increase in the gas tax and other taxes will be to your family by clicking here to contact your delegates and senators.

By the way, here's another way you can reach your legislators: WRVA-AM/1140 in Richmond has an online petition to oppose the tax increase. Click here to view it and, if you wish, sign it.

High Water Mark

This afternoon has been the high water mark thus far for the Special Tax Session of the General Assembly. Moments ago, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw's 35 percent increase in the gas tax passed the Senate on a party-line vote of 21-16 (interestingly, two Tidewater Senators, Blevins and Quayle are absent today . . . hmmm). The bill now goes to the House where . . . for two hours this afternoon the House Rules committee drilled the state's transportation secretary and Minority Leader Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) on the Governor's tax hike bill. Republican Delegates Cox, Hogan, Landes, Griffith, and Speaker Howell, really led the charge. The most interesting moments were when Armstrong and the Governor's representative argued that "raising taxes won't affect people's actions" and that they don't believe higher taxes on new cars will reduce car sales or a higher tax on selling a house will make it harder to sell a house. Except when it comes to the gas tax, where Armstrong argued that a higher tax will hurt sales. Republicans were incredulous. 

No vote was taken, delayed by the Speaker until "after the Senate does something." Word is that the entire House of Delegates will get the opportunity to vote on the Governor's package, and on the statewide hike in the gas tax. Neither will be killed in committee. Republicans want Delegate Brian Moran (D-46, Alexandria), candidate for Governor, and others on record. 

There are also rumors that the General Assembly will be back for at least a day or two next week.

If nothing else, this week has proven to be great political theater. No one believes any policy of substance will materialize, but the debates have been great and the competing strategies interesting to see evolve. Only time will tell which strategy will prevail.