SB 1353

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.

Budget Reform And Transparency Bills Face Key Committee Votes Friday!

We found out earlier today that the Senate Rules Committee (click here for members' contact information) will hear, two important budget reform and transparency bills tomorrow morning. Of course, the Rules Committee meets at the call of the chair (not much transparency there), so by process of elimination we found out it would be tomorrow (see video of the sub-committee hearing). Both bills have a tough mountain to climb and we need your help to get the full committee to report the bills to the Senate floor. Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) is the patron of SB 867, a "read the bill" bill. It requires a 72-hour period from the time the budget is submitted to the House and Senate by the House-Senate Conference Committee to the time of the vote. During that time legislators could actually read the budget bill and comprehend its contents — the two-year budget contains $70 billion worth of spending. Currently, they get only a few hours on the last day of session and are expected to digest the entire document (as thick as a phone book) and vote up or down under a great deal of time-related pressure: Either vote for a massive budget bill or shut down the government. This bill will bring long-needed inspection and transparency to the budget process, not only for legislators but also for the public. The more eyes on the bill, the more wasteful spending can be caught.

The second bill, SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), 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. This is vital! So much of the final budget is a mystery and this would shine the spotlight on legislators who insert "earmarks" in the budget that they were afraid to ask their colleagues to vote on separately as all other bills must be.

Virginia's budget process leaves much to be desired and is no way to run the country’s best managed state. But your voice matters. Please members of the Rules Committee and ask them to vote to report these two fundamentally sound and needed reforms.

Two Big Budget, Spending Reform/Transparency Bills Advance In Senate Today!

We like being pleasantly shocked, and this morning certainly qualified as one. Of all things, a Senate Rules sub-committee voted to favorably report two important reforms for spending and transparency: SB 867, patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt), and SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). The former won by a 2-1 vote with Senators Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk) and Phillip Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) voting in favor. The sub-committee chairman, Senator John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke) dissented. Senator Norment's bill passed 3-nil. This is a fairly major breakthrough. Though both bills have a long way to go, both cleared hurdles with which they have had trouble in years past. This was the third year for Senator Smith's bill — which requires a 72-hour period and Internet posting of the House-Senate conference committee budget before it can be voted on (read the bill!) — and the first time it has gained sub-committee approval. In fact, it had never even received a seconding motion prior to yesterday. Senator Norment's bill — which requires the disclosure of all "earmark" type spending in the conference committee report — also has been defeated in the early legislative stages in past years. 

Not only will these bills, if they become law, make for more open and accountable government, lawmakers will make more informed decisions, they will make for smaller government: With more eyes on the budget the more waste will be found and less pork will be placed in there to begin with. The 12 budget conferees should not have the power and privilege to stick spending items in the budget that were not voted on and vetted in the normal legislative process.

Each bill now goes to full committee which will meet by the end of the week. Please contact members of the Senate Rules Committee as soon as possible and urge them to pass these vital reforms this session. Below are the videos of each bill's hearing. Your humble blog admin makes a couple of cameo appearances.

Read the bill! Especially when you're spending $70 billion of our tax money!

A little sunshine on the sausage makes it taste a lot better!

Spending Reform And Transparency Bills In Senate Sub-Committee Tomorrow!

Tomorrow morning, a Senate Rules sub-committee will vote on two important reforms that will bring greater transparency — and thus, less government — to the Commonwealth's budget and spending practices. Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) is the patron of SB 867, a "read the bill" bill. It requires a 72-hour period from the time the budget is submitted to the House and Senate by the House-Senate Conference Committee. During that time legislators could actually read the budget bill and comprehend its contents — the two-year budget contains $70 billion worth of spending. Currently, they get only a few hours on the last day of session and are expected to digest the entire document (as thick as a phone book) and vote up or down under a great deal of time-related pressure: Either vote for a massive budget bill or shut down the government. This bill will bring long-needed inspection and transparency to the budget process, not only for legislators but also for the public. The more eyes on the bill, the more wasteful spending can be caught. 

The second bill is SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). It would prohibit the House and Senate Budget conference committee 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 types of spending items in a letter to all 140 members of the legislature and post it on the committees' Web sites. Most of the final budget is a mystery and lawmakers only have a few hours to digest all $70 billion in the document. It also would shine the spotlight on legislators who insert in the budget what they were afraid to ask their colleagues to vote on separately as all other bills must be. Right now, the few members of the House-Senate Conference Committee have a privilege no one else has — they can insert spending that has not been vetted through the regular legislative process — no sub-committee, no committee, no floor votes in either chamber. They get buried in the budget and get passed into law as part of 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. Contact the senators on the sub-committee and ask them to vote to report SB 867 and SB 1353 to the full committee!