SB 936

Update: Governor's Substitute Transparency Bill Accepted

Earlier today, during the General Assembly's veto session, the House and Senate concurred unanimously to accept Governor Tim Kaine's substitute version of HB 2285, a state spending transparency bill, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-25, Amherst). This substitute, at first look, and based on conversations with some legislators and staffers, appears to be even stronger than SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), and signed last month by Governor Kaine. The language of the bills was identical when they reached his desk.  Although neither bill received one dissenting vote in several sub-committee, committee and floor votes in both chambers, and now today's veto session — after each got unceremoniously dumped last year in committee (Senate) and sub-committee (House) — it wasn't as easy as it sounds getting them passed and signed into law. Each had to deal with the dreaded fiscal impact statement, which many times attributes bogus costs to bills as an unassailable hurdle in the money committees, often to thwart reforms. In this case, each bill had duty in front on the money committees and HB 2285 even had to go to the Senate Rules Committee.

In essence, we started with two great bills last year and again this year, that changed form, but not function, though perhaps not as comprehensive as we might have liked after several amendments, and ultimately got something more than what we thought after the regular session ended. Not bad. What a difference an election year makes.

Now a huge window has opened up on state spending, with a massive spotlight to boot. Soon, citizens — be they media, grassroots activists, policy wonks or even (for Heaven's sake) bloggers — will be able to closely examine exactly how Virginia government spends the hard-earned tax money we send it, and with which vendors it contracts for services, as well as other open government features. It simply is not enough to say a department spends this much money; we need to know down to the line how much, on what and with whom. That, in turn, will let us know if the purpose was worthy or wasteful, duplicative or duplicitous. You get the picture.

Despite what would seem broad interest in government spending transparency, many self-proclaimed "open government" groups were noticeably absent form the debate. The  Mainstream Media, for example, which touts its annual "Sunshine Week" each March, was nowhere to be found. No doubt, however, in years to come, it will, as we all should, tout this new found access to the otherwise indecipherable bureaucratic nuances of state government.

Update: Okay, So We Have Spending Transparency After All

Lost in my curiousness over Governor Tim Kaine's proposed substitute for HB 2285, Delegate Ben Cline's (R-25, Amherst) spending transparency bill, which passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously, is that the same day he signed SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax). Both bills are written exactly the same. (I blame the Legislative Information System, which sent notice only on HB 2285. A manual check of matters legislative today shows that the governor signed SB 936.) So, there you go. Kind of anti-climatic. Spending transparency will be law as of July 1. 

But why did the governor sign one but amend the other? If he had done this today, we'd think it was a prank. Does he really want more thorough transparency and reform? Was SB 936 only a hedge, securing a baseline while trying to get more? If so, we gladly welcome him to the club. We're not sure yet that his HB 2285 substitute does that, although it sure looks good. We're in the process of trying to learn more. 

There are other theories out there. One we're not counting on is that he was trying to make Senator Cuccinelli look good for his run for attorney general. On the other hand, the governor did sign his Choose Life license plate bill. Hmmm.

BREAKING NEWS: Governor Amends Transparency Bill!

I just received an update from the Legislative Information System that Governor Tim Kaine has made recommendations to HB 2285, the House version of the spending transparency bill. It is patroned by Delegate Ben Cline. However, the system has not yet posted what those amendments are. It's hard to believe they are too substantive given the unanimous approval it and the Senate version (SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli) received. It also goes to reason that whatever these amendments are, the governor will apply them also to SB 936. We will update you when we find out.

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 And Clarifications: Cautiously Optimistic On Transparency Bills

Hopefully, sometime today, or, if not, then tomorrow, we will have a  spending transparency bill sent to Governor Tim Kaine (contact here) for his signature. Here's the status of both HB 2285 and SB 936: The former, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), is back in the House after getting conformed to the Senate version then amended further. The House must accept the amendments or reject them. If the former, it will go to the governor. If not, it goes to a conference committee. As amended, it has a bit more transparency than the Senate version.

The Senate version is back in the Senate because the House made amendments, but it should have no problems — the House amendments were offered by the patron, Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), when it was in the House. When amendments by the other body are supported by the patron, they are accepted. Then that will go to the governor.

Right now, it's a matter of seeing what the House does. If it accepts the Senate amendments, we're golden. If not, it will probably end up mirroring SB 936. Either way, it looks like we're going to get at least an moderately expanded window in which to view the doling out of our tax dollars.

Transparency Bills Breeze Through Senate And House; Not So Fast

The good news? The Senate today accepted Ken Cuccinelli's (R-37, Fairfax) floor amendment to conform HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), to his SB 936 by a unanimous vote. The House, meanwhile, unanimously approved SB 936. Sounds all so cut-and-dried, let's-send-it-to- the-third-floorish, right? That'd be too easy.

Here's what happened late this morning. As you will recall from yesterday, Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico) raised concerns that language in the floor substitute might allow for Social Security numbers to be put online. The bill was passed by for the day for the day in order to work that out. However, as the Senate discovered today, federal law safeguards such a happenstance and all were prepped to go forward.

Then stepped up Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). Exactly what might he want? It seems he had a little bill that would bring some much needed reform to the workings of the two chambers (SB 1401). It would require that anything budget conferees stuck in their final budget report —which the two chambers must vote up or down — that was a nonstate 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.

The bill sliced right through the Senate only to be left to die in House Appropriations. So, here was an opportunity to revive it and he jumped at it. Unfortunately, his original bill had a dreaded "fiscal impact" statement attached — then said the cost was "indeterminable." (Odd, though, that no budget amendment was necessary. Besides, what's the cost of writing a letter and making 140 copies?). Still, just having it there scares some lawmakers. And us. (Would it have to go before a bill-killing re-referal to Appropriations?)

Great stuff, actually, this amendment. All about transparency. But legislative transparency. Not spending transparency. One is actual facts about state spending. One is about GA procedures. Not exactly germane. Senator Norment admitted as much on the floor, saying he thinks the House may reject his amendment on those grounds. But no one asked the chamber's presiding officer, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, for a ruling (he cannot make one unilatterally). So the amendment proceeded to a vote and accepted by the body.

Here's where it all stands: Instead of the two bills conformed exactly to each other (which we figured wouldn't happen anyway only because we thought at the outset the Senate would leave HB 2285 alone) and avoiding a conference committee, HB 2285 goes back to the House since the Senate changed it. It must either accept or reject the Senate amendments. Either way, it will be different than SB 936: If it rejects the amendments, it is slimmer than SB 936; if it accepts them, it is larger. Meanwhile, the Senate must accept or reject SB 936, since it was tweaked in the House to meet Appropriations Committee concerns. Since the changes were the patron's, it  won't be a problem. 

Many variables from this last minute twist of the tale: Now that Senator Norment is part author on HB 2285, will he be on the conference committee? If so, how might that affect the dynamics? If the House insists on its version of HB 2285, will it give the Senate an excuse to scuttle it in conference? Or will the meat of the bill survive if Senate conferees insist on the slimmer HB 2285 as a slap? Is this all paranoia? We hope so, but just covering all bases.

To repeat, never have bills that still have not received a single dissenting vote gone through so much tortuous twisting. That said, an important reform still is within reach. Updates tomorrow.

BREAKING: Effort To Conform Transparency Bills Temporarily Fails

Just a few minutes ago, on the Senate floor, Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) took HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), out of the uncontested third block reading in order to offer a substitute which would conform the bill to his own, SB 936, which itself will be on its first House read tomorrow. If adopted and conformed exactly to each other, and no further alterations to either bill are made to either bill, then the need for a committee of conference would not be necessary. So Senator Cuccinelli decided to go forward with the amendment instead of an uncontested block vote. Instead, Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico) raised concerns that the language in the substitute could be interpreted as putting Social Security and tax identification numbers online. Although, after several questions to Senator Cuccinelli, he said his concerns were satisfied, but requested it go by temporarily so as to work out a clarifying amendment. It seemed the amendment was destined to be adopted with but a slight delay later today. However, Senator Edd Houck (D-17, Spottsylvania) asked that it go by for the entire day so as to have enough time for a carefully crafted amendment that will satisfy everyone's concerns.

As we posted earlier . . . despite the overwhelmingly positive votes these bills have received, it hasn't been easy. More waiting, more patience. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

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.

Update: Transparency Bills Moving Forward

HB 2285, after a few questions, especially some unexpected ones from Senator Henry Marsh about what a pain it will be to post audits and reports online (poor government workers), except that the senator had to be told it's not anything they don't already do, because if they are in electronic format, then it's no big deal, and what's not in electronic format anymore? — got through Senate Rules today on a unanimous voice vote. It's still in its House substitute form. Unless amended on the Senate floor, it will go to conference with SB 936, which was supposed to go to House Appropriations this afternoon, except the committee decided not to meet. Have a good early weekend, guys. What did happen, unexpectedly, was that SB 936 yesterday was in the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities with no notification online or through e-mail. But there it was today, as I logged on to the bill's home page, that it was reported out from the sub-committee to the full committee on a 7-0 vote. We were under the impression that it would go straight to the full committee, led to believe that is, by the fact that it was listed in the full committee with no sub-committee meeting notification. Just a small technicality.

Where it all stands: HB 2285 is on the Senate floor. SB 936 should go through full Appropriations early next week and then the House floor and sent back to the Senate since it has changed since it left there. Right now everything looks good, but patience and vigilance are needed until this entire legislative maze is traversed.

Spending Transparency: Close To Two Major Victories, Keep Contacting Lawmakers

Spending transparency is one of our priority issues this session and the bills involved (SB 936 and HB 2285) have had a long and winding path thus far (as do most major reform efforts). Just as predicted, their paths are somewhat similar to eminent domain reform bills in 2007, with many twists and turns and near-death experiences. Although each committee vote has been non-controversial, the behind the scenes efforts have been exhausting to get it to that point, with great credit going to the two patrons — Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) and Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), respectively, and their co-patrons, particularly Senator Chap Peterson (D-34, Fairfax) and Delegate Joe Bouchard (D-83, Virginia Beach). There has been tweaking of the bills to avoid the inexcusably outrageous and bogus fiscal impact statements which would have made the bills cost prohibitive to implement, especially in these tight budgetary times. (Fiscal impact statements once served a good purpose — cautionary breaks for lawmakers on new programs or government administrative expenses. Now they are used as excuses to stop much needed reforms.)

Each bill has gone through numerous committee hearings, amendments and substitutes, been reported and refered to money committees and the House version even was sent to a Senate committee the Senate version had no part of (see here). (As it turned out, HB 2285 was sent to the Rules Committeebecause the Auditor of Public Accounts comes under legislative directive, or some such governmentese, but still begs the question why SB 936 didn't go that route.)

All that said, we are closing in on major victories, but it's not time to let down our collective guard. A final push is needed from concerned citizens who believe the government has a serious obligation to shine the light on where our tax dollars are spent. 

SB 936 unanimously passed the House Science and Technology Committee only to have another obstacle thrown in its path — a trip to House Appropriations tomorrow. Committee members Bob Marshall (R-13, Prince William) and John Cosgrove (R-78, Chesapeake) tried to avoid the referral by asking for a vote to report straight to the House floor.

However, things look positive. Committee Chairman Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg) told committee members the bill had to be referred to Appropriations to be vetted for costs, but that she would inform Appropriations Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) there are no costs associated with this bill. Appropriations meets tomorrow afternoon.

Indeed, 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 form, would have no fiscal impact on the state budget. Amazingly, the Department of Planning and Budget attached a fiscal impact statement to the bill claiming its original and subsequent amended versions would cost state government between $1.5-$3 million in new equipment and software, man-hours, and more employees. One small problem: no one asked the departments involved (read this about impact statements).

Earlier in the week, HB 2285 emerged with unanimous approval in the Senate Rules Sub-Committee on Studies and now is in the full Rules Committee which meets at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. 

Spending transparency is an important issue (read here) for many reasons: good government, accountability, taxpayer protection and the like (read here). It also will give us a clearer window into how often, how much and for what reasons nefarious profit making groups such as Planned Parenthood get our tax money! We are very close to victory on a major priority this session. Let's not take it for granted.

Contact Rules Committee members here (HB 2285) and Appropriations Committee members here (SB 936).

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.

Why Is The House Transparency Bill In Senate Rules Committee?

As Gomer Pyle would say, "Well, I'lllllllllllllllllllllll be!" HB 2285, the government spending transparency bill passed by the House 99-0 recently, and patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), seemed destined for one of the General Assembly's great bipartisan accomplishments this session. After all the substitutes and amending, it even lost its fiscal impact to the overspent budget. Its Senate companion, SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), was similarly stripped down and passed cost muster in the Senate, and also was unanimously passed on the floor.

But, and there's always a but, the committee of jurisdiction for SB 936 was General Laws and Technology. HB 2285 is bound for Rules. Not only that, but knocked down the chain to the Sub-Committee on Studies (click here to contact). Tomorrow morning. Say what?!

All of a sudden, this most important government reform, that the entire Senate voted on last week, must be studied? Yeah, right. I'm sure you can smell the stink through your monitor. Could it be a coincidence that Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Stafford) touted this as a major House accomplishment at crossover, sending up a red flag to Senate Dems? You know, perhaps it's the, "you-killed-one-of-our-pets, we'll-kill-one-of-yours" routine? Creative killing at that: studying it to death or kicking it around from committee to committee while the GA clock runs out. For its part, the House assigned SB 936 to the appropriate committee, Science and Technology, where the House version crusied 22-0.

There's always hope this will be another love fest tomorrow, and the bill will move on in the correct direction — toward the Senate floor. However, we're preparing for a sub-committee meeting tomorrow morning that will reach a new low in creative excuse making.

Transparency: Good For The Private Sector, Not Good For State Government?

A fellow blogger gave me these lines to use in committee testimony in favor of the spending transparency bills (SB 936 and HB 2285). Thus far, the way they have travelled the legislative ladder, testimony hasn't been needed. For the record, the borrowed lines are:

"Financial institutions and publicly traded stocks, by regulation, must make readily available to the public its investments and corporate spending. If it's required of Charles Schwab, it should be required of state government."

The point being that the regulators (government) have a different standard for themselves than those on whom they impose rules. Here's a glaring and fun example. In his constituent newsletter today, Senator John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian) touts his commending resolution (SJ 394) to the crew and company of the summer 2008 HBO massive hit special event series John Adams (see our review here), much of which was filmed in central Virginia and Colonial Williamsburg. Among the reasons Senator Watkins wants to thank the crew is for the amount of money it spent in the Commonwealth:

"I previously mentioned my commending resolution to the crew of the John Adams HBO production. ... Filming a movie in Virginia is good for Virginia. For example, the John Adams mini-series spent $81,775,102 in Virginia. A few examples of how this money was spent: 

Technicians, Productions Assistants, Hired in Virginia: $9,025,750

Equipment Rental: $2,412,814

Wardrobe: $1,903,678

Car and Truck Rental: $1,141,053

Construction Supplies: $3,634,900."

Which is just great for everyone involved. But it begs the question: If we can get this kind of info out of a company doing temporary business in Virginia, why can't we get our own state government's expenditures? Stay vigilant. Improved transparency is on the way, but anything can happen. I'm keeping my testimony at the ready.

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.

BREAKING: Senate Finance Approves Spending Transparency Bill!

It's been one heck of a day at The Family Foundation: Pastors Lobby Day, Virtual Lobby Day, a live blog interview with Attorney General Bob McDonnell, losing as expected on pro-life measures in Senate Ed & Health (as expected, and video to come on the incomprehensible arguments), but also a big win there, on Family Life Education. But a loooooooooooooooong day and week was capped off by a big win in Senate Finance usually a grave yard of bills. On a unanimous voice vote, the committee approved Senator Ken Cuccinelli's SB 936. Admittedly not the ideal language as first drafted, the bill will make improvements to the current system.

Think of it this way: If proponents stuck the original and lost just to have an issue, the issue risked becoming a GA perennial that gets tuned out every year, as so many repeat bills are. Getting it passed and getting a start on complete and easy access to spending information means we can continually improve it over time. While the cynic might reply, "Like other other government agencies?" an examination of the substitute shows real progress.

On to House Appropriatons sub-committee tomorrow afternoon and HB 2285! It's not too late to contact those sub-committee members. Click here to do so.

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.

State Government Spending Transparency Updates

Last night I posted about action on taken on HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), which would make state government spending transparent in an easy-to-use, online searchable database of state spending.  Here's an update:  The House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities (see committee member here) today did not hear HB 2285. One little problem . . . today was the last meeting of the sub-committee before crossover. However, the sub-committee has scheduled extra meetings in the past. It is urgent that this sub-committee hear from you as soon as possible. Tell them that not only do you support the bill, but you expect it to be heard in sub-committee. 

If you want a quick  reference to their phone numbers, click here.

Meanwhile, tomorrow the Senate General Laws Committee (for members click here) meets and will take up SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax). Expect the argument against spending transparency to be a bogus cost estimate by the Department of Planning and Budget.

Many states, including Missouri and Nebraska, have put their spending online for almost no new money — and doing so has more than paid for itself in the finding of duplications and other wasted spending. Our friends at the National Taxpayers Union have secured two letters to the various committee members that we have circulated: One from the Treasurer of Nebraska and one, just last night, from former Missouri Governor Matt Blount's chief of staff, detailing how Virginia's $3 million cost estimate is completely unfounded and unrealistic.   

It is urgent that everyone concerned about good and open government contact members of the Senate General Laws Committee and urge them to pass SB 936 Wednesday, as well as contact the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities — for good government and transparency in how our tax money is spent!