Senate Finance Committee

Budget Games End Tuesday

Tomorrow, lawmakers will be back in Richmond to hold a public hearing on Obamacare expansion. Your presence and voice will make the difference. The Senate Finance Committee — controlled by the same senators who have held the commonwealth's budget hostage to force Obamacare on Virginians, at the expense of funding schools, public safety and everything else — will hear public comments on whether or not to pass a clean budget without expansion. The Family Foundation will join a large coalition of conservative organizations offering testimony tomorrow to oppose the expansion. We need to deliver a clear message to these lawmakers that our emergency service personnel and schools are not pawns for their political games.

While the hearing begins at 2:00, sign-up for those interested in speaking starts at 1:00. Please arrive early enough to help us stop the Obama OFA group and other leftist organizations, such as Moveon.org, from blocking our voice by taking all the speaking slots. It wouldn't surprise us if those groups were given a heads up on this maneuver precisely so it can pack the room with left wing activists.

We cannot stress enough how important it is that conservatives take a public stand in support of a clean budget. Trying to force Obamacare expansion into the budget is wrong for many reasons, not to mention that is highly questionable whether or not it belongs in the budget: It is not an appropriation of state tax dollars, it wasn't passed as stand alone legislation that needs to be funded and it would contravene a law last year that mandated the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission do its work and recommend the commonwealth's next move. Furthermore, a program notoriously rife with abuse and never subject to an independent audit should most certainly not be included in the Virginia budget.

There will be free bus rides available for those in Southwest Virginia (as far as Bristol) and Northern Virginia. Sign-up here for a ride from a bus stop near you.

If you cannot make it to the event (and even if you are attending), please take two  convenient actions: Contact members of the Senate Finance Committee by phone or e-mail. Click here for committee members and their contact information. Then, if you haven't done so already, please sign the Pass A Clean Budget Terry Petition to make your voice heard to Governor McAuliffe to pass a clean 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.

Breaking News: Senate Dems Shock Virginia Media And Political Establishment By Rejecting Budget AGAIN, But Not Us. We Told You It Would Be Like This!

Governor Bob McDonnell just released a long and justifiably angry statement confronting Senate Democrats on their third budget obstruction in about six weeks. It pretty much hits on every conceivable point regarding Senate Democrats' highly partisan and obstructionist tactics that still leave the commonwealth without a two-year spending plan. (See next post for the statement.) But I can't resist three resonant "We-told-you-so's" reported/predicted on this blog not read many places elsewhere. First, as we commented during session, Senate Democrats were never serious about crafting a budget. They preferred to grandstand about "social issues wasting time and not dealing with the real issues," even as those bills were debated and voted upon in the normal legislative calendar while they actually did waste time and effort by feigning approval as long as their budget amendments were agreed to.

Second, as the governor points out, despite their protestations otherwise, Senate Democrats are obsessed with committee power, despite their loss in last November's elections, exacerbated, perhaps, by the now-minority leader's bravado that they would gain seats while not rubbing it in too much on the GOP (sentiments made before he could even find anyone to run, aside from his incumbents and newbies in safe districts, and needing to talk one senator out of his retirement). But there is one committee in particular they care about, one whose lust to rule keeps them up at night — Education and Health. The minority leader admitted as much, as we broke here, and for one plain, simple, raw reason — to serve as the blocking back for its benefactors at Planned Parenthood and the Virginia Education Association, in order to prevent protections for life and needed education reforms.

Third, during the third week of March, the mainstream media, unwilling to dig into any subterranean rumblings, much less semi-overt controversies, precipitated by the Senate's minority leadership, gleefully reported that there was budget peace, naively reporting with glee a unanimous Senate Finance Committee vote to approve a Senate budget. We outlined why there was no "peace in the valley" and expressed shock that so many media types pushed the budget issue to the back pages as if a deal was a formality when there were any number of reasons Senate liberals were ready block a final version with the House, none of which were ever going to be resolved in their favor: ultrasound funding, higher taxes, committee assignments, transportation earmarks. Some gave incredible credence to the hope that Senator Charles Colgan, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee and senior member of the Senate, would break ranks, somehow shocking the GOP majority we his vote fell through (see Washington Examiner). It's as if after two months of political neon sign flashing by the Senate's left, the media, pundits and even political pros, thought they'd taken a chill. But it's not only the weather that's been unseasonably warm this year.

Pick your metaphor here, but given the centennial hype over it, I'll say a budget deal then was about as secure as the Titanic making its way at night under a clueless captain. Tonight, at the Virginia General Assembly, the lifeboats are deployed.

The BPOL Tax: A Bicentennial Only Local Governments Could Celebrate

The local governments are at it again. Every year during session they use the tax dollars of those they represent — us! — to lobby directly against our interests. The best example is their years-long opposition to property rights protections, at which they finally failed this session. (By the way, if they claim to represent their residents, why are they afraid of a vote by those same people to ratify or reject property rights?) Now, they are trying to scuttle HB 10, patroned by Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Fredericksburg), which would give a modest — and fair — amount of tax relief to small and family owned businesses by prohibiting localities from increasing their BPOL Tax for four years above what it is during the 2011 license year. But that doesn't sit well with the local government lobby, which has an unquenchable thirst for our hard-earned tax dollars.

The BPOL Tax is one of the least fair of all taxes because it taxes the gross receipts on a business, not its profits. For example, a business that brings in receipts of $500,000 but loses $100,000 gets taxed on the $500,000! This kills small and family owned businesses and stifles job creation.

While local governments talk about their "pain" who speaks for the hardships facing small businesses and individuals? It's almost funny how government always asks us to sacrifice but itself never sacrifices anything —  especially local governments who see themselves as their own entity, rather than stewards of their communities' interests, and are in the game to preserve their interests and power, not unlike any other special interest or industry.

HB 10 passed the House by an overwhelming bipartisan majority (88-12) early in session, but only now is getting its day in the Senate, where it will be heard tomorrow morning in the Finance Committee. One of the many fun things devoid of an already dour session this year is a little-bill- that-could. You hear of them every year, a bill that comes out of nowhere and does some good things. Maybe HB 10 is it.

Last year, Delegates Cole and Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach) were successful in passing some helpful changes to the inherently unfair BPOL Tax, which is "celebrating" its bicentennial year this year — originally levied to pay for the War of 1812Unlike this modest bill, which has a sunset provision, the BPOL Tax was never discontinued when it accomplished its goal 200 years ago — a never-ending tax of dreams for the Big Government types. It's time for a little more for fairness and suppression of the Big Government appetite.

Not only is the BPOL Tax bad policy, it is particularly heinous during a slow economy. The bill also gives localities the option to impose the BPOL Tax on the Virginia taxable income of a corporation, the net income of a sole proprietorship, and the net income of a pass-through entity, which simply is the right and just way to tax businesses.

With so much going on this session, the little-bills-that-could get lost in the pack. But HB 10 can make an impact for tax fairness, job growth and small government with a victory tomorrow in Senate Finance. While local governments fight for themselves, we can fight back.

Please contact senators on the Senate Finance Committee (click here) and urge them to vote for HB 10 tomorrow!

BREAKING NEWS: Senate Adopts Abstinence Education On 21-20 Vote!

It was a pro-life, pro-family sweep today at the reconvened "Veto" session of the General Assembly tonight. In addition to a dramatic abortion limiting 21-20 vote within the last hour, the Virginia Senate earlier voted by the same margin to concur with Governor McDonnell and the House of Delegates to restore abstinence education funding that former Governor Tim Kaine cut out of the state budget. As with the vote to ban taxpayer dollars from use in elective abortions in the ObamaCare state run health insurance exchanges, all 18 Republicans were joined by pro-life Democrats Phillip Puckett and Chuck Colgan to get to the magic number of 20 votes and a tie in the chamber allowing pro-life Lt. Governor Bill Bolling to break the tie in favor of the amendment. The funding, match money corresponding to a federal grant, was initially presented in the House budget but, in the final days of session, Senate conferees stripped it out in budget negotiations. But today, the House reiterated its position by a 69-29 vote, which sent it to the Senate. Senator Colgan (D-29, Manassas), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced the amendment and urged its passage. Pro-abortion Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31, Arlington) rebutted the argument, parroting Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League, which claim abstinence education is ineffective (despite an Obama administration study that says otherwise).

The Family Foundation thanks Governor McDonnell, Lt. Governor Bolling, and the members of the House and Senate who ensured the success of these two important pieces of legislation that soon will become law, as well as all committed pro-life, pro-family Virginians who answered our call to contact their state legislators this week. More to come tomorrow about today's exciting developments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Small Business Tax Relief!

A funny thing happened Friday afternoon on the way to some much needed tax relief for small and family-run businesses: HB 1437, patroned by Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spottsylvania), which would grant localities the power to keep or discontinue the dreaded BPOL Tax, was recommitted to the Senate Finance Committee from the Senate floor even though that committee earlier in the week passed in unanimously!

Now, we need your help. Please contact senators, on the Finance Committee, and ask for their vote tomorrow morning to report this bill back to the Senate floor!

Here's what happened: Early last week the bill passed out of the Finance Committee unanimously and went to the full Senate in the "uncontested bloc." That’s where bills without dissenting committee votes go and almost always are passed, without controversy, in a group. However, on the bloc's "third read" Friday — the vote which would've sent HB 1437 to Governor Bob McDonnell — Senator Charles Colgan (D-29, Manassas), who chairs the Finance Committee, pulled it out of the bloc and his motion to "recommit" the bill to his committee did not meet opposition.

We're not sure why this bill was sent back to the Finance Committee, where no interest groups spoke in opposition it. It passed the House 94-5, but we've seen in the past that big, bipartisan margins in the House mean nothing in the Senate.

The BPOL Tax was established to fund the War of 1812. Not only has it outlived that purpose by 199 years, it is inherently unfair, taxing Virginia businesses on gross receipts rather than profit. That means companies that lose money still pay a tax! It punishes many small, family-run businesses that run on tight profit margins. In this down economy, government should do all it can to encourage job growth. The BPOL Tax kills jobs and stunts the growth of small businesses — which create 75 percent of all jobs in America.

This bill is entirely permissive. Localities, as unfair as it is, may still keep the BPOL tax if this bill becomes law. However, it allows them to tax businesses at the Virginia Taxable Income rate instead, which is entirely fair. Plus, this bill would return more decision-making authority to government closest to the people. Denying localities the option to end this tax after 199 years is indefensible. This option would give localities an edge in attracting new businesses and encourage the start up of new locally-owned businesses as well. 

State government should do all it can to help businesses thrive. Instead, we hear stories all the time, such as the small business owner in Norfolk who lost $70,000 last year, covered the loss with his savings, and still had to pay $4,000 in the BPOL Tax! Is that how we create jobs in Virginia?

Education Choice Bill Up For Vote Tuesday In Senate Finance: Who's Living In The Past?

Bringing at least a modicum of school choice and education freedom long has been a goal of reform minded people who realize that the government-run education monopoly is holding back academic achievement. This Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee has a chance to show its open mindedness and independence from the education establishment when it votes on HB 2314, patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie's (R-72, Henrico). The bill establishes a tax credit for businesses donating to non-profit organizations providing scholarships to free and reduced lunch students (family of four earning less than $40,793 per year). Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 54-45 this week.

The modesty of this bill is testimony to how tenacious and powerful the Educrat establishment is in Richmond. It will fight to the death anything that hints at cracking its monopoly or reforms it from within. This is no exaggeration. The Educrats even are resisting a bill to provide for more physical education (HB 1644), patroned by Delegate John O'Bannon (R-73, Henrico). (See Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog.)

On the heels of yesterday's well-attended Family Foundation Day at the Capitol and rally focused on school choice, we think there is real momentum to pass HB 2314. It's certainly well passed time, considering the state of public education in certain areas of the state and for certain families that are trapped with no option but to attend an inadequate public school.   Similar scholarship programs in Pennsylvania and Florida have been huge successes. Florida's program is a prime example, where demand for a program started in 2001 has grown from $50 million to $88 million, providing scholarships for more than 33,000 low-income children.   The bill is designed to avoid the nefarious "negative fiscal impact" to the state. In fact, the fiscal impact will be all positive. Florida's program, for example, saved that state $36 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year alone, according to the Florida Office of Program Analysis and Government Accountability.   In Florida and elsewhere, thousands of children have been given opportunities for a better education through scholarships created because funding is available. Despite cries of "taking money from children" in public schools, the scholarship programs in other states have in no way negatively affected public schools.    Unfortunately, the Senate Finance Committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Last year, it killed a similar bill by a 9-6 vote — see committee members make outlandish and outrageous comments.   In two different polls conducted by, or on behalf of, The Family Foundation or other education freedom supporters over the past three years, large majorities of Virginians have indicated their support for tax credits like the one created in HB 2314.

Certain liberals like to say, "Conservatives want to take us back," although they never specify where. Perhaps it's more a case of liberals holding us back — or stuck in the past — with ideas no longer as effective as once were, and never moving forward with proven reforms.

Please contact members of the Senate Finance Committee and urge them to vote for HB 2314. We are close and only need to flip two votes.

A Shocking Day: Chief Justice Hassell's Untimely Death, Webb Won't Run For Re-election

I was in the Senate Finance Committee this morning watching, thankfully, two good bills, which may lead to some much needed tax reform, fly through. The committee agenda was short, normal right after "crossover," and only six bills were heard, all passing on unanimous voice votes. Can't be much simpler than that. At what should've been a quick bang of the gavel to dismiss, committee Chairman Chuck Colgan (D-29, Manassas) made the announcement, the first one in public as it turned out: Former Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leroy Hassell, Sr., died, unexpectedly, at age 55 (WTVR.com). He previously stepped aside as chief justice, but remained on the court.  Governor Bob McDonnell ordered that the flag of the commonwealth be flown at half-staff on all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds (WTVR.com). New Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser was scheduled to be sworn in officially this week. There is no word on the status of that ceremony at this point. She will be the first woman Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice.

(Updated 4:45 p.m.: The governor has ordered that flags be flown at half-staff until his burial on all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in Virginia. Additionally, Justice Hassell will lie in state in the Virginia State Capitol prior to burial. See his official statement honoring Justice Hassell)

Chief Justice Hassell was the first black person to serve in that position. He was a native Virginian, and proudly so. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli included this 2003 quote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in his statement honoring Mr. Hassell:

I do not wish to serve, however, because I happen to be black. Rather, I desire to serve because I am a Virginian by birth who has a strong affection and love for the commonwealth and its people.

He will be missed. He was a man of great faith, intellect, warmth, stature and humility.

Later in the morning, a bombshell e-mail from a political consultant friend: U.S. Senator Jim Webb will not run for re-election in 2012 (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). Though not totally unexpected, the timing (through no fault of Senator Webb) was strange, so soon after the sad news about Justice Hassell. Mr. Webb had not actively engaged in fundraising and many thought from the beginning he would term limit himself, given the flukish nature of his election — and a possible Defense Secretary appointment in a potential Obama second term.

Now, the attention turns to who the Democrats will nominate. Early speculation ranges from everyone from former Governor Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe (if he can be pulled away from running for governor) to former Congressmen Rick Boucher and Tom Periello, to Krystal Ball, who unsuccessfully challenged Republican Rob Wittman in the first district last year.

The War Of 1812 Is History. The BPOL Tax Should Be, Too!

The pace of the General Assembly moves very fast, especially during the short session when committee hearings are compressed into a shorter period. Just this afternoon we were notified that HB 1437, patroned by Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spottsylvania), which would grant localities the power to keep or discontinue the dreaded BPOL Tax, is in the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow morning. This bill passed the House last week by a 94-5 margin. But we’ve seen in the past that big, bipartisan margins in the House mean nothing in the Senate. So, please contact members of the committee and ask them to vote in favor of this bill!

The BPOL Tax was established to fund the War of 1812. Not only has it outlived that purpose by 199 years, it is inherently unfair, taxing Virginia businesses on gross receipts rather than profit. Companies that lose money still pay a tax! It punishes many small, family-run businesses that run on tight profit margins. In this down economy, government should do all it can to encourage job growth. The BPOL Tax kills jobs and stunts the growth of small businesses — which create 75 percent of all jobs in America — by siphoning away capital they would invest in their businesses and use to hire new employees.

While the local government lobby, which uses your hard-earned tax dollars to lobby for more power at your expense, says it can't afford the loss in tax revenue, HB 1437 only gives localities the option of removing the BPOL Tax. Denying localities the option to end this tax after 199 years is indefensible. Just think: If localities had that option, they could compete against each other for businesses to locate in their city or county to create new jobs. The removal of the BPOL Tax will encourage the start up of new locally-owned businesses as well. 

It's time local governments stop complaining about the loss of revenue and showed concern for the loss of businesses and jobs. Local government always will be in business — but locally owned, small, family-run businesses do not have that guarantee. Government should do all it can to help them. A small business owner in Norfolk lost $70,000 last year, covered by his savings, and still had to pay $4,000 in the BPOL Tax! (See WSLS.com.) Is that how we create jobs in Virginia?

Join Us February 10 For Family Foundation Day At The Capitol

With the 2010 elections over, Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas just around the corner, most people are giving politics a rest right now. Deservedly so. However, the General Assembly will go into session in early January and The Family Foundation is gearing up for another heated session. With issues such as wrongful death for the unborn, the federal repeal amendment, and a renewed emphasis on school choice, now is not the time for us to rest on our laurels. Our staff is busy preparing to stand in the gap in the upcoming session for the values that we hold dear. With that in mind, please commit for one day — Thursday, February 10 — and attend our annual Family Foundation Day at the Capitol, at the Greater Richmond Convention Center (directions). This is a change from the last few years when our lobby day was on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This year we will focus on school choice and, in particular, a bill that Senator Mark Obenshein (R-26, Harrisonburg) and Delegate Jimmie Massie R-72, Henrico) will carry. The bill would provide tax credits for contributions to scholarship foundations that in turn sponsor children to attend the school of their choice.

We believe that competition in education and true education freedom are key components to the reforms our current education system needs. In addition to our normal Lobby Day at the Capitol activities, we will join with several other groups for a rally for school choice at the bell tower on the capitol grounds.

A similar bill by Delegate Massie passed the House of Delegates last year but died in the Senate Finance Committee (see how it went down). We need a strong show of support from people across Virginia to convince our senators that school choice is the right choice for Virginia.

So, we encourage you to mark your calendars for Thursday, February 10, and join us in Richmond. Registration for this free event is as easy as clicking right here.

Several private and Christian schools are participating with us in this effort. If you have children in a private or Christian school or have a relationship with one in your area, please forward this link with them. Also, you can e-mail us @ FamilyFoundation@familyfoundation.org and let us know of any schools in your area that might be interested in participating. We will be happy to follow up with them. For more information about the event, call Roger Pogge at 804-343-0010.

While "Waiting For Superman" Is A Hit, Virginians Still Wait For School Choice

We've said it before and we'll say it again: school choice is coming to Virginia. The questions that remain are "When?" and "How?" There is no "if." In fact, it's not just The Family Foundation (and the public via polls) in support of school choice. It's the mainstream media and Hollywood!

Last Sunday, CBS' 60 Minutes aired a piece on the SEED school in Washington, D.C. SEED, an urban public boarding school similar to charter school initiatives, first opened its doors in 1998. It immediately gave inner city students a chance at educational success that they normally would never think to dream. In a community that normally graduates only 33 percent of its high school students, 97 percent of SEED graduates are accepted into college. Due to its overwhelming success, SEED began another school in Maryland and is working with Ohio and New Jersey to begin schools in those states.

 Sewing SEEDs of education and opportunity: 60 Minutes spotlights a success government-run schools couldn't replicate with all the tax payer money in the world.

In fact, SEED has been so undeniably successfully, it has been heralded by the Obama administration as a "true success story." Even another notoriously liberal institution — Hollywood, of all places — has noticed: The directors of Al Gore's climate change conspiracy film, An Inconvenient Truth, have produced a documentary entitled Waiting for Superman (see Variety review) in which an underprivileged student hopes to win a drawing for a slot at SEED in order to get the opportunity for academic success — and a change in life. Waiting for Superman received the Audience Award for Best U.S. Documentary in this year’s Sundance Film Festival and will be released in theaters this fall. See the trailer below:

A Washington, D.C. student waits for Superman. Virginians still wait for even modest education choice.

As SEED clearly demonstrates, contrary to testimony and liberal senators' reactions in the Senate Finance Committee this past General Assembly (if you haven't yet, you must see this, click here), the benefits of school choice cross racial, socio-economic and political party lines. School choice is the obvious solution for many families. Why has Virginia waited so long to adopt this common sense approach?

This past session, Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico) introduced a bill (HB 599) that would have created a tax credit for businesses and individuals that donate to scholarship funds for children attending K-12. Carefully designed to be fiscally neutral to the Virginia and fiscally positive to localities, this bill would have created a way out of failing schools for low-income families. In partnership with Delegate Massie, The Family Foundation will work this summer to build an even broader coalition of support for school choice initiatives and will once again push for educational freedom next session.

The 60 Minutes segment and Waiting For Superman prove an undeniable truth about human nature: The young naturally are curious and want to learn. Unfortunately, there's a counterbalancing truth as well: Government wants to control and, to that end, provides obstacles to freedom — and its people suffer.

What They Said: Liberals Gladly Admit To Redistributionist Agenda After The Fact

We wanted you to hear it for yourselves in case you haven't already, but over the last several days, the emboldened liberals have felt safe spilling the beans and being forthright. Finally, they're calling the government takeover of health care what it is: redistribution of income and wealth; control over individuals and companies; and even outright socialism. It started last week whenU.S. Representative John Dingell (D-Mich.), the most senior member of the House, told a radio show the bill was about "control" of "the people" (see previous post here). It's refreshing that they are so honest now, but we wish they would have been so during their town hall meetings last summer and throughout the entire debate and process on the bill. Instead, they acted undecided about it, flat out said the opposite of what's being said now — or hid. It reveals their disingenuousness.

Still, this wasn't without proper warning. There certainly were glimpses and peeps about their intentions in 2008 (see below). But, just so you will see and hear it for yourselves, as seeing is believing, here is a sample of recent frank admissions by prominent liberals: We start with U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; former Democrat National Committee Chairman Howard Dean; Al Sharpton; Vice President Joe Biden; and, we cap it off with a classic by the head man himself.

All are only seconds long, except the Dean interview which is about three minutes. It's instructive and worth it to hear all of them as well as the Dingell interview, especially for people who still think the takeover was altruistic. But, just for good measure, here's a recent endorsement of the health care takeover by Fidel Castro. Nice. Hard to keep your cover when he's exposing you (David Horowitz's NewsRealBlog.com).

Senator Baucus: make no mistake about it — this IS "income redistribution."

Howard Dean: He admits it's all about confiscation and redistribution, and only the governing elites decide what the "right balance" is; and the U.S. is way "out of balance."

 

Al Sharpton: We're all socialists now because socialism is what we voted for.

The Veep: Dingell is only part right. We're controlling the insurance companies, too! (Why not, government controls the banks, GM, AIG,  . . . .)

The Redistributor-In-Chief where it all started: Let's "spread the wealth around!"

A Little Disinfectant Will Do Wonders: The HB 570 Vote Is Back Up

Is it possible for a bill to create more buzz in death than in life? That's a pretty tall order, especially with an important bill such as HB 570. But we caused quite an uproar yesterday and today with the post about its missing PBI vote. Delegate Sal Iaquinto's (R-84, Virginia Beach) bill wold have made the burden of proof an equal share between homeowners and assessors in assessment appeal cases. Several blogs picked up on it, including our friends Norman Leahy and Lynn Mitchell at Tertium Quids and SWAC Girl, respectively. Even though the vote was taken a couple weeks ago, the bill's home page yesterday reflected a "Left In Committee" inaction by the Senate Finance Committee, even though the world knew it got plenty of action as committee liberals sunk it on a straight party line vote (a motion to "Pass By Indefinitely"). We reported the whole affair here along with the video of the entire committee debate and vote, yet the vote was taken down as if the world wouldn't find out.

"Left In Committee" has a totally different meaning than PBI. It means that the bill was never given a hearing and the patron never had the opportunity to introduce the bill. There's a big difference between a committee shirking its responsibility by not voting and in hiding its vote (that its members sought office to cast and for which they get paid to make). Not that one is worse than the other, there's just a big difference between the two.

Just a few minutes ago, however, I received an update on HB 570 from the Legislative Information System. An unexpected update yesterday verified another twist in this dead bill's life. Sure enough, voila! Just like David Copperfield (again) it appeared! So, if seeing the (video) isn't believing, it's now official with the vote listed here. Our disinfectant (this blog) did a little good as it turns out.

Earlier today, it must be said, at a meeting with another conservative organization, an ally relayed what she was told by someone either at LIS or from the Finance Committee staff: That since a vote to PBI doesn't technically kill a bill, it was still alive, thus the vote was not posted online until it was past time upon which official action could be taken. But this explanation still doesn't make sense.

A PBI vote kills a bill. If it is to be resurrected, it must be done so with a motion to reconsider. For that, the public needs to know how the vote went because only a member from the prevailing side can ask for such a motion. Either the bill was killed, and the people have a right to know who voted which way, or it was technically still alive and citizens need to know who to approach to try to save it. Furthermore, yesterday was the last day for committee action on bills. No matter the rationalization, the committee vote should have been posted within 24 hours of the meeting and not taken down. Just more games politicians used to get away with.

Senate Up To More Mischief, Expunges Committee Vote That Killed HB 570!

I was wondering why Legislative Information Services sent me an update on HB 570, a bill to give homeowners a level playing field when appealing their property assessments. After all, it was killed in the Senate Finance Committee about two weeks ago. I was so unconcerned, I didn't even look at it. Then, because of totally unrelated events, a fellow blogger told me one of her readers was concerned because he heard his senator voted "no" on the bill — and was trying to find verification. I thought the senator in question voted correctly, but thought I'd double check. Simple enough. I'll just e-mail her the link to the committee vote. I went to the bill page and — better than David Copperfield — the vote had disappeared! Instead of the vote to "Pass By Indefinitely," (a polite phrase for killing a bill), the last action now says, "Left In Committee." In a way, that's worse, because it looks like the committee shirked its responsibility to give all bills a fair hearing. Regardless, the Senate Finance Committee literally expunged its vote (see here)! What cowardice and disregard for representative government!

What's really dumbfounding is that whoever made the decision to expunge the vote should've known that an LIS update would go out. That alone would send up a red flag. But most of all, they should remember this:

The Finance Committee thought it could expunge its deplorable vote in favor of government rights over taxpayer rights. But we have the video evidence here!

We recorded that committee hearing (and wrote about it here)! No escaping it liberal senators. Here it is, live and in color. Sound is pretty good, too. Simply fast forward to the end and see hear the vote. They're all there: Saslaw, Whipple, Miller, et al, the Who's Who of Big Government voting for government prosperity over individual rights.

This has not been a distinguished time for the Virginia Senate. First, it changed the ratio of committee assignments way out of proportion; then, it tried to re-refer bills out of committees without a vote; then, it changed the rules in mid-stream, to let sub-committees kill bills; followed by setting up a special Courts of Justice sub-committee the last week of session solely to kill particular bills the rest of the committee supports; and now, it's expunging vote records! Your lawmakers at work.

More Can't Miss Video: Senate Finance Committee Empowers Local Government Over Taxpayers!

The crush and pace of the Virginia General Assembly creates a dilemma: We cover a lot of ground and witness a lot of things, good and bad, almost all nearly impossible to relate. We do our best, but we hear it all the time from supporters who come to committee meetings: You really can't believe it until you see if for yourself (at least we have video now). A lot of stuff sits in the file because we're forced to move on to other topics: Such is the pace of 2,600 bills in 60 days. Don't blog something one day, it's old news the next. After all, our first priority is working on legislation. However, several days ago, HB 570 was before the Senate Finance Committee. It preceded this infamous bill hearing (you must see this if you haven't; click here). This bill, patroned by Delegate Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach) would level the playing field when property owners appeal their often over assessed homes in order to reduce their already overwhelming tax burdens. Besides, if the government has a good case, it will still win. A no-brainer, right? Not!

Currently, and the way it will now remain for at least another year, the homeowner is the equivalent to guilty until proven innocent, and low-income people can’t even afford to hire an appraiser and other expenses required to overcome the burden of proof. (That's why advocates for low-income families joined us in supporting the bill.) Tellingly, the bill’s defeat was heavily targeted by a plethora of local governments and associated organizations whose goal is to further government’s prosperity and not that of the family or individual. One witness favoring the bill exposed their intentions by asking if they would be against this bill would help them overcome an unfair burden against the homeowner.

Hypocritically, in criticizing the bill, ultra liberal Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31, Arlington) said that the jurisdictions she represents receive a disproportionate amount of local tax revenue from commercial properties and the bill did not exempt those buildings from the proposed new appeal process. When Delegate Iaquinto said he agreed and would accept that as a friendly amendment, she shot back, “I’m not going to offer that!” More hypocrisy was exposed when Senator John Watkins (R-10, Powhatan) offered a friendly amendment to rectify another complaint. Another ally was Senator William Wampler (R-40, Bristol), who made procedural motions to advance the bill. Yet, the bill still went down on a straight party line vote, 9-5, with Senator Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk) absent from the vote.

But, no need for me to try to capture the ignominy. See it for yourself. The entire debate is below in two parts.

Delegate Iaquinto makes a persuasive, commonsense case on behalf of home owners . . .

then the forces of big government preach government prosperity at the expense of individuals and families. So much for government guaranteeing individual rights and a fair day in court.

This Just In: Democrat Controlled Senate Transportation Committee Kills Planned Parenthood License Plate Bill!

Yesterday, the Democrat controlled Senate Finance Committee did something very unusual — they aimed their wrath on a Democrat House colleague, Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), and purposely killed his property rights bill. This afternoon, the Democrat controlled Transportation Committee proved it could kill a fellow Democrat's bill by accident! Here's what happened:

We're all familiar with the Planned Parenthood license plate bill by now (HB 1108). Patroned byDelegate Bob Brink (D-48, Arlington), the bill would allow the abortion provider its own plate with slogan ("Trust Women, Respect Choice"). Money from its sales was designated to go to the coffers of the partisan political organization. However, the House of Delegates accepted a floor amendment by Todd Gilbert (R-15, Shenandoah) to redirect the money instead to the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund. This amended bill was what was before the Transportation Committee.

Now, the Senate finished its floor business today earlier than the House, but instead of waiting for Delegate Brink to attend to introduce his bill, committee chair Yvonne Miller (D-5, Norfolk) decided to hear the bill without him. Not rare, but still unusual. In addition, two senators, Edd Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania) and Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) were absent taking committee membership down to 13. A motion was made to amend the bill to redirect sale proceeds back to Planned Parenthood. The vote was close, 7-6, in favor of the amendment. Senator Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell), a pro-life Democrat (speaking of same), voted with all but one of the Republicans against the amendment. Senator John Watkins (R-10, Powhatan) voted with the Dems to give them what they wanted. False sense of security. Thinking they had the votes, Chairman Miller proceeded with a vote on the amended bill — but it went down, 7-6! Now, not only is there no funding, there's no plate! The entire bill is . . . dead!

What happened? Simple. Voting for amendments rarely is a big deal. Many senators do it to give the patron the legislation he or she wants so the committee can cast an up or down vote on what it is he or she is trying to accomplish. That's all the Senator Watkins did. On the vote on final passage, he voted "no" with all the Republicans and Senator Puckett, whose decision was probably hardened by the possibility of Planned Parenthood getting license plate money.

I can hear the "Ooooooooops" coming from Senator Miller now. Better still, the hissy fit coming from Planned Parenthood! Great news — and fun — all the way around. Gotta love those unintended consequences. Still, there's another Planned Parenthood plate bill alive, as part of an omnibus special license plate package, including one to benefit a low income children meals program. That PP plate bill funding has been stripped, too. However, its patron, Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), has threatened to block the whole ball of wax if the PP funding isn't restored. But liberals never take food from the children, do they? The pro-abort crack-up gets wackier every day!

Quick hypothetical: If the two absent senators were there, the outcome wouldn't have changed. Even if Senator Houck voted for the plate, Senator Blevins has been consistently against all specialized license plates. He either would've voted no or abstained. A tie would have killed the bill.

Virginia Family Harassed By VDOT 11 Times Over Eminent Domain! But Virginia Senate Still Rejects Bill!

To add insult to injury, the Senate Finance Committee's rejection of HB 652 comes on top of this: A Virginia man and his family's farm have been condemned through eminent domain 11 times by VDOT over the years! But the Virginia Senate today, and over the last two weeks with its legislative game playing in the Courts of Justice Committee, has shown it cares not about your constitutional rights to property. By the way, the victim's attorney, Joe Waldo, was one of our expert witnesses during the entire legislative process. Be warned: This man's story is sure to make your blood boil. Remember, VDOT attached the "Fiscal Impact Statement" to HB 652 that effectively killed the bill.

VDOT's thirst for private property NEVER ends. Ask this poor man.

Virginia Senate Trounces Your Constitutional Private Property Rights, Empowers Government At Your Expense!

Just a couple of hours ago, the Senate Finance Committee (see vote) trounced on your constitutional rights to just compensation in eminent domain cases. Actually, it's worse than that. It trounced on your rights simply to present evidence to juries in eminent domain cases! The following is the news release, just issued, by the patron of HB 652, Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville):

Senate Committee Kills Bill to Protect Landowners

~Armstrong vows to continue to fight for average citizens~

After passing the House with a 98-1 vote, Delegate Ward Armstrong’s “Landowner’s Rights Bill” (HB652) was killed in a Senate Finance Committee on a 10-3 vote Wednesday morning. Senators Reynolds, Watkins, and Hanger were the only members voting in favor of the legislation.

HB652 would have provided that any restriction, change, or loss of access to or from property taken under the power of eminent domain to be considered as an element in assessing damages for the purposes of determining just compensation.

"I’m very disappointed that the committee chose to side with government instead of the average citizen," said Armstrong. "The worst thing that a government can do to someone is deprive them of their liberty; the second worst thing is to deprive them of their property without just compensation. I intend to introduce the measure again next year."

The bill was supported by a variety of groups including: The VA Farm Bureau, National Federation of Independent Businesses, The VA Agribusiness Council, and The Family Foundation.

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.