Senator Walter Stosch

Quote Of The Day

In a fire-charged day in Senate Finance (see Part 3), a day of which we have barely scratched the surface, there were many memorable quotes. However, we have chosen Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico), whose pithiness underlined a severe truth during the debate on education freedom in Virginia. Responding to committee statists, who want to preserve the failing government-run school system and block, at all costs, competition and access to better schools for lower-income families by claiming the privately funded scholarship bill was a backdoor voucher program, Senator Stosch said the statements were nothing more than . . .

inappropriate arguments because they don't make sense any more so than a tax credit for a "green job" is a voucher. ...

Ouch! That had to hit committee statists right, smack in between their liberal sensibilities.

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.

Exclusive: Interview With House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith

Below is our interview with House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem). We submitted the questions to him via e-mail and he replied and returned them to us. Here it is in its entirety — as the questions were submitted and as his answers were written. Familyfoundationblog: Mr. Majority Leader, thank you for agreeing to do this interview! You are the first member of the leadership of either party or chamber to agree to an interview at familyfoundation.org.

The House, for years, has passed, often with huge bipartisan majorities, many of our priority pro-life, pro-family bills. Thank you for your leadership and the caucus' resolve in those matters. With that ground covered, so to speak, we thought we'd ask you about some other issues. We, and our readers, are looking forward to your answers and greatly appreciate your participation. Hope we haven't built up expectations and the pressure. ...

Familyfoundationblog: What big issue or reform would you like to see the caucus embrace and lead the General Assembly in passing? For example, SOQ reform? A taxpayer bill of rights?  Budget reform?  Real estate tax reform? Or something else entirely?

Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: In the long-term, it is the budget that poses the greatest challenge for us. Simply put, some key core services are growing at an unsustainable rate. With its budget doubling over the last decade, Virginia is among the top five states for spending growth.  Unfortunately, it will probably take a strong Republican governor, one committed to thoroughly reexamining the role, size, and scope of state government before this can be successfully addressed.

Familyfoundationblog: The House Republican majority has decreased over the last few cycles. Why is the GOP losing seats and how does the caucus plan to reverse the trend?

Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: Explaining why we've lost seats is complex, but the short answer is a combination of changing demographics in some parts of the state, the national political climate, and an inconsistent campaign operation overall.

We are preparing for an aggressive campaign to reclaim seats, and I have been concentrating my efforts on lining up strong candidates in Republican-leaning seats we do not currently hold. I am encouraged by our early work on this, and I think we're going to have some very exciting contests this year as a result.

Familyfoundationblog: Last session Delegate Ben Cline's (R-24, Amherst) online spending transparency bill, which would have put the budget online in a Google-like, user-friendly format, so an average Joe could look up any state expenditure, did not make it out of sub-committee. Several states have adopted such an online budget. We think budget transparency is important in general to generate public trust of government, but also to shine the sun on some nefarious groups that get state contracts, such as Planned Parenthood. What do you think the chances of passing such a bill are this session? Will it be a priority of the leadership? Most Virginians favor this and some think the GOP has ceded the issue for the Governor to carry out on his own.

Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: This year, the House approved Delegate Cline's Budget Transparency Bill (HB 2285) by a vote of 99 to 0. We have passed budget transparency measures previously (the issue has long been a priority of Senator (Walter) Stosch (R-12, Henrico), and former Delegate (Michelle) McQuigg spearheaded this effort in the House). As Chairman of the FOIA Commission, I know all-too-well that Virginia's government needs to improve the user-friendliness of its reforms and transparency measures.

Familyfoundationblog: The Standards of Quality formula is a big concern for many Virginians because it is antiquated and either needs massive reform or needs to be scrapped and re-fashioned from scratch for a student-based, more efficient education funding system. This would save hundreds of millions of tax dollars that could be re-prioritized. Do you see an opportunity to address this at some point in the near future?

Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: No. I don't believe the prospects for any substantive government reform in any area are promising under the current administration.

Familyfoundationblog: Everyone is curious now about the leadership's reaction to the Supreme Court's decision on the regional transportation authorities. Did you agree with the decision and did you think it is a good one?

Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: The Court's decision was well-reasoned, and there were some aspects of it that did not come entirely as a surprise. For legislators, though, the decision was frustrating. The bill that left the General Assembly would have complied with the Court's requirement that an elected body would have to impose the taxes. The Governor's amendments changed that aspect, and it was those amendments the Court struck down.

This was not the first time that a portion of HB 3202 fell into disfavor because of the Kaine Administration's amendments. The controversy over abusive driver fees was largely fueled by the public's rejection that the fees applied only to Virginia drivers. This was not the case when the bill left the General Assembly. The Kaine Administration made that alteration. In that case, the change was not disclosed in the Administration's briefing to the General Assembly on its amendments to HB 3202.

Familyfoundationblog: Are tax and fee increases the only things lawmakers are looking at? Why not make real cuts and/or prioritize tax dollars out of the General Fund toward transportation funding if it's that much of a crisis?

Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: Actually, the House passed a bill during last year's Special Session that would do just that, dedicating the growth of current revenue stream — income from Virginia's ports — directly to transportation. The Administration and the new Democrat Senate majority would not consider any measure that would increase the revenue flow to transportation without increasing taxes. This year, Delegates (Glenn) Oder (R-94, Newport News) and (Dave) Albo (R-42, Fairfax) have made significant improvements to that bill (HB 1579), and the House approved it by a vote of 67 to 31. But as long as the Democrat Senate majority and Governor Kaine insist on tax increases, the prospects for real progress on transportation are seriously diminished.

Familyfoundationblog: Perhaps one of the most talked about moments — and certainly one conservatives relished — of last session was on January 24, when you forced the vote on a couple dozen Democrats who refused to vote on one of their own member's bills, a bill that would have allowed public employees to bargain collectively (see video here). You made our blog's Quote of the Day for that! So, please take us through that:

Were you expecting the Democrats not to vote and prepared to force their vote? Or was this a spontaneous reaction? All they had to do was vote present to avoid this, right? Also, many have asked us why did you not record their vote in the affirmative to put them on record for public employee collective bargaining? What other insights can you provide our readers on this rare parliamentary event?

Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: The House Rules are very specific on this. If a member is in their seat but not voting and another member points that out, their vote must be recorded in the negative. This same motion was the first rules motion I made as a second-year delegate in 1995. We were in the minority then and I wanted to learn the rules thoroughly. Now every time there is a tough vote to take, I'm on the lookout for members hiding form the vote. An abstention would have prevented the challenge.

Curiously, the Democrats got over their shyness about expressing their support for collective bargaining later in the session. We ultimately got a vote on this issue, as the Democrat majority in the Senate passed a similar measure. At that point, they went on the record, with an overwhelming number of their caucus voting for an expansion of collective bargaining.

Familyfoundationblog: Mr. Majority Leader, thank you very much for your time during this especially busy period during the General Assembly. We greatly appreciate it and hope you enjoyed answering these questions, and hope you will join us again in the future.

Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: Thank you. The Family Foundation plays a vital role during each General Assembly session, providing members with much-needed information and a well-grounded perspective on the issues that are vital to Virginia's families. I know our members greatly appreciate the hard work you do on behalf of the families of Virginia.

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.

Family Foundation's 2009 Legislative Agenda: Budget Transparency

Yesterday, we posted information about our efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and abortion in Virginia, through grants it receives through the state budget. One of the challenges we face is actually finding the expenditures. You see, there isn't a line item in the budget that says "Planned Parenthood." The money is distributed by local health clinics from money appropriated to the Department of Health. At least the money we know about. An example of the difficulty in finding the truth came just last year when we sent Freedom of Information Act letters to every school board in Virginia concerning contracts with Planned Parenthood. The City of Richmond schools responded that they had no contract with Planned Parenthood but, just days later, we learned from Planned Parenthood that they were holding workshops in Richmond City Schools. Who is paying for this has yet to be determined, but we're working on it.

Several years ago The Family Foundation introduced legislation that was an attempt at making state budget expenditures more available to citizens. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Glen Allen), resulted in Commonwealth Datapoint (click here), a Web site where one can look through every check written by the state.

But plan on spending a lot of time, because while everything is there, it is about as user-friendly as Windows Vista. 

Last year, Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Centerville) and Chap Petersen (D-34, Fairfax) and Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) introduced legislation that would make the budget Web site more user-friendly, including a Google-like search engine. That legislation was killed in committe in both the House and Senate. Senator Edd Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania), a member of the Finance Committee, was particularly offended by the idea that taxpayers should have the right to hold him accountable for budget decisions. Similar legislation will be introduced again this year by those same legislators.

As the Commonwealth now deals with a spending surplus of at least $4 billion, finding where we can save money is extraordinarily important.  Most legislators will tell you that there isn't much waste in state government or any more "trimming of the edges" that can be done. While it would be great to take their word for it, the fact that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Planned Parenthood gives us doubt.

The way to righting this large ship of state begins here: It cannot be done without knowing exactly where and how government spends our hard-earned money; it cannot be done if we continue to sit in darkness while extreme organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, are provided with taxpayer bailouts.

In short, online budget transparency is a just concept of open and good government; of sunshine; of the people having oversight of their government, as the Founders intended. This year's legislative battle will be one of the bureaucrats and politicians who put power (via the purse) over the people's right to know.

Who will win? Rather, who has the will to win?