Virginia Supreme Court

Parents Rights Bill Clear Both Chambers, Goes To Governor To Be Signed Into Law

Yesterday, after weeks of numerous twists and turns and more edits and amendments than the Declaration of Independence, a simple two sentence bill guaranteeing parental rights cleared both chambers of the General Assembly by large majorities and are on their way to Governor Bob McDonnell to sign into law. Starting July 1, Virginia law will recognize that parents have a "fundamental right" to make "decisions concerning the upbringing, education and care" of their children. Short, simple and powerful.

The legislation, HB 1642 and SB 908, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County) and Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Spotsylvania), respectively, elevates the common law understanding of parental rights in place in Virginia for 400 years to that of a fundamental right. What’s in a word? Plenty. While no rights are absolute, courts give special deference to fundamental rights, requiring the state’s "compelling interest" to intervene.

These bills also codify the essence of the L.F. v. Breit Virginia Supreme Court decision in January that upheld parental rights. That’s especially important since 24 other state courts have reduced parental rights to "ordinary" — a standard more easily trumped by government authorities that attempt to interpose themselves in family decisions.

Even as the bills were being debated in recent days, evidence of the need for protecting parental rights came to light when we learned that the Obama administration is arguing in a federal court that parents do not have a fundamental right to home school their children (see TheGospelCoalition.org)!

We thank Delegate Pogge and Senator Reeves for their patience and skillful navigation through the often Byzantine legislative process, while negotiating over several amendments but not giving ground on the goal of reasserting the foundational principle parents by nature have to raise their children. We also appreciate the effort of the Home School Legal Defense Association who brought this bill to the General Assembly and worked tirelessly over the past several weeks to see it to completion.

Thank you for contacting your senators and delegates each time when called upon these last six weeks. In the end, many delegates and senators responded to the common sense of these bills as reflected in their constituents' beliefs.

Click here to thank Delegate Pogge and click here to thank Senator Reeves.

Student, Parental Rights Bills Advance!

Yesterday was "crossover," the mid-point of the 2013 General Assembly session and the day when each chamber must complete work on its own bills. It's also a day that saw two substantial pro-family victories. The Senate passed a priority for The Family Foundation — legislation that protects the free association rights of students on public college campuses. SB 1074, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), ensures that the current practice on the majority of our campuses will continue and that religious and political organizations will not be discriminated against because of their beliefs and values. The bill passed 22-18 with several Democrats joining Republicans to pass the legislation. The House companion bill, HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), passed 80-19 late last week.

In the House, legislation protecting parental rights as fundamental passed 70-30! The bill, HB 1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County), reflects a recent decision by the Virginia Supreme Court that recognizes parental rights as fundamental. However, 24 states have reduced parental rights from fundamental to "ordinary," making it easier for government bureaucrats to interfere with families. This is significant because courts give special deference to "fundamental" rights and putting it in the Virginia Code secures it from a future Virginia court from rewriting the recent decision. Currently, Virginia law is silent on the status of parental rights, instead relying on hundreds of years of common law, which has granted parents fundamental in principle.

A similar bill previously passed the Senate, but because the bills are slightly different, we will continue to work with the patrons and representatives of parental rights groups to bring them into "conformity" for final passage later this session. The Senate bill is SB 908 and is patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Spotsylvania) and will be in the House Courts of Justice Committee today.

In the past two days, other legislation supported by The Family Foundation also advanced, including bills that combat human trafficking, help ease restrictions on the creation of charter schools, and provide a definition of bullying for the Department of Education as it works on guidelines to help schools combat that serious problem.

Unfortunately, all news today wasn't good. The Senate decided to send SJ 287, a religious liberty constitutional amendment, back to committee, effectively killing the bill for this year. Based on an amendment that passed last year in Missouri, the amendment would have given Virginians the opportunity to vote to re-establish our right to pray at the start of government meetings and protect students' religious liberty rights. As we continue to watch the federal government infringe upon our God given right to express our faith in the public square, Virginians want to be able to respond. Our goal will continue to be to reinforce our First Freedom, through statute and, if necessary, a constitutional amendment. We thank Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Moneta), the resolution's patron, and Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), the chief co-patron, for their very hard work and inspired and passionate words yesterday on the Senate floor.

In the coming days we will again notify you to take urgent action on key bills. Thank you to everyone who has contact their legislators so far! You voice does make a difference.

Attorney General Cuccinelli Condemns The Condemnors In Norfolk

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has clearly articulated defined constitutional principles his entire career and as attorney general he has vigorously defended them in high courts and in the court of public opinion. Yesterday, he was in the latter, making his case at a Norfolk news conference where he discussed how the abuse of eminent domain power against local property owners by the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority dramatizes the need for voter approval of the proposed constitutional amendment on property rights (see Norfolk Virginian-Pilot). The event highlighted the well publicized case of Central Radio, a 78-year-old business that the NRHA is desperately trying to force from the property it has owned for 50 years, where it provides essential equipment for the U.S. Navy, and where it must remain to continue to meet its contract's requirements. But Central Radio's plight clearly is not a unique case. Also at the news conference, its attorneys announced its appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court to stop the condemnation of Central Radio and other properties for private economic development at Old Dominion Village. Mr. Cuccinelli said:

We have fought every year since before the 2005 Kelo decision to strengthen property rights in the commonwealth through various bills and three attempts at a constitutional amendment. A property rights amendment to Virginia's constitution is the ultimate protection Virginians need, and voters will finally have a property rights amendment to vote on in the November ballot. Hopefully then — finally — we can put this dreaded and abominable era of government taking private property from one landowner and giving it to another behind us. ...

The defense of property rights is the defense of a founding principle of this country. It belongs in our constitution.

The constitutional amendment has four reforms:

» Private property can only be taken for true public uses, not for enhancing tax revenues, economic development, or private gain;

» The cost of taking property must be borne by the public, not by the individual property owner. Fair and full compensation must be given when property is taken or damaged — this includes loss of business profits and loss of access (which is be defined by companion legislation that will take effect if the amendment is ratified);

» No more property can be taken than is necessary for the project; and

» The burden of proof that the taking is for a true "public use" is on the entity taking the property.

Currently, Virginia has statutory protections for property owners. It passed the General Assembly in 2007, and Mr. Cuccinelli, then a Virginia senator, was one of the patrons of the legislation. It provides homeowners, farmers and business owners the protections in the first amendment's first feature. For example: A locality or state agency cannot take a family business, church property, homes or farmland in order to turn it over to a private developer for a shopping mall. If the developer wants it that much, it  must make a convincing offer to the landowners. As the attorney general said, "It is not the city's job to force people out of their homes or businesses for the developer." Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence in Virginia.

But the 2007 law does not include all the protections the amendment contains. Not only that, but special interests every year since have tried to chip away at it and will continue their attempts to weaken it until the "permanent" constitutional protections are ratified by Virginians.

The proposed amendment, after seven years of debate in the General Assembly, finally won its required second approval last session by legislators after the required intervening election and no changes to the resolution's language, and is on Virginia's ballot this November. While it received broad bipartisan support, it faces hostile opposition by local governments, "public-private" groups, housing authorities, and others connected to local and state government (including developers) who see passage as eroding their power over the citizens they are hired to serve. Making matters worse, they have used their residents' hard-earned tax money to lobby the General Assembly against this basic right by opposing the proposed amendment and property rights statutes since 2005. They have been largely successful, with two exceptions: 2011 and 2012, and 2007. This November, as they go to the polls, Virginians can end the debate once and for all.

Central Radio Eminent Domain Case To Be Appealed To VIrginia Supreme Court

In what could be a landmark property rights case, it looks like the Central Radio eminent domain lawsuit against the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority will enter a new phase. Attorneys for the 78-year-old company, which does vital work for the U.S. Navy and employs more than 100 people, on Thursday will announce they will appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court to stop the condemnation of Central Radio and other properties for private economic development at Old Dominion Village. (The news conference is set for the company's offices in Norfolk at 3:30. Attorneys from the Norfolk law firm Waldo & Lyle will provide details of the appeal.) The NRHA, which has hounded Central Radio for years, and RHAs around Virginia have been a particular menace to private property owners in the commonwealth for decades, swiping land from hard working family-owned and small business owners in order to fulfill their centrally planned ideals that often include turning the property over to larger private entities and developers. (Hampton Roads area governments have been particularly lustful of others' property.)

But this case is particularly heinous because not only does the NRHA want to forcefully take Central Radio's property to hand it over to another private concern that it says will develop the land better, it knows it will put the company out of business because its contract with the Navy stipulates that it is located within a certain distance of the Navy's facility — and it has been at its current location for 50 years.

Adding further insult, the City of Norfolk is attempted to silence Central Radio's free speech rights with a threat to fine it $1,000 a day for hanging a banner from its building informing the public of its fight with the NRHA. The city says the size of the sign exceeds city a ordinance. Oh, by the way, Old Dominion University, which a beneficiary of the property taking, routinely displays signage of equal dimensions in the same neighborhood.

The fight on the additional legal front means more expense and hassle for Vice President and Co-Owner Bob Wilson and Central Radio, when it could be using that money to reinvest in the company (which he and his employees did build). Nothing like government of the government, for the government and by the government. (See Norfolk-Virginian Pilot op-ed by Steve Simpson and Erica Smith, attorneys at the Institute for Justice and an earlier news account by the same paper, here.)

In addition to Central Radio's attorneys and Mr. Wilson, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will speak at the news conference to discuss how the abuse of eminent domain power against private property owners across Virginia dramatizes the need for the constitutional amendment on property rights that will be on Virginia's ballot this November. It is, of course, opposed by local governments, who will use our tax money to defeat a measure to guarantee our rights. However, come November, on Question One, Virginians will have the opportunity to restore in some measure government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Governor Bob McDonnell signs legislation authorizing the vote this November for Virginians to ratify the proposed state constitutional amendment to protect private property rights from state and local government's power of eminent domain. Sitting, on the left, is Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Standing behind him, from left, are the legislation's patrons, Delegate Rob Bell, Senator Mark Obenshain and Delegate Johnny Joannou. Standing, front row, on the right, is Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb.

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.

Family Foundation Day At The Capitol Is Thursday!

The Family Foundation's Annual Day at the Capitol is this Thursday, with an emphasis 0n education freedom — particularly legislation that provides tax credits for private school scholarships. We need to send a loud message to our legislators that, after years of dragging their feet while public education deteriorates (especially for the underprivileged who are trapped in failing schools by an education establishment unwilling to embrace reforms) and options and competition few, educational opportunity for all children is the right choice for Virginia.    Registration for the event, at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, begins at 8:30. The program begins at 9:00 with a briefing  from lawmakers and policy makers, includes a visit with your legislators, and ends with a rally on the Capitol Square grounds. Some of our special speakers include Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson and Family Foundation Chaplain, Bishop E. W. Jackson, Sr.   You will have an opportunity to meet with your legislators, get updates from The Family Foundation staff and enjoy optional tours of Mr. Jefferson's Capitol, the Governor's Mansion and the Virginia Supreme Court during the afternoon. Tours are available on a first come, first serve basis the morning of the event, so if you are interested get to Richmond early.   While our format is a bit different this year, it will be an extremely exciting Lobby Day at the Capitol. Christian and private schools from across the Commonwealth will participate with us. If you are affiliated with a Christian or private school, please share this information with the school and fellow parents and students, and encourage them to send a delegation to support this effort.

If you would like more information about arranging at special tour for your school or about the event, please e-mail amanda@familyfoundation.org or call 804-343-0010. To register online, click here.

Virginia News Stand: April 15, 2010

Annotations & Elucidations The Nuts And Bolts, Tax Day, TEA Party Version

After yesterday's very meaty edition of the News Stand, we've compiled a very basic version today — can't always keep that pace up, you know. Plus, there's other stuff to do. (What good conservative blogger wouldn't be getting ready for the TEA Party tonight?) Still, we have a good variety of reading for you today, especially of state news, of which we play a big part (the first three links).

Something else of interest: The Virginia Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this week on a property dispute between the (liberal) Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and nine more traditional (or orthodox) parishes that broke away and kept their property when the Episcopals appointed an openly homosexual bishop in New Hampshire a few years ago. The diocese wants the land back. At contention is an 1867 Virginia law meant to referee such disputes. 

Nationally, the polls show liberal leaders falling faster than American prestige around the world, and — lo and behold! — TEA Party members are wealthier and better educated than most and not racist! Golly Gee! (This is only news to mainstream media types, but fun to cite.)

Have fun paying your taxes (those who do) and attend a TEA Party!

News

*McDonnell proposes adding to Va. budget to attract commerce (Washington Post)

*Pro-choice plate avoids McDonnell veto pen (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

*Governor McDonnell Targets Abortion Funding (Video 2:16) (CBS6/WTVR.com)

McDonnell makes no vetoes to legislation (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Going fast more costly (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

McDonnell amends 122 bills (Roanoke Times)

19 Baptist pastors criticize McDonnell (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Va. Episcopal hierarchy fights to keep church property (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Analysis

Tea Party Supporters Richer, More Educated Than Most, Poll Finds (FOXNews.com)

AP-GfK Poll: Obama slips, other Dems slide, too (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Poll shows resistance to health care bill rising (AP/GOPUSA.com)

National News

Tea Party leaders on alert for infiltrators (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Bunning endorses outsider Paul in Kentucky US Senate race (AP/GOPUSA.com)

RNC chairman: GOP wants to help black community (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Fla. governor Crist might run for Senate as independent (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Commentary

Establishment Terrified by Tea Party Movement (Matt Towery/GOPUSA.com)

GOP Should Push Tough Regulation of Wall Street (Michael Barone/GOPUSA.com)

William Ayers' Wyoming Debacle Highlights Leftist Weaknesses (Christopher G. Adamo/GOPUSA.com)

The Individual Mandate: We're All Amish Now (Jon N. Hall/GOPUSA.com)

Policy Issue 2, Life: Newborn Homocide Bill

This is the second in a series of five policy statements on issues that will come before the 2010 General Assembly. The first, regarding parental rights, can be found here. Each statement covers one of The Family Foundation's five areas of principle. The others will follow over the rest of the week.

Just a few days before Christmas, Virginians learned of an appalling story from Campbell County in which a mother allegedly suffocated her infant to death when it was only moments old. Worse, no charges were filed against the mother. Why has this murder essentially been condoned by the authorities? Because the child was umbillically attached when murdered.

Virginia law is unclear about whether a born child who remains umbilically attached is a "separate and independent life" and, therefore, accorded basic human rights — such as life! The legal standard was set in Lane v. Commonwealth, where the Virginia Supreme Court held that in order to bring charges against someone who killed a newborn, it must be proven that:

» The child is born alive,

» Has an independent and separate existence from the mother, and 

» The accused is the criminal agent that caused the death.

Incredibly, the court saw a distinction between a child "born alive" and one having an "independent and separate existence" from the mother. Abortion advocates are so desperate to protect their "right" to abortion that they blur the lines of homicide as well — the law has been crafted in such a way as to allow for a class of cases in which the criminal code no longer is applied.

For those of us who are pro-life, murder and abortion are synonymous. However, to our opponents, the start of life is ambiguous and even the "I know it when I see it" pornography standard isn't concrete enough to be applied to life. They are always moving the target, always excusing, always apologizing. But no matter what anyone believes about abortion, there is no reasonable argument for the murder of a newly born infant.

Virginia has a partial birth infanticide law and we are investigating whether that law could be applied here. But the action alleged in the Campbell County case is so heinous that is needs to be addressed in our criminal code as well.

Over a year ago state Senator Robert Hurt (R-19, Chatham) began investigating how to make Virginia’s law stronger in this area. He urged the Virginia Crime Commission to study the issue and propose legislative changes, but the commission only did so after being forced to by Senator Hurt and Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville). We have contacted the Alliance Defense Fund and they are reviewing possible legislative remedies for this situation.

Several years ago, a similarly disturbing incident took place in which a pregnant woman shot herself in the stomach on her due date and was not prosecuted for anything more than unlawful discharge of a firearm. She paid a small fine and nothing was added to her record. The Family Foundation took the legislative initiative to address this issue, but the bill was defeated in the Senate Education and Health committee.

This year, The Family Foundation is supporting an Infant Born Alive Act (HB 1033), patroned by Delegate Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg), in the General Assembly in response to the Campbell County incident. Legislators will get yet another opportunity to fix the loophole in the law and protect Virginia’s infant children. Let’s pray that they recognize life when they see it and support life-protecting legislation.

Virginia News Stand: March 30, 2009

It's kick-off time in today's News Stand. No, the USFL isn't coming back and the Arena League is dead, so we're not talking gridiron. Political season kick-off is what we're talking about. Read all about it. Also, a commentary from former Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Patrick McSweeney (and the attorney who successfully argued the unconstitutionality of HB 3202 in the Virginia Supreme Court) makes the opinion section today. McSweeney argues for sticking to, and delivering on, conservative principles if Republicans expect to win again. Finally, please look at William Warren's editorial comic. It pretty much sums up the federal administration.  News:

McDonnell kicks off his gubernatorial campaign (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

McDonnell opens bid for Va. Governor (Washington Times

McDonnell Officially Begins Campaign for Va. Governor (Washington Post)

Franklin P. Hall to retire from House of Delegates (Richmond Times-Dispatch

Opinion:

Embracing Conservative Principles Will Bring Republican Success (Richmond Times-Dispatch

Editorial Comic:

"Go Directly to Jail" (William Warren, GetLiberty.org)

Breaking News: Full Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Agrees to Rehear Partial Birth Abortion Case

The full Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today agreed to hear Attorney General Bob McDonnell's appeal of a ruling by a three-judge panel of the court which ruled Virginia's partial birth abortion law unconstitutional. Oral arguments will be heard almost a year to the day the panel heard the case. This is welcome and good news. One interesting aspect of the case is that the Fourth Circuit has a new judge, nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate this spring: former Republican Delegate from Salem and Virginia Supreme Court Justice Steven Agee. Although our scorecards were not as in-depth as they are today, a look back at our 1991 Voting Index, as it was called then, shows two pro-life issues, both of which he voted for. No cases on this issue came before the Virginia Supreme Court during his tenure there. Below is the news release issued by Attorney General McDonnell: 

Full Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Agrees to Rehear Partial Birth Abortion Case

- Attorney General Bob McDonnell Requested Rehearing-

Richmond - The full Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell's request that the full court hear the case challenging the constitutionality of Virginia's ban on partial birth infanticide.

In 2005, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled — by a vote of 2-1 —that the statute-passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly in 2003 was unconstitutional. Then Attorney General Judith Williams Jagdmann asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the decision. In 2007, after upholding the federal partial birth abortion act, the high court vacated the Fourth Circuit panel's 2005 decision, and sent back the issue to the Fourth Circuit for reconsideration.

On May 20th of this year a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit — again by the vote of 2-1 — ruled that the statute was unconstitutional. On May 30th Attorney General McDonnell announced that he would ask the full court to reconsider the ruling.

The Attorney General's brief requesting a rehearing by the full court can be read here: http://www.vaag.com/LEGAL_LEGIS/CourtFilings/03-1821-Petition%20for%20Rehearing%20En%20Banc.pdf

Speaking about today's granting of a rehearing by the full court, Attorney General McDonnell noted, "I am pleased by today's decision that the full Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear this case for the first time. Virginia's partial-birth infanticide ban was passed into law by an overwhelming majority of our elected representatives in the General Assembly. Additionally, it is substantively similar to the federal partial birth abortion ban that was recently upheld by the United States Supreme Court. I am hopeful that the full court will overturn the earlier divided panel decision , and Virginia's partial birth infanticide ban will be found to be constitutional."

Oral argument in this case has been tentatively scheduled for October 28-31 of this year.

Reworking A Bad Plan Can Make It Worse (Or, The Son Of 3202 Rises)

The Special Tax Session of the General Assembly resumes tomorrow and anything can happen. Some capitol insiders are predicting the session could end by the end of the day, with nothing done. That would be good. Some think the House could pass some watered down Senate tax increase, send it back to Senate Majority Leader Dick "The People Will Pay" Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) and his crowd down the hall, who will change it and take it to a conference committee, which would be dangerous enough. But others think that if anything gets out of the House, Senate Dems will pass it immediately and let Governor Tim Kaine amend it to include all the extra taxes his heart desires (we'd say that would be Christmas in July for the liberals, except many don't believe . . . oh, never mind) and send it back for an up or down vote. If that version passes, it would be a Kaine victory at the expense (literally) of the public; a taxpayer loss. If nothing happens, believe your bottom dollar (that may be all you have left right now) that the governor and the Dems will demonize conservatives as not wanting to address the transportation "crisis." 

They better be careful for what they ask. It may be anecdotal, but evidence is the public, across all lines, doesn't seem to have much of an appetite for tax increases when gas is at $4.00 a gallon and all the ripple effect cost increases it is causing. Senator Saslaw during the regular session was fond of saying that his gas tax increase would cost the equivalent of one Big Mac meal per year. Actually, it was closer to a Ruth Chris dinner, but regardless, most families don't even have a Big Mac to cut back right now.

Not only that, but his proposal in the winter was a 5-cent increase over five years. Now, I guess because he wants us to cut back on apple turnovers, too, his bill would increase the gas tax by six cents over six years (SB 6009). That's a 35-percent increase. It doesn't appear as if this will pass. The House Republican leadership let it come to the floor in a procedural move in committee to force House Dems to vote on recordin anticipation of next year's House elections. The money is on many House Dems getting cold feet on this one.

However (there's always a "however"), the House GOP doesn't want to get left out of the game. They want to be sure no one can claim they have no ideas themselves, so instead of no ideas they are proposing old and bad ideas. They want to "fix" the aspect of last year's transportation package (HB 3202) that the Virginia Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. This new package, HB 6055, patroned by Delegate Phil Hamilton (R-93, Newport News) is more complex, but is also harmful to taxpayers and the economy. Its main feature is to give local governments in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia taxing authority in certain areas so as to spend it themselves for transportation, rather than the original, and unconstitutional, law that let unelected boards tax and spend. (To be fair, the original bill passed by the House in 2007 was to give local governments the authority; the governor amended it to give it to the unelected boards, and bipartisan majorities in the General Assembly concurred.)

While many legislators may make the political calculation that by "simply fixing" last year's plan (by voting for HB 6055) Virginians won't consider it a vote to raise taxes, they may be calculating wrong. People want the General Assembly to make hard decisions instead of asking for more money from families — again. Smart citizens know fixing a bad plan often makes it still worse. 

Among the various taxes in HB 6055 is one particularly heinous tax — a $.40 per $100 increase in the "grantor's tax" in Northern Virginia. This is a tax home sellers pay at closing. As home sales continue to plummet, and some of those sales are "short" (sold for less than what is owed on it), such a tax is reckless. 

Earlier this month, while detailing the state's current financial picture, Secretary of Finance Jody Wagner revealed a devastating downward trend in home sales to the House Appropriations Committee. At the time, several Republicans appropriately drilled Secretary Wagner regarding Governor Kaine's transportation proposal that included a grantor's tax. It would be peculiar for those same legislators to agree to one now, but this is the General Assembly, after all. Regardless of whether the tax is introduced by Democrats or Republicans, the governor, the Senate or the House, the effect on the housing industry is the same — it will ensure a housing recession.

HB 6055 also includes a $20 increase in the car inspection fee in Hampton Roads, an extra $100 fee on those who receive their first drivers license (in N.Va.), a hotel tax (N.Va.) and a rental car tax (in both areas), among others. Americans For Tax Reform mailed each legislator who signed its No Tax Pledge that a vote to pass the tax-increasing buck to localities is still a tax increase and violates the pledge.

Four years ago, then-Governor Mark Warner cited education, health and public safety to pass the largest tax hike in the Commonwealth's history. Apparently, in 2004, transportation was no longer the "crisis" Warner had said it was in 2002 when he tried unsuccessfully to pass regional sales tax hikes for transportation via referenda in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. Now, Governor Kaine and some allies in the legislature have decided to dust off the transportation "crisis" to raise taxes. This action comes only a few months after they proposed raiding the Transportation Trust Fund for non-transportation expenditures.

Some of the same lawmakers who opposed a constitutional amendment restricting the Transportation Trust Fund to transportation-only spending now support a tax hike.  Even Governor Kaine, prior to his election, endorsed a "lock-box" to secure transportation funds from general fund spending and tax increases. Three years later, he has done nothing to support efforts to secure one. So what we're left with is a thinly veiled attempt to raise taxes on Virginia's families simply to raise money, not specifically for transportation. 

Besides that, it appears HB 6055 is more flexible than a Russian gymnast. Specific projects are to be carried out "in consultation with members of the General Assembly" — whatever that might mean. Sadly, the level of linguistic complexity required to raise some taxes in some areas, that affect only some people in order to fix some transportation needs, all while appearing as if no taxes are being raised, makes for a legislative nightmare.     

The bottom line is that for over a decade the General Assembly has bowed to the powerful education union and funded public education incorrectly, refused to reduce spending in pet projects, and counted on Virginians to pony up under the threat of disaster. If this mentality doesn't change now, in difficult economic times, what will it be like in good times? Believe me, it will be Bonnie and Clyde all over again, with a new crisis (health care or Medicare, perhaps?) and guess who they think is the bank?

The good news is that this can be stopped. Many legislators are being pressured by big-time lobbyists of big businesses who will benefit from government spending, from the teachers union which wants to ensure their portion of the pie isn't touched, and other special interest groups. But when enough concerned voters let their senators and delegates know enough is enough, it gives them the courage to resist the special interest pressures (click here to contact them). Instead of raising taxes, it is time for them to get some new ideas, such as comprehensive spending and budget reform.