Ward Armstrong

Another Disaster Coming To Virginia

The joke going around in September, when President Barack Obama came to Richmond to tout his "jobs bill" on the heels of the 5.8 magnitude earthquake and Hurricane Irene, was, "Great. Three weeks. Three disasters." Make it a fourth. The president is coming back to the Old Dominion next week, this time on a taxpayer-funded campaign trip (funded by Solyndra kickbacks?) right after the Democrat-controlled Senate killed his jobs bill this week (see Mike Brownfield at Heritage.org's The Foundry Blog) while also denying federal disaster aid to localities struck by the earthquake (just as a 3.0 aftershock as recorded last night damaging more buildings).

The president's trip is curious. He seems to be putting his own ego and prospects (as dim as they are) before his Virginia Democrat allies. Just as the vital General Assembly elections are coming into focus for thousands of voters and campaigns hit the homestretch, could there be any better rallying cry for the conservative base? We wonder how many Democrats will join the POTUS on stage? Phil Puckett? Ward Armstrong? Roscoe Reynolds? John Miller? Ralph Northam? Your president is calling!

Mr. President . . . not too many are jumping on your bus to nowhere. Maybe Tom Pierello is available?

 

 

 

VDOT Hoarded $1.45 Billion While Opposing Just Compensation To Landowners

What do property rights and the suddenly found surplus at VDOT have to do with each other? Unfortunately, a lot. First, a little more detail than yesterday's post, which was based on early reports. As it turns out, the much asked for (and denied administratively by the previous two governors as well as legislatively by General Assembly tax-and-spenders) private audit of VDOT found more than $500 million buried in a hole or sitting in a closet. That was for only the most recent fiscal year. A cumulative amount, from all sources, including something akin to unused federal funding credits, totals $1.45 billion! The reasons ranged from projects coming in under budget (good) but the unused money not then reallocated to other or new projects (bad), to money stashed away from canceled projects (really bad), and a reserve fund (on top of the "Rainy Day Fund") that was never used and allowed to accumulate excesses of unneeded cash (incredibly inept).

As I mentioned yesterday, it's not exactly as easy as 2 + 2 = 4, but that's exactly why conservatives for years have asked for a private audit. Governor Bob McDonnell administration deserves credit for an excellent first step in VDOT and state government reform. He also has found a way to put much of this money to work within weeks. As the governor said, we've been sitting in traffic while the money has been sitting in the state's wallet — all while General Assembly liberals and former Governor Tim Kaine tried to ram tax increase after tax increase at us for transportation.

That's unforgivable governance. But what's worse is the arrogance of VDOT and local governments in opposing one of the most important bills during the 2010 General Assembly — HB 652, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) — which would have provided property owners a mechanism to get full and just compensation when government took their land through eminent domain. In what can now be exposed as nothing less than despicable, VDOT slapped a speculative $40 million (over five years) Fiscal Impact Statement on the bill. Speculative because there was no fixed cost to the bill, only a legal process to allow property owners a fair shake at compensation.

VDOT, in essence, was admitting that it underpays property owners, never mind the impropriety of a state agency using hard-earned taxpayer dollars to sabotage the rights of those very same taxpayers, by meddling in the legislative process. But that didn't stop the agency from crying poverty, saying it couldn't "afford" it, and that it hardly had the money it needed to keep up with basic maintenance. Not ironically, it teamed with those same government-at-all-costs (literally) legislators to kill the bill in the Senate Finance Committee (some of whom had additional nefarious reasons) after it passed the House 98-1. All while hoarding $1.45 billion of taxpayer money.

So, this revelation has several layers of repercussions. Not only has there been mismanagement and an attempt to raise taxes for no reason, certain legislators and government bureaucrats have trampled on constitutional rights and used our tax money to do so. That's one big intersection of devious interests that VDOT has no business building.

Beat Back Big Government And Protect Property Rights!

Thursday afternoon in the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee, a bill to allow people to receive just compensation when their property is taken by the government in eminent domain cases will be heard. The bill, HB 652, is supported by a broad coalition including The Family Foundation, the Farm Bureau, Tertium Quids (see comment here) and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.  The bill passed the House of Delegates 98-1, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the Senate. The patron of the bill is House Democrat Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and is co-patroned by several Republicans.  It faces the forces of big government — VDOT and local governments who use our tax money to hire lobbyists to work against our interests — who forced the bill while in the House from the Courts of Justice Committee to the Appropriations Committee with a tactic designed to kill it. There is no doubt they will pull out all the stops in the Senate as well.

But we can beat them in the Senate, too: In the House Appropriations Transportation Sub-committee, Delegate Bob Tata (R-85, Virginia Beach), a senior member of the committee, said he HB 652 came to his attention after he received more e-mail on it than any other bill this session. It shows that actively engaged citizens truly have power!

The bill simply allows property owners to present evidence to juries that they deserve just compensation for land not taken in eminent domain cases, but rendered useless because of the taking of adjacent land.  Right now, people are compensated only for the land taken, not additional land that the taking has rendered unusable. The bill is a complement to the landmark 2007 eminent domain reform law that limits government abuse of people’s property rights.

This is a very fair, very needed and very just bill for families who own homes, small businesses and farms.  If government really needs your land, they should buy only what they need and not try to get more of it on the cheap. This bill costs government nothing — it only provides for a fair hearing as to what property owners are entitled to. Government agencies will retain their right to make their case as well. It’s about fairness! As Delegate Armstrong has said, 'The worst thing the government can do is take your life; the second worst thing it can do is take your property."

If you who think the 2007 law solved all eminent domain problems, a case in Roanoke from two years ago is still in the news (see From On High), where the Burkholder family is losing its small business to the city who wants its land, even though it has no plans for it! So, click here to contact members of the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee and ask them to vote for HB 652 in sub-committee this Thursday afternoon.

URGENT: Property Rights Faces HUGE Test Tomorrow!

Two weeks ago, Virginia property owners seemingly were on the path to a big victory. The Courts of Justice Civil Sub-Committee voted unanimously to report HB 652, patroned by House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), to the full committee. Normally, that puts a bill in the uncontested bloc in the full committee. Unless, of course, it gets picked out for some reason. It was. HB 652 would allow property owners to make a case to a just compensation jury to include land not taken by eminent domain but rendered useless by an access road, for example. But, literally, about an hour before the full committee met, The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), which vigorously opposed the bill in sub-committee, submitted a Fiscal Impact Statement, saying the bill will "cost" the state $50 million over the next six years and must, therefore, be approved by the Appropriations Committee. Even though the bill had been filed for more than a month, VDOT apparently only found time to file the statement the day of the committee vote! Accordingly, yesterday, Courts of Justice passed and referred HB 652 to Appropriations where, we were just informed,  it will be heard in sub-committee tomorrow!

What makes this particularly frustrating is that the numbers VDOT proposed are hypothetical. The bill does not guarantee the property owner extra money. Rather, it only allows him or her to make the case to the jury. Furthermore, by this logic, the eminent domain reform bill of 2007 NEVER would have been possible. Besides, if VDOT’s numbers ARE correct, it is admitting it has been cheating Virginians for decades! Most importantly, why is a government agency lobbying against its bosses — the people who pay the taxes that keep them in their jobs? This is government-by-tyrannical-bureaucracy at its worst!

Although we have allies on the Appropriations Committee, and many in and out of the General Assembly are upset by what appears to be a continuing pattern, coincidence or not, of trying to block needed reform by "Fiscal Impact Statements" — whose impact does not take into account that of taxpayers — nothing is guaranteed. We need your help to ensure this most precious of constitutional rights!

Contact members of the Appropriations Transportation Sub-Committee (click here) and ask them to pass HB 652 out of both subcommittee and full committee!

Deja Vu All Over Again Twice In One Day

Four years ago, only a few weeks after taking office and proposing (against his campaign promise) the largest tax increase in Virginia history, Congressional Democrats chose then-Governor Tim Kaine to deliver their party's response to then-President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address. Yesterday, it was reported (see Washington Post), that Congressional Republicans have chosen newly sworn-in Governor Bob McDonnell to give the GOP response to President Barack Obama's January 27 State of the Union. How about that for asymmetrical karma? But there's more.

Yesterday, House Republicans brought to the floor Delegate Bob Brink's (D-48, Arlington) HB 1155, legislation that would enact former Governor Tim Kaine's proposed income tax increase (see Richmond Times-Dispatch). The bill was referred to the House Rules Committee, which alone has the authority to report bills to the floor without recommendation. Thus it did with HB 1155 in order to put Democrats on the spot — vote against their friend and national party chairman or be on record for higher taxes in a recession. Delegate Brink requested that the bill be pulled, normally a pro forma request that's granted at the will of the patron. Not yesterday!

Instead, it was put to a vote while Democrats vehemently protested. As if they couldn't have anticipated it. Remember, last year Republicans did the same thing on a bill that would have repealed Virginia's Right To Work Law (see post here and video here). They forced a vote by bringing that equally controversial bill through a no recommendation vote on the Rules Committee. The Democrats reacted by abstaining, but through a parliamentary procedure that says if a member is in his seat but not voting, and another member points that out, the vote must be recorded in the negative. Thus, Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem) forcibly recorded no votes against the bill which put Democrats at odds with their Big Labor allies.

With this as background, certainly they knew something was coming with a monstrous tax increase bill, and they knew they couldn't abstain. On the first day of session, when the rules package is adopted, Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) said as much when he objected to the Rules Committee exception. As it turned out, it was a unanimous blowout, with the House voting 97-0 (with Delegate Brink abstaining) to reject one last Tim Kaine tax increase, sending it down with all his others, this one posthumously, in the political sense.

So, the question is, why file the tax increase bill to begin with? Only Delegate Brink knows for sure, but we suspect some members of the General Assembly like to give a peek of their colors to satisfy certain constituencies, but seek to conceal them altogether from the greater electorate. Increasingly, however, these lawmakers get found out.

HWI In The Morning

The first committee meeting on one of our priority bills was this morning in the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. The bill in question is HB 393, which would put only the slightest regulations on the very unregulated abortion centers — an annual inspection, licensure and a requirement to have life saving equipment on premises, such as a  defibrillator. Delegate Matt Lohr (R-26, Harrisonburg) is the patron. Even the General Assembly Building has defibrillators. If they are good enough for lawmakers, they should be good enough for women undergoing a very serious invasive procedure. The plain fact is, abortion centers — not "clinics" mind you, because clinics are where you go to get well — fly under the regulatory radar. Even podiatry offices are more regulated than abortion centers. It's the most hypocritical exemption in Virginia.

So, this morning, the bill was due to come before the full committee, bypassing the sub-committee as is the chairman's want for bills that have been debated for several years. Everyone knows the arguments, it receives large bipartisan support (hate to break that to you liberals), and, in truth, is largely uncontroversial — except for the most adamant abortion-at-any-cost ideologue. The last time this bill came before HWI, in 2008, it passed 17-5, with four Democrats voting in favor, including House Democrat Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville). But there was a problem on the way to the vote . . . Delegate Lionell Spruill (D-77, Chesapeake) objected to the bypassing of the sub-committee process, even though it went straight to full committee in 2008.

His reasoning? There are "four new members of this committee, Mr. Chairman, who have never heard this bill before." To which Delegate Spruill should know that three of them are for the bill. The chairman, Delegate Bobby Orrock (R-54, Caroline County), who replaced former Delegate Phil Hamilton, had the clerk explain the differences in the current bill from the 2008 version. Again, the fact is there are fewer proposed regulations in this bill than the 2008 version.

All this wasn't good enough for Delegate Spruill. So, Delegate Orrock acquiesced and held over the bill. He was to decide by tonight whether to send it to sub-committee or bring it back to full committee on Thursday, by which time, we hope Delegate Spruill will have had time to read the bill. Which is what he should have done in advance of the meeting. If, in fact, he is truly that concerned.

Virginia News Stand: October 19, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations  Which Is It?

As election day nears, the media starts to pay closer attention to the House of Delegates campaigns. Accordingly, we have articles on four of them today. Sounds like Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), the House's top Democrat, is a bit rankled.

In a case study as to how people see the same object differently, the Washington Post claims Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) is bringing much more attention to the office (attorney general) that gets the least coverage every four years. On the other hand, The Daily Press offers the more traditional afterthought coverage. Which is it? The Post article is amazingly fair and perceptive. It does the senator right.

The Virginian-Pilot offers up a poll which shows Virginians decidedly againsta tax increase for transportation. Sorry, Creigh. Expect the aforementioned House (Democrat) candidates to sprint like Usain Bolt away from that proposition.

Speaking of the Post and The Daily Press, each endorsed a candidate this weekend. The Post predictably stuck with the guy it brung to the dance, Creigh Deeds, despite his attempts to avoid using the T word. Rumors are that he's buying up stickers to slap on yard signs in Northern Virginia that say, "Endorsed by Washington Post," just as he did in May shortly after it sponsored endorsed him in the Democrat primary. It was what gave him the edge then. The Daily Press, on the other hand, was not so predictable. It endorsed Tim Kaine four years ago, but now endorses Republican Bob McDonnell. It had no dog in the hunt it seems, and went with its best judgment.

Finally, the Post runs an opinion piece by a local teacher, Patrick Welsh, who offers common sense not often seen in those pages or in the D.C area: It's the parents, stupid, not the race.

News:

McDonnell, a poised presence, could lift the GOP (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

McDonnell moored by conservative values (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

McDonnell and Deeds: The men who would be Va. Governor (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Attorney general hopefuls offer stark contrast (The Daily Press)

Cuccinelli's bid puts focus on a job often off the radar (Washington Post)

Deeds seeks to beat the odds (Charlottesville Daily Progress)

Deeds fights to hold Obama's Va. Coalition (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Hopefuls Summon Spirit of '08 Race (Washington Post)

Va. Lt. Gov. candidates spar over job records (The Daily Press)

Lohr, Hart Spar On Social Issues (Harrisonburg Daily News-Record)

94th House District: A civil disagreement between Oder and West (The Daily Press)

A rocky path for 11th District candidates (The Roanoke Times)

Armstrong questions 10th District opponent (The Roanoke Times)

Analysis:

Poll: Fix roads, but don't raise taxes (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Commentary:

Editorial Page Endorsement: Mr. Deeds for Governor (Washington Post)

Editorial Page Edorsement: Budget discipline and executive experience make Bob McDonnell the right choice in difficult times (The Daily Press)

Making the Grade Isn't About Race. It's About Parents. (Patrick Welsh/Washington Post)