senate democrats

Here Come The Social Issues

Today, Senate Democrats took advantage of their new "majority" by changing Senate rules and committee make up, after having won two recent special elections and holding the lieutenant governor's tie breaking vote. The mid-session shake up is unprecedented. At one point, as the Democrats introduced a new rules package and erased the old ones, the President of the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, said there were "no rules" in effect! Literal translation: The rules are what we say they are. Consequently, there is no question that after today's power grab, Senate Democrats will elevate their abortion and sex agenda to their top priority. Though some bills they introduced have already failed to pass committee, we expect, since no rules seem to apply anymore, for those bills to be revived and advanced. There is little doubt that "social issues" will dominate their agenda in the coming days, to the detriment of passing a state budget on time or addressing the dangerous health care issues faced by the implosion of Obamacare.

To ensure they'll be able to defeat any legislation that protects vulnerable human life or advances educational freedom or parental rights, Democrats added an extra abortion apologist to their takeover of the Education and Health committee, while also creating a three seat (9-6)  majority. But in addition to stacking committees out of proportion to their "majority," they did something not only unprecedented, but something beyond imagination.

In a too-late-by-three-years-response to being outsmarted in 2011, when they were an outright majority, and when pro-life advocates outmaneuvered them to add abortion center safety to legislation on a Senate bill amended by the House of Delegates, which forced a full floor vote on that bill, Senate Democrats today created a new rule where they can send bills they passed but amended by the House to the (new) Rules Committee. Normally, a Senate bill amended by the House goes back to the full Senate for a vote, and vice versa. Republicans argued that such a rule violates not only the spirit, but the letter of proper procedure, and indeed the rule of law. But ignoring the rule of law seems to be the normal operating procedure for some liberal politicians these days.

This afternoon's often tense debate over changing Senate rules in the middle of that chamber's four-year term did nothing but add fuel to an ever growing partisan fire here in Richmond. (What's happened to The Virginia Way that so many liberals, trying to appear centrist, have clamored for?)

Regardless of one's perspective on the validity of today's power change, one thing is perfectly clear: elections matter. Democrats in Richmond hold power in the state Senate by just 11 votes; the number by which their 20th member won his recent special election. If there is a better example of why voting for candidates who share our values no matter the circumstance, we don't know what it is. Democrats have power, not because they are winning more people to their views, but because people who share our views are not turning out on election day. In November, more than 70,000 fewer self-identified evangelicals voted in the governor's race than voted in 2009. That decline in turnout made the difference in a close election.

At The Family Foundation, we are committed to reversing that trend. That's why The Family Foundation Action, or political arm, has hired a full time political director to elevate our get-out-the-vote apparatus to levels we've never before reached. Today is a dark day for the Virginia Senate and for our values. But it is only one day.

Better days are coming.

Oh, Christmas Tree! Oh, Taxed Christmas Tree!

As if there isn't enough apprehension about the economy these days, as if the popular culture hasn't already transformed the Christmas season from one of Christian joy to one of commercial anxiety, Congress may yet Scrooge over one of the most endearing activities of the season, the one purchase people genuinely look forward to: the buying of a Christmas tree. Yes, Virginia, there is a tax clause in the new farm bill. An agreement between House and Senate negotiators ironing out differences between the respective chambers' versions of a new farm bill includes a per-tree tax on Christmas tree growers. The growers then will pass it on to Christmas tree retailers who will, in turn, pass it on to consumers. Trickle down government at its convoluted best.

Good grief, Charlie Brown, you blockhead. You owe Congress a Christmas tree tax!

You may remember that President Barack Obama attempted this a few years ago, but the country's Bob Cratchits rose up and the idea was as warmly received as egg nog past its sell-by date. Now, however, a Christmas tree tax may be a stocking stuffer from House Republicans to Senate Democrats in order to reach a deal in an attempt to pass a farm bill that Republicans say must trim food stamp spending.

Amy Payne explains at The Heritage Foundation's The Foundry blog:

Congress might as well throw in a jingle bell tax, too. That’s how farm-related a lot of the “farm” bill is. The "farm" policies Congress is considering include:

» 80 percent food stamps: The House bill would make modest changes to this welfare program, but the Senate would do virtually nothing to rein in the massive growth in food stamp spending.

» Ultra-high-speed broadband access for rural areas.

» Policies that actually drive up food prices for Americans.

» Giving money to farmers for doing absolutely nothing.

Congress may agree to consider a new farm bill any time now. As it is, taxpayers could be looking at a trillion-dollar, subsidy-filled disaster — complete with a Christmas tree tax. Humbug.

If House Republicans think they're going to get real welfare reform from Senate Democrats in a "farm bill" for a mere Christmas tree tax, they probably really do believe in (spoiler alert for the children) Santa Claus. Sorry, Virginia.

Oh, (taxed) Christmas Tree! Sing the word "taxed" at the appropriate time during this video. Why not? According to the singer, there are many versions of this song. Congress may have inspired a new one.

Song Dedication To Harry Reid: "I'm Just A Bill"

Since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Barack Obama — and all, it seems, of liberaldom — have forgotten how a bill becomes a law, here's a brief remedial course on lawmaking dedicated to them. The House of Representatives has done its job. If Senate Democrats don't agree, pass your own version, go to a conference committee and work out the differences. (There's one continuing resolution to keep open the government ready for conference, but Senator Reid refuses to appoint conferees.) Bills don't get passed at news conferences where idealess liberal senators name call and demonize some of their colleagues and House Republicans. (Same goes true for certain Senate Republicans.) How ironic that the self-proclaimed intellectual and sensitive party resorts to calling its opponents "terrorists," "hostage takers," "arsonists," "extortionists," "unhinged," "insane," and people with a "bomb strapped to their chest," among many others (see LegalInsurrection.com). If you want to negotiate, do it the constitutionally prescribed way. Oh, and one other thing . . . our little course in lawmaking includes prayer, doubtless a word that would be left out if this cartoon was made today, but something both sides should probably engage in.

Harry Reid, Barack Obama and others in Washington think bills are passed by holding news conferences and calling their opponents names. They need a remedial class in civics — and civility.

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.

Breaking News: Lt. Governor Bolling Demands Apology From Senate Dems Who Slammed Capitol And State Police In Floor Speeches Today

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling has just released audio of his answer to a question at a news conference today, where he let loose on Senate Democrats who criticized Virginia State and Capitol Police for their handling of Saturday afternoon's Capitol Square pro-abortion protest (see Richmond Times-Dispatch article and pictures). This afternoon, after the Senate concluded its business, several Democrats asked for a return to the "Morning Hour" — the time before bills are debated and voted upon at the beginning of each floor session, where speakers can address any subject at length, from introducing constituents or school groups in the gallery to addressing an issue or bill in general terms. The return to Morning Hour is a pro forma event, but what followed was not. In an unprecedented move, Democrat Senators Chap Peterson, Janet Howell (who woodenly read from a prepared statement) and Dick Saslaw (all of Northern Virginia), and Donald McEachin (from the Richmond area) verbally went after those who protect them on a daily basis, seemingly for purely partisan, crass political reasons — to appease their rabid base.

One member described it as a "disgraceful police presence" and it made us wonder two things:

» What would they have said had there not been a police presence and events got out of control, including physical violence and/or vandalism of Capitol Square?

» What would they have said had it been pro-life activists who rallied and ignored the parameters of their permit — a rally at the bell tower, with the capitol building area off limits?

Neither of those are hypothetical, especially the latter. That's exactly what the pro-abortion rally permit allowed, as all rally permits allow. But going to the mat to preserve the pro-abortion double standard doesn't surprise us. Anything to protect the sacrament of the left — abortion.

While Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) replied in kind to the floor attack with an unusually impassioned response, Mr. Bolling said that in his 16 years at the capitol he's never heard members of the Senate attack Virginia' Law enforcement. Here's a key portion of his statement:

Those comments were over the top. I think those comments were inappropriate and I believe the senators who made those comments owe an apology to Virginia's law enforcement professionals. They owe an apology to the Capitol Police and they owe an apology to the State Police because these guys were doing their job as they saw it, and none of us have a right to put ourselves in their position if we weren't there and if we don't know all the facts and if you don't know what they did. And that's why it is important that you talk to the head of the Capitol Police, you talk to the head of the State Police and get all the facts. ... Everybody has a right to protest. Nobody has a right to violate the law.

Click here to listen to the entire sound byte, which lasts 1:42. 

Britain's Health Care, Model For ObamaCare, Not So "NICE" (Neither Is His New Health Care Czar)

For those in denial about the real consequences of Obamacare — specifically, that it will cause rationing and, therefore, early deaths — it's time to face up to the truth. But don't take our word for it, take the word of people who support Obamacare. Conn Carroll writing yesterday at The Heritage Foundation's The Foundry Blog introduces us to Linda O'Boyle. Ms. Boyle was a British citizen (see where this is going?) diagnosed with bowel cancer. Her doctor told her she could boost her chances of survival by adding the drug cetuximab to her regimen. But . . .

But the rationing body for Britain’s National Health Service, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), had previously ruled that the drug was not cost-effective and therefore would not be paid for by the government. So O’Boyle liquidated her savings and paid for the drug herself. But this is not allowed under NHS rules. When government bureaucrats found out that O’Boyle had purchased the drug with her own money, she was denied NHS treatment and died within months.

Love the irony of a government agency with the acronym "NICE" that lets people die. Carroll continues:

Defenders of Britain’s health care rationing system may try to claim that this tragic death is an outlier in an otherwise acceptable government run health care system. They are wrong. It is the point of the system. As socialized medicine and infanticide advocate Peter Singer has argued in The New York Times, the NICE bureaucrats must ration care or else free government health care would bankrupt the British economy. “NICE had set a general limit of £30,000, or about $49,000, on the cost of extending life for a year,” Singer writes. Following this logic, Singer supported NICE’s decision not to allow British citizens the kidney cancer fighting drug Sutent. As a result of this, and many other rationing decisions, Britain has one of the lowest cancer survival rates in the Western world. While 60.3% of men and 61.7% of women in Sweden survive a cancer diagnosis, in Britain the figure ranges between 40.2% to 48.1% for men and 48% to 54.1% for women. And NICE’s rationing has not just hit cancer patients. Doctors have warned that patients with terminal illnesses are being made to die prematurely under the NHS rationing scheme. And according to the Patients Association, one million NHS patients have been the victims of appalling care in hospitals across Britain.

All of Carroll's research is documented in the links provided, many from British media reports and investigations. One would think these statistics and horror stories would give the Obama administration some pause, and maybe even scale back some of the new law. Instead, it has done the in-your-face-opposite: It bypassed the Senate confirmation process this week and installed Donald Berwick to run the new health care system. Does his name sound familiar? It should. He's the one who told a British audience that they do health care right while the evil U.S. is in the medical stone age, and that health care must include "redistribution of wealth." He's a proud socialist who favors rationing. In 2009, Berwick told Biotechnology Healthcare:

NICE is extremely effective and a conscientious and valuable knowledge-building system. … The decision is not whether or not we will ration care — the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.

While recess appointments are not extraordinary, there are not usual, and are used when the Senate is out of session for months, not days, and after the nominee has at least testified at a confirmation hearing. However, Senate Democrats haven't even scheduled a hearing and Berwick hasn't even returned answers to the nominal written questions submitted to all nominees. No matter how one looks at it, there's nothing nice about the new law, who's now running it, and the way the Obama administration is conducting itself.

Virginia News Stand: April 14, 2010

Annotations & Elucidations Headaches For The Regime

I don't know where to start. This certainly is one of our most gripping News Stands ever —all sorts of angles, topics and perspectives. We have sources and writers debuting today, such as BigGovernment.com, RealClearPolitics.com and NewsOK.com. We even have a link to a short ABC News report about Neil Armstrong slamming President Obama (on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 flight) for completely cutting NASA's manned flight space program. Not easy to go up against a living legend and international hero, so the president is predictably looking to retreat. On top of that headache for the regime is this embarrassment: The White House press corps is getting sued by a media organization for doing the president's "bidding." If that's not funny enough, John McCain is disavowing the "maverick" moniker and the RINO U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray Lahood, is moving us toward a bicycle society that has raised objections from even the sleepiest corners of the policy realm.  

Not that it's all sweetness and light out there. A GOP couple was beat up in New Orleans while attending the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Jim Hoft of BigGovernment.com fingers the suspects. More: radical liberals are practicing what Saul Alinsky preached and are moving toward a confrontation with Tea Party activists. Brent Bozell and Michell Malkin both have a look.

In political news, Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics makes a compelling case for as many as a 100-seat GOP House gain in November, while the AP looks at the pending doctor shortage. Tony Blankley and James Antle both caution against GOP caution, in the elections and in opposing the next Supreme Court Justice nominee. The Wall Street Journal deconstructs liberals' arguments for extended unemployment insurance by quoting top Clinton and Obama economic advisor Larry Summers, while the great Walter Williams sets the record straight on the job-killing minimum wage. So: Get your taxes done, take a breather, and get to reading. Lots of informative and enlightening words today. Enjoy.

News

Virginia tax revenues increased in March (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

McDonnell: Critics are "uncivil and partisan" (The Daily Press)

McDonnell spokesman says voting rights letter sent to felons 'without approval' (Washington Post)

New Virginia law kills free online tax-filing program (The Daily Press)

Budget tweaks lift manufacturers, public workers (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Fimian calls for a ban on Earmarks (BearingDrift.com

Perriello pulls in $600,000 in donations this year (Lynchburg News & Advance)

Analysis

How Bad Could 2010 Really Get For Democrats? (Sean Trende/RealClearPolitics.com)

Doctor shortage? 28 states may expand nurses' role (AP/GOPUSA.com)

National News

Neil Armstrong Criticizes President's Space Plan (ABC News video :46/RealClearPolitics.com)

White House press corps sued for doing Obama's 'bidding' (WorldNetDaily.com)

Gay Day of Silence a Waste of Tax Dollars, Critics Say (FoxNews.com)

Agitated McCain: Don't call me a maverick (Politico.com)

Big Easy Beatdown . . .GOP Official and Boyfriend Savagely Beaten Leaving SRLC Dinner (Jim Hoft/BigGovernment.com)

Transportation's bicycle policy hits potholes (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Aide to Democrat ex-congressman files harassment complaint (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Huckabee likens gay marriage to incest, polygamy (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Commentary

Incentives Not to Work: Larry Summers v. Senate Democrats on jobless benefits (Editorial/Wall Street Journal)

Minimum Wage Cruelty (Walter E. Williams/GOPUSA.com)

Tea Parties vs. Hard-Left Protests (L. Brent Bozell, III/NewsOK.com)

John Paul Stevens Republicans (W. James Antle, III/The American Spectator)

Alinsky's Avenging Angels: Tea Party Saboteurs (Michelle Malkin/GOPUSA.com)

No More Profiles in Caution (Tony Blankley/GOPUSA.com)

Make No Mistake: Abortion Coverage IS IN The Government Run Health Care Bill

Courtesy of our friends at the Family Research Council, below are eight documented facts about the inclusion of abortion funding or mandates in the so-called health care "reform" bill. You can click here, as well, to get them in a PDF document.

Eight Reasons Abortion Is in the Health Care Overhaul

1. The legislation specifically includes it. The President’s bill to amend the Senate bill leaves several abortion provisions in place. In Section 1303 it allows tax credit subsidies for plans that include abortion and leaves the abortion surcharge in place. It maintains the proposal to create a multi-state plan that includes abortion in Sec. 1334. Even worse, it would increase the Senate bill funding from $7 billion to $11 billion for community health centers in Sec. 10503 without any abortion funding restrictions. (H.R. 3590, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.)

2. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said it is. "And I would say that the Senate language, which was negotiated by Senators Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray, who are very strong defenders of women’s health services and choices for women, take a big step forward from where the House left it with the Stupak amendment, and I think do a good job making sure there are choices for women. ... That would be an accounting procedure, but everybody in the exchange would do the same thing, whether you’re male or female, whether you’re 75 or 25, you would all set aside a portion of your premium that would go into a fund." (HotAir.com: "Sebelius: Everyone will pay into abortion-coverage fund".)

3. Senate Democrats refused to ban it. Instead of allowing for an up or down vote on a Senate amendment similar to the Stupak Amendment in the House which bans federal funding of abortion, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) "tabled" the amendment, effectively killing it. This was the only amendment dealt with in this way. (Vote No. 369 S.Amdt. 2962 to S.Amdt. 2786 to H.R. 3590.)

4. House Pro-life Democrats, who support a government takeover, say it is. "The Senate language is a significant departure from current law and is unacceptable." (U.S. Representative Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), February 23, 2010, CBS News) … "I think abortion’s wrong. The problem is that I’ve lived too long. When they say they can keep this money separate, I just don’t believe it." (U.S. Representative Marion Berry (D-Ark.), March 6, 2010, Arkansas News.)

5. House Pro-abortion Democrats say it is. "The good news is that the Senate bill does allow [abortion coverage]," (Chairwoman of the House pro-abortion caucus, Dianne DeGette (D-Colo.), March 5, 2010, Washington Post.)

6. The Abortion industry has sent out alerts in favor of it. The abortion giant Planned Parenthood sent out alerts on March 6, 2010: "President Obama’s health care reform proposal would make a real difference for the women and families who rely on Planned Parenthood. . . . and [the bill] significantly increase access to reproductive health care." (Planned Parenthood alert, March 6, 2010.)

7. Candidate Obama said it would be included, and the Obama administration includes it in its definition of reproductive health care. Presidential candidate Barack Obama stated he "believes that reproductive health care is basic health care." (Rhealitycheck.org questionnaire, 2008.) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed up on this in 2009: "Reproductive health care includes access to abortion." (The Cloakroom Blog: "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, April 22, House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing.")

8. House Democratic Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has indicated he wants to "fix" the abortion coverage problem in the Senate bill. "House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Thursday that lawmakers could draft separate pieces of legislation with abortion language to earn the support of anti-abortion rights Democrats on healthcare reform legislation." (March 4, 2010: The Briefing Room, The Hill's blog.)

But if those eight facts aren't enough to convince your "pro-life" friends who are convinced that anything out of "the annointed one's" mouth is truth, or just can't bring themselves to doubt such "moderate" and "Blue Dog Democrats" such as U.S. Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) or our own Mark Warner, here's 12 more facts and reasons, courtesy of The Cloakroom.

Still not sure? Then check out FRC Action’s resource page: "Standing Against the Government Takeover of Health Care," as well as why the Hyde Amendment does not apply to the current bill: "Q and A: Government Health Care and Abortion." Please disseminate this information by using the share program, e-mailing this link to friends and/or posting it to your own social networking sites.

General Assembly Leaves Richmond While Leaving Planned Parenthood Big Winner

When the General Assembly session closed Sunday, Planned Parenthood ended up one of the session's biggest winners. Despite efforts in the House of Delegates to deny it from benefiting financially from a "pro-choice" license plate, a conference committee recommended that it should, and the legislation easily passed both chambers Saturday. While license plates usually pass the assembly with few "no" votes, there were several members in each chamber who simply would not vote for a bill that benefited Planned Parenthood. Now this omnibus license plate bill goes to Governor Bob McDonnell for his signature, veto or amendments. In addition, the General Assembly yesterday sent a state budget to the governor's desk that does not prohibit taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. It also does not include prohibitions on taxpayer funding of failed embryonic stem cell research and low-income elective abortions. All in all, a good weekend for the nation’s billion-dollar abortion behemoth.

On the license plate, according to media reports, it appears that some in the legislature were intimidated by the ACLU’s threat to sue if Planned Parenthood didn’t get the money from the plate. Courts have ruled that if one viewpoint is allowed on a license plate (i.e., "Choose Life") than the opposite viewpoint must be allowed (in this case, "Trust Women, Respect Choice"). Courts have not, however, ruled on the issue of funding from the license plates. Nowhere in this session’s legislative process was the message of Planned Parenthood’s plate an issue — except for some members who weren’t going to vote for the plate regardless of the courts! Instead, it always, as ever with Planned Parenthood, was about the money.

Unfortunately, once the Planned Parenthood plate was attached to legislation that included several other license plates, it was going to pass. Planned Parenthood and its cronies in the legislature were willing to allow every other license plate (including one that would fund a program that helps feed children) to be defeated in order to get their way. If pro-life legislators had held out, you can imagine the headlines: Anti-abortion legislators kill funding for children.

On the other hand, the General Assembly passed its FY 2011-2012 state budget. Considering the weeping and gnashing of teeth we’ve heard for the past several months over the growing "budget deficit," it was amazing that the legislature finished its work just one day late. According to media reports, the two-year $70 billion budget takes the state back to 2006 spending levels. While we are pleased that the budget does not include any direct tax increases on Virginia’s families, we are disappointed that simple language protecting the taxpayer from funding unethical activities was not included.

Once again, Senate Democrats such as Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) and Janet Howell (D-32, Reston) were willing to put the entire commonwealth at risk by blocking a budget that included those protections. Just waiting for it to happen were headline writers and editorial page editors who would have ripped those legislators willing to stand on a pro-life principle.

But the battle isn’t over. These bills now await action by the governor. Over the next several days we will put together a comprehensive action plan for how you can make sure that your voice is heard — and heard loudly — during the veto process concerning the continued taxpayer funding of unethical activities by your state government.

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.