special interest groups

Judge Walker Ignores People, Logic, Constitution To Advance Progressive Agenda In Prop 8 Decision

Wednesday, in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, federal Judge Vaughn Walker declared California's Marriage Amendment ("Proposition 8") unconstitutional, ruling that the state must allow same-sex marriage (see opinion, here). But, apparently, Judge Walker saw  "marriage" in the U.S Constitution, even though it is nowhere to be found there, which most people understand to mean that it is an issue for each state to decide (i.e., the 10th Amendment). However, there is a stay on the ruling through today, so that opponents of the decision can appeal it to a higher court and ask for a stay until that appeal is ruled upon.  This deplorable decision has the potential to gut the definition of marriage as well as the integrity of the democratic process — a single, unelected federal judge, undoing the votes of more than seven million Californians who voted for this state constitutional amendment in 2008. That November, when California voters chose Barack Obama for president (who has stated he believes marriage is between one man and one woman, see interview with Jake Tapper of ABC News), they also passed Proposition 8 (52 to 48 percent) declaring marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Sadly, when special interest groups fail to win either in the legislature or on the ballot, they turn to the courts to overturn the will of the people. This is precisely what happened in California. In fact, according to Dan McLaughlin at RedState.com (please read for a detailed analysis of Judge Walker's flawed "reasoning"), even in a bad year for conservatives: 

49 percent of white voters, 58 percent of black voters, 59 percent of Latino voters, 49 percent of women, 54 percent of men, 53 percent of independents and 67 percent of voters over age 65 voted in favor Proposition 8.

Can't get more diverse than that. Ironic, huh?

An accurately defined democratic process should not allow for a handful of activists to overturn what a majority has conclusively and legally decided. Fortunately, yesterday's opinion is far from final. Pro-family advocates have immediate plans to appeal the ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. There is a good chance that the case eventually will reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his opinion, Judge Walker singularly waived off as irrelevant any "moral and religious views [that] form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples." Some have called into question Judge Walker's impartiality, as he is openly homosexual. Adding to the skepticism, Judge Walker will rule on today's request to place a stay on his own ruling.

In Virginia, the homosexual lobby has lost time and time again, both on the ballot and in the General Assembly. While this activist judge is redefining the centuries-old meaning of marriage, the people of Virginia have stated very plainly that they don't want anything like that to happen here.

Counterfeit forms of marriage cheapen and undermine real marriage. The union of a man and a woman in a committed marriage is the foundation of a stable society. Social science is clear that men, women and children benefit far more in a stable, traditional family. That makes traditional marriage and family far too important to society to experiment with to advance a political agenda. Especially when it's done by one man against the will of seven million people.

What An Honor!

In May, we noticed that none other than Right Wing Watch, the blog of the well known national liberal organization People For The American Way, had commented about us. In fact, it was concerned about the launch of our "Winning Matters" program, which engages pastors to lead their congregations into full participation into the public square. We noted at the time that we must be doing something right if such a large, national organization and RWW were keeping their eyes on us, a lil' ol' state policy organization. So, imagine how we feel now that they've mentioned us again (see here), this time ridiculing Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., for speaking at some of our pastors events around the commonwealth. Wearing this online red badge of courage, we thought we'd report on something they really could chew on.

People For The American Way and other liberal, secular progressives believe, given recent election trends, that the death of Christianity in America is near — or at least we've been minimized to the point of a curious, but irrelevant, nuisance. It's apparent to the collective liberal institutional genius (media, academia, public education, special interest groups, unions, etc.), that many Americans finally are enlightened, no longer hold the traditional values that are the result of one's faith in God, and that the country has reached the Rubiconof a mother state with no looking back (the flipping of conservative Virginia their prize possession).

Those of us who still dare live in the Stone Age are so few in number that we can be essentially forgotten by society and left to dwell in our caves. Finally the progressives can officially progress . . .  

But maybe not. In Roanoke last week, we hosted a pastors event in connection with the Winning Matters 2009 Campaign. Approximately 40 pastors from around the region filled the room and were encouraged, equipped and empowered to continue influencing their congregations and communities on traditional values issues. (For information on other pastor events around Virginia, click here.)

Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University's School of Law, reminded them of their personal and congregational rights to speak freely on the issues of the day. Rick Scarborough, of Vision America, challenged them to speak truth to their communities and leaders, as he has done for many years with great success. Family Foundation staff offered practical steps to make their churches more effective voices, including:

» Preaching a citizenship sermon; » Holding a voter registration drive; » Distributing General Assembly Report Cards; and » Distributing voter guides.

Each pastor there decided to stand up and be counted for the cause of Biblical values. They certainly didn't look dead in their passion to make a difference. Besides, even if they were, secular progressives forget that we serve a God who raises the dead. That alone, should give Right Wing Watch plenty to blog about.

Budget Transparency Bill May Come Up Soon!

The General Assembly is barely under way, yet already there is urgency in the air. Most people think this session will be dominated by the budget and the revenue surplus that has been squandered, putting our state finances in a deficit. Complementing the budget debate is a very important issue and one of our very top priorities this session: Budget Transparency and Accountability, which entails putting the state budget online in an easy-to-search format.

How can we control spending when no one knows how much is spent, where it is spent and on what it is spent? Lawmakers from both chambers readily admit that unless they are on the powerful money committees, they don't know where our money goes because after it is appropriated, it gets funneled around and through departments and agencies in forms of grants and contracts that make it virtually impossible to track. In fact, lawmakers themselves have to file several Freedom of Information Act requests just to discover the purpose of one  check.

Without an accountable, easy-to-use online tool, how can anyone track the many thousands of tax dollars the commonwealth doles out to nefarious organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, under cryptic "education" grants? How to uncover the millions of wasted tax-dollars on earmarks and political paybacks for non-essential services to special interest groups or district-friendly pork barrel projects?

Not only will an online budget — easily searchable in a Google-like format — help legislators make informed decisions on how to budget billions of your hard-earned tax dollars, it will allow hundreds of thousands of citizen watchdogs to point out the waste in government spending. In short, this is a just concept of open and good government; of sunshine; of the people having oversight of their government, as the Founders intended.

We were informed early this week that the Senate bill creating online budget accountability, SB 936, might come up as early as Wednesday, January 21, in the Senate General Laws Committee. The patrons are Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) and Chap Peterson (D-34, Fairfax), but despite this same bipartisan support last year, the committee defeated it with bipartisan votes. Lawmakers of both parties, and their bureaucrat allies, who are more interested in the accumulation of power via the purse and the secrecy of the budget's intricacies, are determined again this year to arrogantly deny the families and people of Virginia their rights to know what their government does with their hard-earned tax money.

However, this year, with an overspent government desperately trying to "find money to cut" and with the twin backdrops of an election year and federal bailouts to banks and businesses that have refused to account for what they've done with our tax money, the time is ripe for accountability in the commonwealth's finances.

The "Google Government" bill, SB 936, may come before the Senate General Laws Committee as soon as this Wednesday, January 21. Don't let opponents of open government kill this bill quietly, early, when few are paying attention.

It is urgent for you to write members of the Senate General Laws Committee (click here) and to find others to do so as well — all the better if one is your senator — and let them know you want the ability that the citizens of several states already have, to conveniently research how and where your money is spent. Amazingly, President-elect Barack Obama's one major accomplishment in the U.S. Senate, was to partner with Oklahoma's conservative Republican Tom Coburn, to put all federal contracts online.  

If the behemoth that is the federal budget can be put online, so, too, can Virginia's.

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.