state government

General Assembly Issue Five: General Assembly Liberals Take Page From Lady Gaga Playbook

This is the fifth in a series about key issues facing the 2011 General Assembly, which starts January 12. Issue One, Life Defined And Protected, was posted Tuesday; Issue Two, Eliminate ObamaCare Induced Abortion Funding In Virginia, was posted Wednesday; and Issue Three, Restoring The Balance Of Power, was posted Thursday; and the fourth, Transparency Isn't Just A Word, was posted Friday.

Richmond's liberal political class appears to have completely missed the message of the voters in Virginia concerned about over spending and joblessness. Instead, taking a page out of the Harry Reid-Lady Gaga playbook (see Film Industry Network blog), they plan on making homosexual issues their top priority (see Richmond Biz Sense) the coming General Assembly session.

Building on what they view as "momentum" from the lame-duck Congress' vote to repeal the military's "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, Democrat leaders will focus their energies on passing legislation that would give special protections to homosexuals, not just in state government hiring as they tried in the past, but in all hiring — public and private — across Virginia.

This fulfills the dream of the ACLU's Kent Willis who said last year:

We hope this is only the beginning, and that [it] will inspire legislators to finally pass a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in both private and public sector employment. (Emphasis added.)

This blatant attack on religious freedom would pose a threat to every church, faith based ministry, adoption agency, school and charity in the commonwealth. No longer content with an incremental approach, it appears that Virginia liberals want it all and they want it now.

Of course, we are confident that their legislation will go no further than it did last year. The fact is that there is no evidence of broad discrimination against homosexuals taking place in Virginia. Even The Washington Post admitted that there are "thousands of homosexuals" working in state government. Proponents of the measure can point to one —just one — case where someone filed suit that they were fired because of their "sexual orientation," but even that case has been disputed.

According to one of the nation’s leading homosexual activist leaders and recent Obama appointee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (approval for her nomination took place in the late night final hours of the lame duck Congress), Chai Feldblum:

There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases sexual liberty should win. I'm having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.

Those who advocate for the advancement of sexual behavior protections in our law have little or no room for those who have religious convictions on those issues. In her paper, Moral Conflict and Liberty: Gay Rights and Religion, Feldblum, who authored the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), argues quite openly that it is the primary goal of this political movement to elevate (either through legislation or the courts) homosexual orientation to moral equivalence with heterosexual orientation, and to do so at the cost of religious liberty. She admits in her assessment of the clash that:

We are in a zero-sum game: a gain for one side necessarily entails a corresponding loss for the other side, (but) in making the decision in this zero-sum game, I am convinced society should come down on the side of protecting the (sexual) liberty of LGBT people.

So there you have it, the true motivation behind the so-called "non-discrimination laws." It is to discriminate against people whose faith teaches that homosexuality is wrong.

AG Cuccinelli Follows Law, Liberals Rip Him Anyway

Late last week, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent a letter to the state’s taxpayer funded colleges and universities informing them that, without General Assembly approval, they do not have the authority to issue non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation (see Washington Post). Apparently, the state’s public colleges and universities had issued such policies without the approval to do so (see Richmond Times-Dispatch). His opinion, initiated at the request of several interested parties, started a media firestorm. Essentially, the Attorney General, the office designated to instruct state entities on the law, told them to actually follow the law — Virginia law does not carve out discrimination protections for homosexuals, as it does for race, color, creed and national origin. But Democrat leaders and homosexual activists immediately pounced, calling Cuccinelli’s advice "hate," and vowed to revive legislation that died last week which would add sexual orientation to the Commonwealth’s anti-discrimination policy.

Today, several legislators literally screamed about the issue on the floor of the House of Delegates, all but accusing Attorney General Cuccinelli of hatred. They urged the House General Laws Committee to act on SB 66, which was defeated in sub-committee last week. However,  committee chairman Delegate Chris Jones (R-76, Suffolk) cancelled the committee's last meeting. As today was the last day for committees to act on legislation in order for them to get to the floor before session ends, the issue is dead, again, for this year.

It is quite interesting to listen to proponents of this major change in Virginia’s public policy. In three separate presentations before committees and subcommittees, advocates for making sexual orientation a protected class have admitted that 90 percent of Virginians don’t think there should be discrimination. They have admitted that the last three governors have had policies, either written or verbal, that they will not allow such discrimination. At no point has any actual evidence of discrimination been presented. Late last year the Washington Post editorialized that there are "thousands of homosexuals" working in state government.

Usually, the General Assembly passes legislation to remedy a problem. They often defeat legislation that, as is said, is a "solution in search of a problem." That is exactly the problem with this legislation.

So what is the goal? It really is not about discrimination. It is about government recognition — acceptance — of the homosexual lifestyle. Make no mistake, this debate is a serious one and it will have long term consequences, not just for state government, but private businesses and, ultimately, our Marriage Amendment. The goal is not anti-discrimination — it is forced acceptance of a lifestyle that many Virginians find antithetical to their faith.

The rhetoric in the capitol today was heated and not very tolerant. It seems that those who oppose creating a special class for homosexuals are hateful and bigoted, which is an easy accusation to make when you have no other argument and no ability to make your case.

Virginia's Budget Process

Yesterday, Governor-elect Bob McDonnell (see his statement) urged a revamping of Virginia's budget process, one as peculiar as the one-term gubernatorial limit (Washington Times), keeping a campaign promise he and Lt. Governor Bill Bolling made in September. As it is now, the Old Dominion's two-year budget is proposed by the governor in even years, meaning the lame duck outgoing governor proposes one while the incoming governor is still moving furniture into the executive mansion. It's up to the new guy and the General Assembly to amend it, while the old guy laughs at them stumbling all over themselves (Richmond Times-Dispatch). It also means a governor only has one opportunity to thoroughly shape fiscal policy and spending priorities during his one term — the two year budget beginning with the second even year of his term (Washington Examiner). So, Governor-elect McDonnell proposes to move the governor's budget submission to odd number years (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). Not a bad idea. He even has Governor Tim Kaine's support (whose outgoing, tax-increase laden budget is a great impetus for this change) as well as that of key lawmakers, and it was recommended as far back as 2002 from the Wilder Commission that studied ways to improve efficiency in state government. 

But another idea has floated through Capitol Square in recent years: Keep the even year cycle, but let the new governor do the proposing. To give him time, move the legislative session back a month or two. That way, he can propose two full budgets and the next governor can start with a clean slate. Under the odd year proposal, a new governor would take office in the middle of a already adopted two-year budget (better than the current system) and could propose amendments. But why not have the governor do what he was elected to do and have an impact the entire four year term? Besides, starting the legislative session in January can be such a bummer coming off the holiday season. Never does such good cheer turn to agony so fast.

Gov's mansion

Bob McDonnell will hardly have moved in before he has to start tearing up Governor Tim Kaine's proposed lame duck budget.

Virginia News Stand: November 19, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations Breaking News: Next Budget Shortfall $3.5 Billion!

Breaking news this evening: Senate Finance Committee analysts told that committee's members this afternoon that the next two-year budget will be $3.5 billion short, not to mention the current budget lacking another $209 million.

In other news, Governor Tim Kaine told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he has concerns with some of Governor-elect Bob McDonnell's positions. He is afraid the new governor will sign certain bills he vetoed, not continue his executive order banning "sexual orientation discrimination" in state government hiring, and fears meat ax budget cuts (apparently only Mr. Kaine knows how to cut spending correctly). He also said he's not afraid of being unpopular. Good thing. 

Speaking of cuts, one state budget analyst told the House Appropriations and Finance Committees yesterday the commonwealth of overbuilt for prisons and that perhaps construction and maintenance costs could be pared for the time being. A harmless cut, manna for pols!

In national news, the Senate showdown on health care approaches and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius tries to put out a fire by now saying, of course the administration wants women to get mammograms by age 40. Uh-huh, right. Meanwhile, the public embraces common sense proposals, such as tort reform, but no one's listening, and the president has hired another tax cheat at the Treasury Department.

In Commentary, Larry Kudlow, Michael Barone and Michelle Malkin take on different aspects of President Obama's bowing and tripping Asia excursion, Walter E. Williams excoriates the horrendous moral relativism taught to our students, and Christopher Adamo explains the GOP-Palin disconnect.

News:

State facing $3.5 billion shortfall in next budget (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Virginia's road budget slashed another $851.5M (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

State transit plan faces $851.5 million cut (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Analyst proposes putting corrections projects in Va. on hold (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Gov. Kaine cites concerns on Virginia's budget, roads (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Gov. Kaine wants ethics probe of ex-delegate Hamilton to continue (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Federal grand jury subpoenas Hamilton documents (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Study highlights tax burden disparity (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The GOP: Luddites or high tech? (Washington Post Politics and Policy Blog)

National News:

Senate girds for historic debate on health bill (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Thousands cheer Palin in Mich. for book tour (AP/GOPUSA.com)

AP Poll: Support for curbs on malpractice lawsuits (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Another Obama (Treasury) nominee runs into tax problems (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Sebelius: Women should get mammograms by age 40 (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Commentary:

President Zero Sum Goes to Asia(Larry Kudlow/GOPUSA.com)

Obama Bows, but the World Refuses to Bow Back(Michael Barone/GOPUSA.com)

Excused Horrors (Walter E. Williams/GOPUSA.com)

Obama's Doubletalk On Political Dissent(Michelle Malkin/GOPUSA.com)

Palin, Conservatism, And The Disconnected GOP (Christopher Adamo/GOPUSA.com)

Update: Governor's Substitute Transparency Bill Accepted

Earlier today, during the General Assembly's veto session, the House and Senate concurred unanimously to accept Governor Tim Kaine's substitute version of HB 2285, a state spending transparency bill, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-25, Amherst). This substitute, at first look, and based on conversations with some legislators and staffers, appears to be even stronger than SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), and signed last month by Governor Kaine. The language of the bills was identical when they reached his desk.  Although neither bill received one dissenting vote in several sub-committee, committee and floor votes in both chambers, and now today's veto session — after each got unceremoniously dumped last year in committee (Senate) and sub-committee (House) — it wasn't as easy as it sounds getting them passed and signed into law. Each had to deal with the dreaded fiscal impact statement, which many times attributes bogus costs to bills as an unassailable hurdle in the money committees, often to thwart reforms. In this case, each bill had duty in front on the money committees and HB 2285 even had to go to the Senate Rules Committee.

In essence, we started with two great bills last year and again this year, that changed form, but not function, though perhaps not as comprehensive as we might have liked after several amendments, and ultimately got something more than what we thought after the regular session ended. Not bad. What a difference an election year makes.

Now a huge window has opened up on state spending, with a massive spotlight to boot. Soon, citizens — be they media, grassroots activists, policy wonks or even (for Heaven's sake) bloggers — will be able to closely examine exactly how Virginia government spends the hard-earned tax money we send it, and with which vendors it contracts for services, as well as other open government features. It simply is not enough to say a department spends this much money; we need to know down to the line how much, on what and with whom. That, in turn, will let us know if the purpose was worthy or wasteful, duplicative or duplicitous. You get the picture.

Despite what would seem broad interest in government spending transparency, many self-proclaimed "open government" groups were noticeably absent form the debate. The  Mainstream Media, for example, which touts its annual "Sunshine Week" each March, was nowhere to be found. No doubt, however, in years to come, it will, as we all should, tout this new found access to the otherwise indecipherable bureaucratic nuances of state government.

Who Says Bloggers Can't Fill The Gap?

Hopefully, you've perused the March 3 News Stand. In it, I bring to readers' attention an article by The Washington Post's Marc Fisher who laments that economic downsizing has led to a reduction in media coverage of state government in Richmond and Annapolis. Among the Mainstream Media, he notes, several newspapers have reduced the number of reporters at the capitols, about half as many in Virginia as there used to be, and that only one Virginia television station still maintains a bureau in capitol square. Alas, he maintains, despite the explosion of new media —blogs in particular — it isn't enough to fill the gaps left by the reduction of full-time journalists. Says who? While we won't be pretentious enough to claim bloggers fill the exact same role as political beat journalists, especially the old-fashioned five W's objective reporters — those days disappeared along with the buggy whip manufacturers anyway — we can say, speaking for ourselves, that bloggers have more than replaced what passed for electronic media coverage of the legislature. Never more than sound byte "journalism," exactly how much depth do viewers get from one- and two-minute television reports, or 30-second updates on radio?  

Perhaps Mr. Fisher should have looked at our blog during session (see Capitol Square Diary) and our YouTube page. Everyone should. At last count we had 23 videos posted there, almost all concerning the General Assembly, and many of them from committee hearings. Not five- or 10-second sound bytes, but full testimonies and questions and answers between committee members and witnesses, not to mention the committee votes. Ahh, the votes.

Often what passes for news coverage of devious parliamentary gimmicks that kill bills without the legislators going on record is the media's complyingly innocuous, "the bill died in committee." But how? We show you! Which is something, that no matter how many television or radio station bureaus there are, never seems to be told. We don't let the politicians escape, unlike the Mainstream Media. I'm not sure why Mr. Fisher doesn't think that's laudable.

The fact is, the new media is here and will continue to grow in outlets as well as users, evolve in its delivery mechanisms (we were just getting used to blogs, then Facebook, when Twitter came around), and increase in importance. If that's to the Mainstream Media's demise, so be it. But if the MSM is at least partly responsible for its own demise for its complacency in  seeing the future, it surely is fully responsible for its diminishing presence by its lack of depth of coverage and its flat-out distortations of its coverage of politics and policy.

Apparently, what matters most to MSM apologists is numbers — after all, what can legitimize the biased MSM other than to say tens of thousands read their publications or watch their broadcasts? It certainly isn't in the quality or depth of coverage. But the velocity of change in information consumption is happening faster than a Dick Saslaw foot-in-the-mouth comment. So new media audience numbers will grow in time. Of course, expecting the MSM to acknowledge that is like expecting them to cover a Dick Saslaw foot-in-the-mouth comment. It rarely, if ever, happens.

Another Transparency Victory (Or, A Legislative Journey: The Life And Times Of HB 2285)

As a follow-up to yesterday's victory for reform, government spending transparency and accountability with our hard-earned tax dollars, late last night the House version of the spending transparency bill, HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge), was approved by both chambers unanimously. It is on its way to Governor Tim Kaine's desk to sign, amend and send back, or veto.  Along with SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), these two Family Foundation priority bills, if they become law, will allow Virginians, over time, to track government spending on contracts, the vendors the state pays and for which work they do, as well as other important information; and allow us to be able to more easily track such items online. 

Just as with SB 936, HB 2285 did not receive a single negative vote throughout its legislative journey which included: Two House committees, a House sub-committee, a House floor vote, a Senate sub-committee, a Senate committee, a Senate floor vote on accepting a substitute, a Senate floor vote, a House vote to accept the Senate substitute and reject an extra Senate amendment, and a final floor vote in the Senate (last night) to accept the House's rejection of that amendment. 

I know it sounds confusing, but it makes an important point: just because a bill gets a unanimous vote, it doesn't mean it was easy to accomplish. Even popular and just ideas are difficult to get passed and can come unraveled in a moment. For example, both patrons deserve a great deal of credit for their patience and parliamentary skill. They adapted the bills at strategic points to fight off bogus fiscal impact statements which would have doomed them as "too costly" to adopt. Grassroots activists also deserve much credit for staying informed on the issue and contacting their senators and delegates along the way. Click here to get a taste of this Byzantine, egg-shell-walking process

One simple example of the improvement these bills will bring is that a link to the Commonwealth DataPoint Web site will have to be put on the state government's homepage. Right now, if you are not a policy wonk, and don't know the name Commonwealth DataPoint, or don't know that it's on the Auditor of Public Accounts' Web site, you can't even begin to find what limited information is state government offers. So, imagine — it takes an entire act of the General Assembly just for a simple Web link! So, you know what we go through on controversial legislation. (Click here and scroll down to see a Sunshine Review's report on the current status of Virginia's online transparency. Hint: not good.)

For years, it has been very difficult to determine for what and to whom the state contracts and pays for services, not to mention what spending is duplicated and otherwise wasted — and whether it is spent on nefarious groups such as Planned Parenthood. It took almost the entire session, but these are major victories. That said, at least we had one humorous moment in this process, appropriately, near the end. If you haven't checked out yesterday's QOD, click here to read about the House "debate" on HB 2285.

Another Hurdle For Spending Transparency

Spending transparency (SB 936) cleared another hurdle today only to have another one thrown in its path — a trip to House Appropriations (click here for contact information), this Friday. However, things look positive. It passed on a 21-0 vote and in the House Science and Technology Committee late this afternoon, but then referred to the Appropriations. Delegates Bob Marshall (R-13, Prince William) and John Cosgrove (R-78, Chesapeake) tried to avoid the hurdle by asking for a vote to report straight to the floor. According to committee Chairman Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg), it simply is a safeguard measure — if a cost to it was discovered on the floor, the bill would die because Friday is the last Appropriations Committee meeting. Better for it to be vetted there, and amended if necessary.

However, Auditor of Public Accounts Walter J. Kucharski and Joe Damico, deputy director of the Department of General Services, both testified that the bill, offered in its third version today, would have no fiscal impact. Amazingly, the Department of Planning and Budget posted a fiscal impact statement claiming that the second version of the bill would cost these two departments and state government $1.5 million in new equipment and software, man-hours, and more employees. One small problem: no one asked the departments.  

It's no time to rest, however. SB 936 and HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), and which emerged yesterday with unanimous approval in the Senate Rules Sub-Committee on Studies and now is in the full Rules Committee (contact information here), should both be heard Friday in those committees. Contact members of both committees. We're very close to victory on a major priority this session. Let's not take it for granted.

Exclusive: Interview With House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transparency: Good For The Private Sector, Not Good For State Government?

A fellow blogger gave me these lines to use in committee testimony in favor of the spending transparency bills (SB 936 and HB 2285). Thus far, the way they have travelled the legislative ladder, testimony hasn't been needed. For the record, the borrowed lines are:

"Financial institutions and publicly traded stocks, by regulation, must make readily available to the public its investments and corporate spending. If it's required of Charles Schwab, it should be required of state government."

The point being that the regulators (government) have a different standard for themselves than those on whom they impose rules. Here's a glaring and fun example. In his constituent newsletter today, Senator John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian) touts his commending resolution (SJ 394) to the crew and company of the summer 2008 HBO massive hit special event series John Adams (see our review here), much of which was filmed in central Virginia and Colonial Williamsburg. Among the reasons Senator Watkins wants to thank the crew is for the amount of money it spent in the Commonwealth:

"I previously mentioned my commending resolution to the crew of the John Adams HBO production. ... Filming a movie in Virginia is good for Virginia. For example, the John Adams mini-series spent $81,775,102 in Virginia. A few examples of how this money was spent: 

Technicians, Productions Assistants, Hired in Virginia: $9,025,750

Equipment Rental: $2,412,814

Wardrobe: $1,903,678

Car and Truck Rental: $1,141,053

Construction Supplies: $3,634,900."

Which is just great for everyone involved. But it begs the question: If we can get this kind of info out of a company doing temporary business in Virginia, why can't we get our own state government's expenditures? Stay vigilant. Improved transparency is on the way, but anything can happen. I'm keeping my testimony at the ready.

Statement To Virginia Lawmakers On Spending Transparency: Show Us, Like They Do In Missouri!

The Institute for Transparent Government

www.cystalcleargovernment.com

February 2, 2009

Dear Virginia Lawmakers:

In July of 2007, then-Gov. Matt Blunt created the Missouri Accountability Portal (MAP) by Executive Order. Accessible at www.mapyourtaxes.mo.gov, the MAO is a searchable database of all Missouri expenditures; the MAP gives Missouri taxpayers the the ability to see how every single dollars is being spent. As of January 1, 2009, the MAP website has received over 17 million "hits." Despite sentiment that spending transparency requires a massive cost outlay, we were able to implement this comprehensive Web site, which many considered the easiest and most thorough in the country, for less than $200,000.

Missouri citizens now have access to comprehensive and searchable expenditure information, public employee salaries, and tax credit issuance data. That data is updated each state business day. In the Governor's office, we believed citizen oversight of the budgetary process to be a birthright. In spending their tax dollars, we in government had a responsibility to give the taxpayer a seat at the table by allowing them to search and scrutinize our expenditures and tax credits. In Missouri, they responded by logging onto the site in record numbers. Also, the press found the MAP site a useful tool for its efforts to write about state government.

We were able to deliver this service to the state of Missouri for far less than many may have estimated. The same will be true in Virginia with the passage of SB 936/HB 2285. The $3 million fiscal impact statement issued by the Department of Planning and Budget for SB 936 strikes me as is completely unrealistic; the entire federal budget was put online for a third of that cost.  Rather, this fiscal impact statement strikes me as bureaucrats' efforts to derail transparency.

I would encourage you to follow the lead of Missouri and over a dozen other states that have opted to bring transparency and accountability to their budgetary process by ignoring the erroneous price tag and supporting this legislation.

Sincerely, 

Edward R. Martin, Jr.

Chief of Staff to former Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt

Founder, the Institute for Transparent Government (www.crystalcleargovernment.com)