tax dollars

General Assembly Recap: Success On The Fly And In The Plan

It's hard to believe the 2009 General Assembly is over. It seems like it was just yesterday that we red flagged HB 1671 and SB 1094 (the "blight bills") and "created controversy," (according to the big-government types who said we shouldn't be involved). But we got the two bills amended to where they won't affect property rights. It was an improv act, to be sure, but that type of nimbleness is needed during session because rarely does anything go to plan.  We had many other important victories in both chambers and some good  legislation is on its way to the governor's desk — unlike the above, legislation we either initiated or supported from before session. Only 46 days ago these victories were mere drafts of bills on the desks of lawmakers. Through the Family Foundation's advocacy, and legislator contact from concerned citizens, many pro-family bills passed both chambers — some even with unanimous or nearly unanimous votes. But even that doesn't make it easy (see why here).

We have five core principles upon which we advocate in the legislature: Life, Marriage, Religious Liberty, Constitutional Government and Parental Authority. To put our 2009 victories in perspective, we received major victories on four priority bills reflective in five of those principles:

While we are pleased with the successes we had this year we understand that there are still many obstacles to make Virginia more family friendly, including an upcoming veto session in which we may see a veto threat against the Choose Life license plates. So, while the 2009 General Assembly is for the most part over, and we prepare for veto session, we are already working on our plans for 2010.

We thank each of you who took the time to contact your legislators during this past session. Our e-mail alert system generated nearly 25,000 e-mails to legislators this year! Your action does make a difference and, we at The Family Foundation, always are encouraged by your response. Additionally, we enjoyed bringing the General Assembly to you via video on this blog and our YouTube page. We had more unique visitors in the 28 days of February than in the 31 of January!

We also offer our humblest thanks for allowing us to represent you in the General Assembly. We take the responsibility very seriously and look forward, with your help, to continued success.

UPDATE And Clarifications: Cautiously Optimistic On Transparency Bills

Hopefully, sometime today, or, if not, then tomorrow, we will have a  spending transparency bill sent to Governor Tim Kaine (contact here) for his signature. Here's the status of both HB 2285 and SB 936: The former, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), is back in the House after getting conformed to the Senate version then amended further. The House must accept the amendments or reject them. If the former, it will go to the governor. If not, it goes to a conference committee. As amended, it has a bit more transparency than the Senate version.

The Senate version is back in the Senate because the House made amendments, but it should have no problems — the House amendments were offered by the patron, Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), when it was in the House. When amendments by the other body are supported by the patron, they are accepted. Then that will go to the governor.

Right now, it's a matter of seeing what the House does. If it accepts the Senate amendments, we're golden. If not, it will probably end up mirroring SB 936. Either way, it looks like we're going to get at least an moderately expanded window in which to view the doling out of our tax dollars.

Where To Cut The State Budget? Here's Two Ideas (Or, The Need For Budget Transparency Now)

When I appeared on Tertium Quids Radio Friday (click here) with fellow guest Nick Howard, host Norm Leahy asked us where we would make cuts to balance the in-deficit Virginia budget. I offered the observation that the deficit is about the exact size of the new spending over the previous budget's baseline, i.e., when revenue is flat, you don't spend more. Imagine that! (Especially when it's people's money). But here are two good specific cuts, not only because they will save money, but because the principle involved is sound and just. First, all state money to Planned Parenthood must be eliminated, immediately. An organization that makes millions killing babies should not be on the government dole (see here). Regardless of what you think about abortion, if it is such a "private matter" then it should not be publicly financed.

It would save us at least $200,000 a year in Virginia. We can't say for sure because that's all we can find for sure. The rest is tucked away in certain nooks and crannies of state bureaucracy under grants and contracts that are not always easy to find, for various reasons.

This brings us to another, but not unrelated topic (also discussed Friday): Budget transparency. It's not too early to bug your delegate and senator about voting for online budget legislation this coming General Assembly session so we easily find where our money goes. Simple line items for entire agencies doesn't cut it anymore. We need to know which vendors are employed, where the grant money goes and why, and what contracts are offered and to whom.

Here's another example, courtesy of Republican Attorney General candidate Dave Foster. Friday, he released a letter he sent to Jean Cunningham,  chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections and all board members.    First, as a matter of principle and dignity, he urged the board to count the hundreds of absentee ballots cast by Virginians serving overseas in the military. (The courts have ruled that Virginia is at fault here, but did not offer a remedy, unfortunately.) As if their votes not counting isn't bad enough, get a load out of this:

According to Foster:

"In response to a complaint filed by the Department of Justice, the Board is refusing to count even those ballots that were filled out by Election Day. As you read this, your tax dollars are supporting the legal fees of a private law firm that is defending the Board's refusal to count these ballots." (Emphasis added. See full statement here.)

We don't know the figure, but one dollar is too much. Governor Kaine (contact here) should order an immediate halt to this horrible insult to those who serve and defend our country.

There. That's two ideas. Plus budget transparency. Plus holding back the increase over the last budget. Pretty soon, we'll see surpluses again.

How Transparent Is G.A. Willing To Be?

Aside from the overspent state budget and resulting deficit, the biggest news coming out of the capitol this week has been the House Republican Caucus' decision to record sub-committee votes (see Richmond Times-Dispatch, here). (As the GOP is the majority, the rule change will pass, although House Dems favor recorded sub-committee votes as well.) This certainly will spice up a session already promising to be electric because of factors ranging from the budget deficit to the 2009 statewide and House elections. It certainly will give us more fodder for our e-mail alerts. (More on that in the next post.)

Another issue that promises to bring a lot of heat and fireworks to the cold of January and February, is an issue that ties all of this (i.e., transparency, the budget and politics) together — bills to bring the state budget online so that all Virginians will have the opportunity to see how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent. Not only is this an issue that should win on principle (the people have a right to know) but in these times of economic disaster caused by unaccountable people and institutions, what better safeguard is there than to have millions of citizen watchdogs perusing the use of billions of their own tax dollars? Although online budgets are in effect in several states now, and Virginia should be embarrassed it is not leading on this issue, since we bill ourselves as the "Digital Dominion," sometimes great opportunities only arise from trying times, which we surely are in.

However, last year the House Republicans only went so far as to study the matter in committee. A combination of Republicans and Democrats teamed up to kill the bill in a Senate committee, ostensibly afraid of the cost to implement the project, with one senior Democrat invoking "the children" as a reason to kill the measure. Ostensibly, because, they are afraid to let the people take a peak inside their palace of power, which is the budget itself.

Now that House Republicans are in a reform mode, the only question is how far will they and their Senate colleagues go? Or, should the question be, why wouldn't they be for budget transparency given it's wide appeal (and Founding Fathers' wisdom)? It's a winning issue and it is an election year. You don't need easy to understand budget numbers to figure how those add up.

Governor Kaine Is Hot: Two Consecutive Quotes Of The Day!

Just last week Governor Tim Kaine made our prestigious quote of the day for saying he would take action on a "green initiative" report given to him because studies don't gather dust in his administration, yet he didn't know what was in the study he was just presented so he didn't know what action he would take. In yesterday's Richmond Times-Dispatch he made clear what conservatives say about liberals, and what liberals say about themselves only after elected (though the opposite while campaigning) — to wit, he's doesn't believe in reducing government's spending of your tax dollars: 

"Let's be realistic. You don't run for governor to make budget cuts."

This is not a conservative conspiracy. No one is making this up. Which leads us to ask what we always ask when we read such nonsense:

Why do people believe that liberals will govern contrary to liberal orthodoxy and to what they actually say about themselves?