the House

Virginia News Stand: April 30, 2009

We are back with the News Stand sooner than we thought, here at the close of business for April, where we learn, from the Wall Street Journal, that despite hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent since 1971, high school test scores have barely budged! How does that make you feel? Yet, the Commonwealth and the VEA seek more of your hard-earned money. In other news, one has to wonder that if the gubernatorial campaign is like this now, what will it be like come September? October? We've seen the Dem candidates try to out-pander themselves to the teachers union and to homosexual activists. Now, according the Washington Post, it's really getting nasty. On another burgeoning campaign issue, House Speaker Bill Howell and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell have whacked the ball back in Governor Kaine's court, requesting the governor's boss take the federal strings off before we accept it.

Meanwhile, the Democrat infighting is all to McDonnell's early advantage, as a news SurveyUSA poll has him leading all three Dems. However, looking at the survey's universe, it doesn't look to be the best indicator. Contrary to some other polling, it has Terry McAuliffe way out in front in the Democrat primary. Still, it confirms what the more reputable Rasmussen poll a few weeks ago suggests: That McDonnell is making inroads among the general electorate.

Finally, in a commentary, Bobby Eberle documents a disturbing aspect of the Obama administration, something of which we've commented upon: Namely, his disdain for anyone — politicians, media or now, what with the Tea Parties, common folk — who disagree with him. More than disdain, it's demonization . . . or worse. Now that the "hate crimes" bill has passed the House, we're one step closer to being arrested for expressing our opinions.

News:

McDonnell, Howell say Congress should remove strings from stimulus money (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Democrats vying for governor debate over gun issues, energy (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Tone Toughens in Race for Governor (Washington Post)

New poll puts McDonnell ahead of 3 Democratic candidates for governor (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Teachers Offer Lessons in Race for Governor (Washington Post)

Surrogates Sling Mud in Va. Race (Washington Post)

Democrat seeking Bedford House seat (Lynchburg News & Advance

Virginia seeks education funding (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

National News:

House bill offers gays greater protection (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Few Gains Are Seen in High School Test (Wall Street Journal)

Commentary:

Obama Marks 100 Days in Office . . . By Mocking Concerned Americans!(Bobby Eberle/GOPUSA.com)

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.

Quotes Of The Day

It all happened late this afternoon, in rapid fire succession, all starting with a blatant mis-speak by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge) when bringing his spending transparency bill (HB 2285) to the floor. Explaining the Senate's floor amendment to the bill and why it should be "severed" (which elicited some sarcastic "oooohs"):

"I talked to the patron and he's okay with it."

Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Stafford), to what may have been the loudest laughter in session this year:

"You are the patron!"

After Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8 Salem) parodied Cline to more laugher, Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock) stepped up for a bill of his own:

"Mr. Speaker, I have a question of the patron. Would the patron yield?"

The House laughed louder than the original faux paux. Then Delegate Gilbert added, "I can go on. This is easy."

It's been a long "short session" and they've been on the floor for hours at a time. It's definitely time to bring down this curtain and let them go home!

BREAKING: Spending Transparency Will Go To The Governor!

The Senate earlier this afternoon passed by a vote of 38-0 SB 936, by agreeing to the House's amendments, thus avoiding a conference committee and sending the spending transparency bill to Governor Tim Kaine (contact here). The bill, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), did not receive a single negative vote in two Senate committees, one House sub-committee, two House Committees, one House floor vote and two Senate floor votes, three bill versions and three fiscal impact statements. Within the last few minutes, on the House floor, the House agreed to the Senate substitute of HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Rockbridge). Then, by a vote of 93-3, it rejected the Senate floor amendment which would have added legislative transparency to the budget writing process, but had nothing to do with the posting of actual state spending online. It was rejected because the same basic idea of the amendment was rejected by the House Appropriations Committee earlier this session as a free-standing bill. Lawmakers are hesitant to approve policy on the floor as bill amendments when previously rejected in committee where the pros and cons were aired out.

This action makes the bill conform to SB 936. It goes back to the Senate to accept or reject the House's action, probably tomorrow. If it accepts it, it will go to the governor as an identical bill as SB 936. If not, there will be a committee of conference at which point the amendment will be accepted, rejected or negotiations will fall apart and the bill will die. Either way, SB 936 is a baseline, and there is the slimmest of chances — if the amendment is included — HB 2285 can be made a bit stronger. At the very least, SB 936 will go to the governor!

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.

Spending Transparency: Close To Two Major Victories, Keep Contacting Lawmakers

Spending transparency is one of our priority issues this session and the bills involved (SB 936 and HB 2285) have had a long and winding path thus far (as do most major reform efforts). Just as predicted, their paths are somewhat similar to eminent domain reform bills in 2007, with many twists and turns and near-death experiences. Although each committee vote has been non-controversial, the behind the scenes efforts have been exhausting to get it to that point, with great credit going to the two patrons — Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) and Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), respectively, and their co-patrons, particularly Senator Chap Peterson (D-34, Fairfax) and Delegate Joe Bouchard (D-83, Virginia Beach). There has been tweaking of the bills to avoid the inexcusably outrageous and bogus fiscal impact statements which would have made the bills cost prohibitive to implement, especially in these tight budgetary times. (Fiscal impact statements once served a good purpose — cautionary breaks for lawmakers on new programs or government administrative expenses. Now they are used as excuses to stop much needed reforms.)

Each bill has gone through numerous committee hearings, amendments and substitutes, been reported and refered to money committees and the House version even was sent to a Senate committee the Senate version had no part of (see here). (As it turned out, HB 2285 was sent to the Rules Committeebecause the Auditor of Public Accounts comes under legislative directive, or some such governmentese, but still begs the question why SB 936 didn't go that route.)

All that said, we are closing in on major victories, but it's not time to let down our collective guard. A final push is needed from concerned citizens who believe the government has a serious obligation to shine the light on where our tax dollars are spent. 

SB 936 unanimously passed the House Science and Technology Committee only to have another obstacle thrown in its path — a trip to House Appropriations tomorrow. Committee members Bob Marshall (R-13, Prince William) and John Cosgrove (R-78, Chesapeake) tried to avoid the referral by asking for a vote to report straight to the House floor.

However, things look positive. Committee Chairman Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg) told committee members the bill had to be referred to Appropriations to be vetted for costs, but that she would inform Appropriations Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) there are no costs associated with this bill. Appropriations meets tomorrow afternoon.

Indeed, 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 form, would have no fiscal impact on the state budget. Amazingly, the Department of Planning and Budget attached a fiscal impact statement to the bill claiming its original and subsequent amended versions would cost state government between $1.5-$3 million in new equipment and software, man-hours, and more employees. One small problem: no one asked the departments involved (read this about impact statements).

Earlier in the week, HB 2285 emerged with unanimous approval in the Senate Rules Sub-Committee on Studies and now is in the full Rules Committee which meets at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. 

Spending transparency is an important issue (read here) for many reasons: good government, accountability, taxpayer protection and the like (read here). It also will give us a clearer window into how often, how much and for what reasons nefarious profit making groups such as Planned Parenthood get our tax money! We are very close to victory on a major priority this session. Let's not take it for granted.

Contact Rules Committee members here (HB 2285) and Appropriations Committee members here (SB 936).

Why Is The House Transparency Bill In Senate Rules Committee?

As Gomer Pyle would say, "Well, I'lllllllllllllllllllllll be!" HB 2285, the government spending transparency bill passed by the House 99-0 recently, and patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), seemed destined for one of the General Assembly's great bipartisan accomplishments this session. After all the substitutes and amending, it even lost its fiscal impact to the overspent budget. Its Senate companion, SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), was similarly stripped down and passed cost muster in the Senate, and also was unanimously passed on the floor.

But, and there's always a but, the committee of jurisdiction for SB 936 was General Laws and Technology. HB 2285 is bound for Rules. Not only that, but knocked down the chain to the Sub-Committee on Studies (click here to contact). Tomorrow morning. Say what?!

All of a sudden, this most important government reform, that the entire Senate voted on last week, must be studied? Yeah, right. I'm sure you can smell the stink through your monitor. Could it be a coincidence that Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Stafford) touted this as a major House accomplishment at crossover, sending up a red flag to Senate Dems? You know, perhaps it's the, "you-killed-one-of-our-pets, we'll-kill-one-of-yours" routine? Creative killing at that: studying it to death or kicking it around from committee to committee while the GA clock runs out. For its part, the House assigned SB 936 to the appropriate committee, Science and Technology, where the House version crusied 22-0.

There's always hope this will be another love fest tomorrow, and the bill will move on in the correct direction — toward the Senate floor. However, we're preparing for a sub-committee meeting tomorrow morning that will reach a new low in creative excuse making.

Three Proposed Constitutional Protections From Government In Senate Committee Tomorrow Afternoon!

Thursday, we let you know about three important proposed constitutional amendments that passed the House and now are on the way to the Senate. You never know about the pace of the General Assembly, especially right after crossover, so guess what? All three of those CAs incredibly important reforms are on the docket tomorrow, at 4:00 p.m. in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.  Please contact members of the committee and voice your support for these constitutional amendments (see committee here), as soon as possible, up to early afternoon tomorrow. Remember, if these proposed amendments fail, it may be another two years before we can even get the process going again.

All three of these proposed amendments to Virginia's Constitution have something in common: Protection. Protection from eminent domain, the government taking your or a friend's private property, whether commercial or residential; protection from profligate government spending — a taxpayers' bill of rights, so to speak (necessary when Virginia's budget has grown 80 percent during the last 10 years); and protection from mismanagement of our dedicated transportation funds.

Here's a summary of the three:

HJ 725, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle) would provide protection from the government's power of eminent domain, and protect the 2007 law protecting private property rights from tampering by future General Assemblies. That law was a reaction to the deplorable U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision, which allowed a local government to take private property and give it to developers. Just as the Marriage Amendment was needed to protect Virginia's marriage statutes, the 2007 private property law needs constitutional protection. This session alone has seen two bills (HB 1671 and SB 1094) that would have weakened it (we were able to amend them into acceptable bills). So it is obvious this constitutional protection is needed.  

HJ 789, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-68, Richmond) would limit spending to the preceding year's total appropriations plus an amount equal to the percentage increase of inflation plus population growth. It makes exceptions to provide tax relief, deposits to the "Rainy Day Fund" and nonrecurring capital projects. With state spending increasing more than 80 percent over the last 10 years, we need this constitutional protection from the big spenders in Richmond. What family budget has grown that much that fast?   

HJ 620, patroned by Delegate Glen Oder (R-94, Newport News), is another protection against greedy government big spenders. It would put all tax revenues designated by law for transportation in a "lock box" so that they cannot be spent on earmarks, pork or for other areas of the budget, only for the big spenders to claim they need more money for transportation. When campaigning for governor, Governor Tim Kaine said he wouldn't raise taxes until the "Transportation Lock Box" was in place. Of course, he rescinded that promise only a few hour after being sworn in.       

So, please contact the committee members as soon as possible and ask them to vote for these constitutional amendments tomorrow in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.