We found out earlier today that the Senate Rules Committee (click here for members' contact information) will hear, two important budget reform and transparency bills tomorrow morning. Of course, the Rules Committee meets at the call of the chair (not much transparency there), so by process of elimination we found out it would be tomorrow (see video of the sub-committee hearing). Both bills have a tough mountain to climb and we need your help to get the full committee to report the bills to the Senate floor. Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) is the patron of SB 867, a "read the bill" bill. It requires a 72-hour period from the time the budget is submitted to the House and Senate by the House-Senate Conference Committee to the time of the vote. During that time legislators could actually read the budget bill and comprehend its contents — the two-year budget contains $70 billion worth of spending. Currently, they get only a few hours on the last day of session and are expected to digest the entire document (as thick as a phone book) and vote up or down under a great deal of time-related pressure: Either vote for a massive budget bill or shut down the government. This bill will bring long-needed inspection and transparency to the budget process, not only for legislators but also for the public. The more eyes on the bill, the more wasteful spending can be caught.

The second bill, SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), would prohibit the House-Senate Budget conference committee (12 members of the General Assembly) from including in its budget any funding for non-state agencies, funding for projects that were not introduced as legislation during session, and items that were not included in either chamber’s version of the budget — unless the chairmen of the money committees enumerate those items in a letter to all 140 members of the legislature. This is vital! So much of the final budget is a mystery and this would shine the spotlight on legislators who insert "earmarks" in the budget that they were afraid to ask their colleagues to vote on separately as all other bills must be.

Virginia's budget process leaves much to be desired and is no way to run the country’s best managed state. But your voice matters. Please members of the Rules Committee and ask them to vote to report these two fundamentally sound and needed reforms.