Virginia News Stand: April 29, 2010Apr. 29, 2010
Annotations & Elucidations The Comeback Continues
The last 48 hours have been good ones for the culture and religious freedom in America and Virginia. Pro-life laws in Oklahoma, a Cross allowed to stay at a memorial and, now, the reversal of a horrible and discriminatory policy in Virginia: the gag on State Police chaplains to pray in Jesus' name. Add that to the elimination of taxpayer funding of abortions in the commonwealth and tighter abortion restrictions in Nebraska, and it's been a reassuring spring in America at the state level, proving there is a movement (that gets results) looking to make its first strike back at a national government governing opposite the will of the people.
We are featured prominently in the lead, as one might expect, with four articles seeking Family Foundation response on Governor Bob McDonnell's reinstatement of the policy allowing state police chaplains to pray in public as they deem. That executive order dominates the news, but there is a curious item that slipped in the news cycle amidst all the chaplain coverage: The governor's reappointment of several Kaine administration officials, including State Police Superintendent Steven Flaherty (who needlessly started the chaplain mess, and boy musn't that been a fun conversation: Colonel Flaherty, if you want to stay, you will let them pray); Daniel Timberlake as director-Department of Planning and Budget; Richard Sliwoski as director-Department of General Services; and Patricia Wright as state superintendent of public instruction. He previously kept Secretary of Finance Ric Brown.
While they may be good folks, at first glance it seems odd to holdover people after getting elected with such a large mandate to make change in economic and education policy. One appointment we do like for certain is that of former colleague Mark Early, Jr. — his Family Foundation connection omitted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch article notwithstanding.
Among the other features in today's News Stand: Governor McDonnell's Rest of Virginia Ask The Governor from earlier today on WRVA-AM in Richmond (yesterday we had the N.Va. version), more reports on the Mojave Desert Cross decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and, speaking of the court, another case it heard regarding the privacy rights of those who signed a petition to initiate the repeal of Washington State's homosexual unions law.
*Governor Lets Va. Troopers Refer to Jesus (Washington Times)
*McDonnell Rescinds State Police Prayer Policy (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)
*Va. reinstates prayer policy for state police chaplains (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
*Va. Reinstates Prayer Policy for Police Chaplains (AP/WJZ.com)
McDonnell Reverses State Police Prayer Policy (Roanoke Times)
McDonnell reappoints several Kaine administration officials (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
McDonnell promises a statewide housing policy (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Ask The Governor (38:59) (WRVA/WRVA.com)
Court skeptical on keeping petitioner IDs private (AP/GOPUSA.com)
Mojave Cross Case: A Signal on Religious Symbols (AP/FoxNews.com)
Supreme Court Allows Mojave War Memorial Cross (Los Angeles Times)
Illegal immigrants plan to leave over Ariz. law (AP/GOPUSA.com)
Democrat senators developing immigration bill (AP/GOPUSA.com)
Fla. gov. on cusp of independent bid for US Senate (AP/GOPUSA.com)
Obama warns of a 'conservative' judicial activism (AP/GOPUSA.com)
Census mail results could be trouble for 5 states (AP/GOPUSA.com)
In financial regs debate, senators look to details (AP/GOPUSA.com)
After Policy Stumbles, Obama Turns to Politics (Michael Barone/GOPUSA.com)
Democrat Cabal Dangles Bait For Unwitting Republicans (Christopher G. Adamo/GOPUSA.com)
The National Day of Prayer: The Value of Offending (Paul A. Ibbetson/GOPUSA.com)
America's Political Grand Canyon (Debra Saunders/GOPUSA.com)
Another RINO Punch to the Conservative Gut (Bobby Eberle/GOPUSA.com)
Spending Transparency: Close To Two Major Victories, Keep Contacting LawmakersFeb. 19, 2009
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.
Another Hurdle For Spending TransparencyFeb. 18, 2009
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.
OOOPS! How'd This Slip By?Feb. 11, 2009
There must be some embarrassed members of the House right about now. At least those who consider them fans of Welfare reform and the good that it's done to get people into productive lives. Seems a little ol' bill called HB 1714 got by the House unanimously, despite the fact that it would, in large part, re-institute direct payments to individuals. In bureaucratic speak, it increases the frequency of "diversionary cash assistance" from one four-month payment every five years to one such payment every year.
How did this escape the budget hawks in the House, so eager to kill any new spending the last few years because of tight state finances? Surely it had a Fiscal Impact Statement — you know, those pesky little red flags the Department of Planning and Budget put out to the money committees as excuses to kill real reforms that will save money, ostensibly because they will cost too much?
Answer: It put out a Fiscal Impact Statement saying that spending all this money will save money. Brilliant! Because the House and Senate bought it! Literally! Congrats to all involved.
There is a chance this can be stopped. The Senate did attach an amendment, so the House has a chance to reject it, water it down with amendments, or force a conference committee, where perhaps it can run out the clock. It's amazing how three-sentence long bill can wreak so much damage on a major reform that has improved our society.
BREAKING: Spending Transparency Approved In House Committee!Feb. 06, 2009
Just a few minutes ago, the House Appropriations Committee approved by unanimous voice vote, HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst). Were it so easy. This is the background: The bill wasn't heard until late in the process by its committee of jurisdiction and, with an unjustifiable price tag by the Department of Planning and Budget of up to $3 million, it was doomed for Appropriations.
Plan B: Scale it down. Instead of a new or rebuilt data collection system, both Delegate Cline and Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), patron of the Senate companion, SB 936, worked with the Auditor of Public Accounts to improve current data collection and "retrievability" by the public, to go along with "searchability" improvements the auditor instituted since last year.
Problem: Despite all that, the jurisdictional Appropriations sub-committee had finished its pre-crossover meetings. Solution: Pressure and persuassion, and the chairman allowed for an additional meeting.
What just happened: After all that, and a glowing endorsement for two days running in Senate committees by the auditor, and Senate Finance taking the first step in the water, you'd think all was a slam dunk. More like those blooper reel missed dunks. At the sub-committee this afternoon, Delegate Cline was late and almost got passed over. Then, once he introduced the substitute, he and committee staff realized he had no substitute. Legislative Services, which drafts legislative language, and Delegate Cline had a failure to communicate, apparently, and either there was no substitute in front of the committee or there was, but with the original bill's summary attached. That meant is that the FIS was still in play. Not gonna pass in that posture. A sinking feeling if ever there was one.
What to do? Or is there anything to do? Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge) attempted to save it with a motion to report to the full committee with the understanding the Senate language would be introduced. Not what the chairman, Delegate Steve Landes (R-25, Augusta), wanted.
Delegate Landes then threw Cline a lifeline of sorts, agreeing to report with no recommendation if the proper substitute could be drafted by the full committee's last hearing, about a half hour hence. Proviso: Bills recommended in this manner only are brought up at the full committee chairman's discretion.
Scramble: Cline, committee staff and Legislative Services hustled to unravel the knots. Meantime, potential wolves at the gate: A guy from Virginia Enterprise Application Program showed up with questions and talked with yours truly and another pro-transparency lobbyist. Not against, but concerns, and concerns are enough for Appropriations to put the kibosh on apple pie and the flag. More: He tipped us off that General Services was against it. What a perfect Friday early evening.
Finally, full committee in progress and after a few bills were heard, and wondering exactly how many days it would be before I'd see family and friends, a mini-miracle. After a lengthy and contentious debate on transportation funding, where Democrats grilled Delegate Glen Oder (R-94, Newport News) on his innovative plan while Republicans grilled, in turn, Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer for not having a plan at all, the Chairman, Delegate Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) called up HB 2285, substitute ready and all!
Here's what I don't get: The committee has the correct substitute language, and during discussion of the bill several key members say they have had conversations with people who could be affected or must administer the bill if it becomes law, including the auditor and the Secretary of Technology, and they report these people say there are no costs. (Question: How did they know what to ask if they didn't know what the substitute language was?) But they want the committee staff's opinion. Not that committee staff isn't great. They are. But how much vetting do you need when the members have gone to the top guys to begin with and they can see the difference in the substitute and original?
More discussion. Costs or no costs? How can we be sure? No one from Public Accounts to verify, but luckily the VEAP guy is silent and no one from DGS is around. Then, what's the purpose? If the information is out there, why do we need this? Is this about transparency? Is this about good government? Come clean Delegate Cline.
Finally, a motion and a second. Unanimous voice approval. I wiped the sweat off my brow and made the Sign of the Cross.
State Government Spending Transparency UpdatesFeb. 02, 2009
Last night I posted about action on taken on HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), which would make state government spending transparent in an easy-to-use, online searchable database of state spending. Here's an update: The House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities (see committee member here) today did not hear HB 2285. One little problem . . . today was the last meeting of the sub-committee before crossover. However, the sub-committee has scheduled extra meetings in the past. It is urgent that this sub-committee hear from you as soon as possible. Tell them that not only do you support the bill, but you expect it to be heard in sub-committee.
If you want a quick reference to their phone numbers, click here.
Meanwhile, tomorrow the Senate General Laws Committee (for members click here) meets and will take up SB 936, patroned by Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax). Expect the argument against spending transparency to be a bogus cost estimate by the Department of Planning and Budget.
Many states, including Missouri and Nebraska, have put their spending online for almost no new money — and doing so has more than paid for itself in the finding of duplications and other wasted spending. Our friends at the National Taxpayers Union have secured two letters to the various committee members that we have circulated: One from the Treasurer of Nebraska and one, just last night, from former Missouri Governor Matt Blount's chief of staff, detailing how Virginia's $3 million cost estimate is completely unfounded and unrealistic.
It is urgent that everyone concerned about good and open government contact members of the Senate General Laws Committee and urge them to pass SB 936 Wednesday, as well as contact the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities — for good government and transparency in how our tax money is spent!
A Major Victory Tonight On Transparency, But Big Hurdle TomorrowFeb. 02, 2009
Early this evening, a broad coalition of groups, including The Family Foundation, won a unanimous victory for open government when the House Science and Technology Committee, without dissent, voted to report and refer HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-27, Amherst), to the Appropriations Committee. However, it faces a major hurdle — the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities, perhaps as early as 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. If you want transparency of the state's expenditures, click on that sub-committee link above and e-mail or call the members now. Tell them you want to be able to search, in an easy-to-use online search engine, how they spend our hard-earned tax money, and that other states have done it for only a few thousand dollars. Refer them to this blog if they don't believe you.
The road block is the Fiscal Impact Statement attached to the bill by the Department of Planning and Budget which says such a system would cost as much as $3 million. Not True! Several states, such as Nebraska, have put their spending online for almost no money. (See the Nebraska Treasurer's statement to the General Assembly here.)
We also received a late tonight a statement, which we will distribute tomorrow, from Edward R. Martin, Jr., chief of staff to former Missouri Governor Matt Blount, detailing how they put that state's spending online for a fraction of the preposterous DPB claim of $3 million (the feds did its online budget for $1 million). See the following post.
So, as you can see, some people in government will do anything to keep you from knowing how they spend your money and we must overcome this obstacle. But in committee tonight, Delegate Joseph Bouchard (D-83, Virginia Beach) said, "This is an excellent bill. I worked in IT and I don't believe these projections for one minute!"
If Nebraska, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Missouri can put their spending online at little or no expense, hi-tech Virginia, where the Internet was invented, sure can. This is a high priority bill in our legislative agenda, and we are close to a major victory. Who wins government contracts — notorious groups such as Planned Parenthood, for example? Or is the state paying for duplicate and unneeded services and wasting our hard-earned money? We can only find out with your help.
Contact members of the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities and urge them to pass HB 2285 Tuesday — for good government and transparency in how our tax money is spent!
If you want quick access to their phone numbers, click here, for a list on an alert put out by our friends at the National Taxpayers Union.
The Cost Of Open Government: It Ain't Anywhere What DPB Says It IsJan. 26, 2009
One of our most important legislative priorities this year is budget transparency. Where do state agencies spend our money? You think you know because you see a line item that says the Department of Education was appropriated X Billion Dollars? Wrong! All we know are some top line figures. Because the Commonwealth's budget is not in an easily searchable online database, how the agencies and departments well within the bureaucratic structure dole out wads of appropriations for grants and contracts is not easily known.
For example, if the Department of Health is appropriated $1 million to provide grants for research on physical exercise and fitness of older adults, that may well be detectable. But after that, it's anyone's guess as to who gets the grants. Or, if a city got some money for a park, who is doing the landscaping and is it the best bid? Simple examples, but you get the point.
So, who doesn't want online spending transpareny? The entrenched interests who don't want you to know where your money is getting spent. Their argument? It will cost too much money to put online, especially when we're in a budget deficit. Okay, then, who says? The Department of Planning and Budget in one of its infamous Fiscal Impact Statements.
Last year, it said it would cost more than $1 million. This year, between $1.5-$3 million. This might seem plausible except for the fact that no state has created such a search engine for more than $300,000 and the federal government put its $2 trillion of annual spending online for $1 million. Virginia spends a "paltry" $39 billion each year. Most states have done it for free, because OMB Watch, a group that created the software for the feds, has made it available for free to states!
So today, working with the National Taxpayers Union (special thanks to Josh Culling), we secured a statement that will will distribute to the General Assembly. It comes from the Treasurer of Nebraska. He created NebraskaSpending.com by Executive Order in 2007. He proved that putting a searchable budget database online could be done inexpensively without compromising its purpose. For $38,000, NebraskaSpending.com includes information on state government dollars to be spent, state dollars received, investment operation pool, grants, contracts, and a breakdown of property taxes and state aid.
We will have much more to say about this in the coming days. For now, here is the official statement from Nebraska Treasurer Shane Osborn to the Virginia General Assembly:
"We heard the same arguments about the cost of a searchable database. We received an estimate of $1.1 million at one point. In the end, we were able to shine the light on Nebraska's budget at a cost to the taxpayer of $38,000.
"Taxpayers demand absolute transparency from their government. As elected officials, it is our job to deliver it in a cost effective manner. I've seen expensive estimates like these, but in the end government can roll up their sleeves and deliver it for far less. That's exactly what we did in Nebraska."
"I can't envision a situation in which a budget site would even approach that price range. If we can do it for five figures in Nebraska, there's no reason for anything close to seven figures in Virginia."
UPDATE: SB 936 Not In General Laws This WeekJan. 19, 2009
The Senate General Laws Committee (click here for committee members) finally released its docket for the week and unexpectedly, SB 936, the budget transparency bill, is not scheduled. Still not published is an economic impact statement, which the Department of Planning and Budget releases to make it seem that reform legislation is too expensive to pass into law. Thus, perhaps the delay in scheduling the bill for its hearing. Stay tuned. It may also go to sub-committee in the interim. In the meantime, let the senators on the committee know you want easy access to how your money gets spent. To see which senators to contact, click the link on the committee above.
BREAKING NEWS: House Transparency Bill Referred To House Science And Technology CommitteeJan. 19, 2009
Delegate Ben Cline's (R-24, Amherst) online budget/budget transparency bill (HB 2285) has been referred to the House Science and Technology Committee (click here for members), which is a change from last year, where it was heard in the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology, Oversight and Government Activities, where it was held over for study (i.e., killed). It still may be referred to Appropriations, especially if a fiscal impact is attached to it (no word on that yet, though we expect one, which will hurt its chances), but this is certainly something to watch. Last year, the Department of Planning and Budget stated an online budget would cost the commonwealth $400,000, although the feds were able to put its budget online for $600,000 (for a $2 trillion annual budget vs. two-year $78 billion budget; somehow that reminds us of fuzzy math). Meanwhile, Tertium Quids debunks the cost estimates, here, and comments on the GOP leadership's growing support for transparency, here.
The Science and Technology Committee meets Mondays at 4:00 p.m. and its first docket does not include the transparency bill, so the earliest it could be introduced is next Monday, January 26. However, it is never too early to contact legislators. See the link above for the c0mmittee members.
As for the Senate bill (SB 936) there still is no word on when it will get heard in the General Laws Committee (see members here). We are wary of a last minute fiscal impact statement and hearing notification, so as to give committee members a reason to kill it quietly before too much attention is given to the bill. Don't let them get away with it. Contact those committee members (see link above), ASAP, as well. There was some good news on Friday, however: Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-27, Winchester), a committee member, signed on as a co-patron.