Family Foundation's 2009 Legislative Agenda: Budget TransparencyJan. 08, 2009
Yesterday, we posted information about our efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and abortion in Virginia, through grants it receives through the state budget. One of the challenges we face is actually finding the expenditures. You see, there isn't a line item in the budget that says "Planned Parenthood." The money is distributed by local health clinics from money appropriated to the Department of Health. At least the money we know about. An example of the difficulty in finding the truth came just last year when we sent Freedom of Information Act letters to every school board in Virginia concerning contracts with Planned Parenthood. The City of Richmond schools responded that they had no contract with Planned Parenthood but, just days later, we learned from Planned Parenthood that they were holding workshops in Richmond City Schools. Who is paying for this has yet to be determined, but we're working on it.
Several years ago The Family Foundation introduced legislation that was an attempt at making state budget expenditures more available to citizens. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Glen Allen), resulted in Commonwealth Datapoint (click here), a Web site where one can look through every check written by the state.
But plan on spending a lot of time, because while everything is there, it is about as user-friendly as Windows Vista.
Last year, Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Centerville) and Chap Petersen (D-34, Fairfax) and Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) introduced legislation that would make the budget Web site more user-friendly, including a Google-like search engine. That legislation was killed in committe in both the House and Senate. Senator Edd Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania), a member of the Finance Committee, was particularly offended by the idea that taxpayers should have the right to hold him accountable for budget decisions. Similar legislation will be introduced again this year by those same legislators.
As the Commonwealth now deals with a spending surplus of at least $4 billion, finding where we can save money is extraordinarily important. Most legislators will tell you that there isn't much waste in state government or any more "trimming of the edges" that can be done. While it would be great to take their word for it, the fact that we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Planned Parenthood gives us doubt.
The way to righting this large ship of state begins here: It cannot be done without knowing exactly where and how government spends our hard-earned money; it cannot be done if we continue to sit in darkness while extreme organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, are provided with taxpayer bailouts.
In short, online budget transparency is a just concept of open and good government; of sunshine; of the people having oversight of their government, as the Founders intended. This year's legislative battle will be one of the bureaucrats and politicians who put power (via the purse) over the people's right to know.
Who will win? Rather, who has the will to win?