Senator Ken Cuccinelli calls it as he sees it ... and he's calling it on those who "talk the talk" but don't "walk the walk" in the State Senate. He is fired up about the budget divide and the pompous lifelong politicians in place. Read his latest Compass below -- classic reading and refreshingly honest for an elected. And Senator Cuccinelli ... thanks from the grassroots.
Dear Fellow Republican:
Democracy, shamocracy… welcome to the Virginia State Senate “debate” on the budget.
I often hear legislators expounding proudly on the fact that the Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous elected body in the Western Hemisphere, but I notice that no one reminds their listeners that that record has very little to do with the Senate, which of course was appointed by royal Governors until after the Revolutionary War. Sort of a colonial House of Lords. It seems that our new, American democratic (little “d”) habits are not particularly favored in the Virginia State Senate. Maybe some would be more comfortable with the House of Lords?
Today, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Chuck Colgan, and budget conferee Senator Edd Houck went on the attack against ANYONE in the Senate who would dare to have the temerity to vote against a Senate Budget!
The catalyst for these diatribes was the fact that the Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee voted against the Finance Committee’s budget yesterday. Thus, the budget came out of committee on a 9-7 vote. So, you ask, what’s the big deal? Well, Chuck made it very clear why he thought it was a big deal…
… Senator Colgan loudly announced that he has been in the Senate for 33 years, on the Finance Committee for 29 years, and a budget conferee for 17 years, and he has NEVER (read in: great indignation) in all his Finance years seen a divided vote on a Senate budget!
Senator Colgan then proceeded to declare that “the Budget is above politics!” Um, excuse me, since when? Politics is about the direction of policy. Did everyone in the Senate run for office saying they were going to do the same thing? I doubt it or I wouldn’t have had such a close race. In fact, the budget is supposed to be about politics!
Another choice quote from Sen. Colgan today was this beauty (at high volume): “Get politics out of this arena, it doesn’t belong here!” Politics doesn’t belong in the elected Senate that represents the citizens of the Commonwealth? Can you imagine what the founding fathers would’ve thought?
A better interpretation of Senator Colgan’s declarations would be to say the following: “Daggone it, I’m the Finance Committee Chairman now, and no one has disobeyed a Finance Committee Chairman ever! I am appalled that anyone on my committee would vote against a budget! Where will this all end? Pretty soon we’ll be debating priorities and everyone in the Senate will have a say in the budget!”
The history of the Finance Committee is that they crush dissent by threatening everyone not on the Finance Committee with the unspoken threat that you’ll never get any programs or legislation through the Finance Committee. And in my time in the Senate, that unspoken threat has worked.
So, when a budget comes out of Finance unanimously, the Committee literally only needs about 5 more votes out of the remaining 24 Senators that aren’t on Finance to pass the budget. This worked for Chuck Colgan’s first 32 years on the Finance Committee, which explains why he’s "appalled" that he didn’t get a unanimous vote for the first time ever.
Next, William Wampler stood up and said why he couldn’t support the budget, i.e., raiding the lottery funds dedicated to building schools, cutting existing programs such as hospital reimbursement for the poor to start new programs like the Governor’s pre-K program, etc.
Then, Sen. Edd Houck got up and virtually exploded in vitriolic hyperbole. Waving his finger threateningly at Republicans he waxed on about what "team players" they (the Democrats) had been when the Republicans were in control (umm, hello, Edd, you were team players to raise taxes… so you were getting your Dem policies…). Then, referencing our desire not to fund the Governor’s pre-K program, Houck began to rant that we were putting our "boots on the necks of poor 4-year olds." Whoa. The temperature in the chamber continued to rise…
The last speaker in the running debate was Tommy Norment who basically got up and gave it right back to Houck et al, identifying some of the ridiculous choices made in their proposed budget and vigorously taking issue with Houck’s various exercises in hyperbole.
All in all an interesting day on the floor of the Senate – very enlightening.
The message? You’re not allowed to dissent on the budget if you’re going to be on the Senate Finance Committee, and the very notion that ANY Senator would dissent is appalling! Well, being an experienced dissenter on Senate budgets, I find this version of democracy to be pathetic. Why? Well, if I’m just supposed to "fall in line" with whatever the Finance Committee comes up with, then my 200,000 constituents have no voice in the Senate’s version of democracy. Now, make no mistake about it, the powers that be would like that. Remember, this is a body where debate is not particularly favored (did I say that diplomatically?).
I think a few folks in the Senate were reminded today that democracy can be complicated, messy business, and they don’t seem to like it. Oh well. The budget vote will be Thursday. It could be an interesting week.
As Long As We’re Talking About Senator Colgan…
The following was taken from Senator Colgan’s website on October 26, 2007:
“Here I clear the fog of innuendo, misinformation, and allegations. Here is where I stand!
• I do NOT SUPPORT any increase in the gas tax
• I do NOT SUPPORT allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants”
Well now, that was 11 days before the election… let’s take a peek at what has happened since then…
All mentions of the gas tax were pulled from Senator Colgan’s website some time after January 30, 2008. Then came the gas tax bill. How did Chuck vote? Well, on Senator Saslaw’s gas tax increase, SB 713, Senator Colgan voted for it in committee and again on the floor of the Senate. Thanks in part to Senator Colgan, a gas tax increase passed out of the Senate 25-15. [Editor's note: Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger also voted for the gas tax.]
Oh well, so much for that pesky gas tax promise.
How about in-state tuition for illegal immigrants? Well, when SB 652 came up, which allows certain illegals to get in-state tuition, Chuck voted for it. Whoops. That’s not on the website either… darn those pesky campaign promises. [Editor's note: Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger also voted to allow certain illegals to get in-state tuition.]
A funny factoid…
Some of the problems with the Dems’ budget come from their assumptions. For instance, in one coming fiscal year, the Dems are assuming that personal income will grow about 5% but taxes from that personal income growth will grow about 6%. Huh? Remember, we have a very flat income tax structure in Virginia, so it’s almost impossible for taxes on personal income growth to get much ahead of actual personal income growth.
But hey, we’ll worry about that next year!
One Other Thing
I told you that I’d send Senator Houck a letter asking him to demonstrate what he alleges to be our open budget and expenditure systems in Virginia, and I sent that letter last Monday the 11th. I still haven’t heard back from him as to whether he’ll accept my challenge, though some of my constituents have accepted my challenge to see what they can find, without much success – and you should know that the constituents that took me up on the challenge are VERY computer saavy… so how is a regular person supposed to find info in Virginia government? I don’t know, ask Senator Houck maybe…
Senator Ken Cuccinelli
Virginia 37th District