General Assembly Report column by Del. Ben Cline
If the Virginia General Assembly is a 60-day legislative battle, this week was filled with several skirmishes between those of us fighting to reform the state bureaucracy and the bureaucracy fighting back.
I generally introduce several government-reform bills each year because I continue to believe that government can work more efficiently than it currently does. In just the past 10 years, the state budget has doubled from about $40 billion in 1998 to more than $80 billion this year. While some of it is from fixed costs such as rising inflation and a growing population, population and inflation growth only accounts for about half of the increase. The other half is from an expanding bureaucracy and the lack of pressure on our state government to spend taxpayer dollars efficiently.
Instead of proposing yet another ineffective “review commission” to study the inefficiencies of our state government, my legislation would take immediate action to reform the bureaucracy. One bill I have introduced this year (HB 1358) is called the “Yellow Pages Test.” The concept is simple – if the service is listed in the local Yellow Pages, then the state government should not be providing an identical service in that area. The Virginia bureaucracy performs thousands of non-professional services that can be done more cheaply by local small businesses. Dry cleaning, copying and printing, and housekeeping services are just a few of the services that would be outsourced to the private sector under my bill, saving the taxpayers millions and helping small businesses create local jobs.
Another bill I have introduced is HB 1360, also known as “Google for Government.” This bill would put the state budget on the Internet in a format that is user-friendly and searchable by the public. It would give taxpayers a way to find out how the state is spending their tax dollars, and it would empower the public to find inefficiencies and suggest ways for the government to save money.
One example of this type of wasteful spending that we are targeting is the State Lottery’s advertising practices. The Lottery has an advertising budget of $26 million, and much of it is wasted on licensing agreements with celebrities to appear on our tickets and commercials. For instance, the Lottery paid Donald Trump and his agents $250,000 to use his face on the “Apprentice” lottery ticket a few years ago, and they paid Howie Mandel and his agents $860,000 last year to appear on the “Deal or No Deal” lottery ticket. This is money that could be going to educate our children and pay our teachers, but that kind of revealing information about wasteful government spending is not available on the Internet. With my “Google for Government” bill, more of this kind of wasteful spending can be brought to light and stopped.
Next week is “Crossover Week,” the halfway point of session when all House bills must be acted on and either killed or passed over to the Senate. I look forward to updating folks about the budget that was passed and the bills that I am working on that have made it to the Senate. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions about issues or bills coming up at 804.698.1024 or [email protected].
Ben Cline represents the 24th House District in the Virginia General Assembly.