General Assembly Report column by Del. Ben Cline
As the second week of the 2008 General Assembly session began, we saw ominous signs from Wall Street about the direction of the national economy. In response, the pesident and Congress have announced plans for a bipartisan economic-stimulus package that includes tax credits for distressed sectors of the economy and tax rebates for American families. I applaud our national leaders for taking swift action to jumpstart the economy and provide relief to American taxpayers facing uncertain economic times ahead.
Here in Virginia, we saw equally ominous signs that some of our elected officials are ignoring those same signs from Wall Street. First, Gov. Kaine announced last week that he is now open to considering higher taxes to pay for the new social programs that he included in his 2008 budget. Right on cue, the Democrat leadership of the state Senate followed the governor’s statement with an announcement of their plan to pass an increase in the 17.5-cent gas tax. Crafting a state budget through a combination of higher taxes and reckless spending puts our AAA bond rating at risk and threatens the #1 business ranking that Virginia currently enjoys.
Fortunately, calmer heads prevail in the House of Delegates. The House Finance Committee, which I serve on as a subcommittee chairman, has thus far resisted calls by the governor to raise taxes. Instead, many of us on the committee are calling for our own economic stimulus package for Virginia, consisting of tax relief for working families and targeted assistance for distressed local businesses. We are also proposing wasteful spending reductions and additional reform measures that will protect Virginia’s status as a national leader for job creation. I am hopeful that the governor and the Senate will seek a compromise with the House that turns our economy around instead of pushing it further towards the edge of a cliff.
Also this week, the 14 House committees continued their consideration of the nearly 2,000 bills that have been introduced by the 100 members of the House of Delegates. That averages out to about 20 bills per delegate. (I introduced 14 bills this year.) The 40-member Senate has been busy considering around 1,000 bills, or an average of about 25 introduced by each senator. Some of the bills we consider are serious, like those to reform our mental health laws following the Virginia Tech tragedy. Others are downright ridiculous, like the bill to prohibit the decoration of a pickup truck’s trailer hitch with a rubber accessory that resembles certain parts of a bull’s anatomy. (Unfortunately, I am not kidding – the bill is HB 1452, introduced by Democrat Lionel Spruill of Chesapeake). More often, though, the bills we consider in committee are introduced by their sponsors after serious research, careful deliberation, and lengthy discussions with experts about their impact on the Commonwealth.
I encourage folks from Rockbridge, Augusta and Amherst counties to research the bills we are considering and let me know of bills or issues that interest you. The best way to follow the Session is on the Internet. The official General Assembly website is http://legis.state.va.us. You can research our legislative agendas, review our committee assignments, and even take a virtual tour of the newly-remodeled Capitol and grounds.
In addition, an unofficial website that provides a wealth of information is www.richmondsunlight.com. Although it is operated by a partisan advocacy group, the website provides among other things detailed campaign-finance data, a comment section for bills you like or dislike, and the ability to sign up and receive e-mail updates about bills that interest you.
I encourage folks to visit either website, as well as email me at [email protected]. You can also call me directly at (804) 698-1024. I hope to continue to hear from folks about their interests and concerns during the remaining six weeks of the 2008 session.
Ben Cline represents the 24th House District in the Virginia General Assembly.