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VA GOP Delegate Submits Legislation to Make Anniversary of Roe v...

Apparently, this is not a joke. Or maybe it's just a really bad joke. Or maybe it's right-wing extremists, following the election of Trump/Pence,...

ALEC Ties to Virginia Voter ID Law

The voter ID laws passed in Virginia and other states this year and designed to limit the right of citizens to vote, especially groups that traditionally vote Democratic, have a common origin, the now-notorious American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC. A task force of ALEC, the Public Safety and Elections Task Force, promoted a model law to limit voting through ID requirements. In Virginia, quite a few Republican legislators are a part of ALEC, including the ones who introduced the legislation.

Republicans Dave Albo, Beverly Sherwood, and Ben Cline were all members of the Public Safety and Elections Task Force. However, the legislation that ultimately passed and was signed by Bob McDonnell (who also has ties to ALEC) was introduced in the General Assembly by two other members of ALEC, Del. Mark Cole of Fredericksburg (Education Task Force) and Sen, Steve Martin of Chesterfield (Health and Human Services Task Force, which Martin chairs).

Several groups have begun working to insure the right to vote for some groups of Americans, especially minorities, the elderly, and young adults. One such group, VoteRiders, a non-partisan and non-profit organization, has launched a nationwide program, "Take a Friend to the DMV," to help citizens get their voter IDs. The NAACP has also pledged to have a robust program to insure people's right to vote. Programs are needed most in state like Texas and Pennsylvania, where citizens can only vote if they have a government-issued photo ID, a document that requires a person to also present a birth certificate.

There's no question as to the motive behind the Pennsylvania law. The state Republican majority leader told a meeting of the Republican State Committee: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."

In Virginia the law is far less draconian.

It’s Time To Control Tax Credits

A while back I wrote about the fiscally dangerous habit of legislators on the state and national level blithely passing bills to give tax breaks to favored groups of citizens without considering the effects on government budgets. In Virginia that habit costs the state $12.5 billion in lost revenue each year. Some tax credits, or tax expenditures, are for worthwhile social purposes, such as credits to low income persons and credits to promote historic or land preservation. Others are blatant giveaways, such as the credit given to coal companies to "promote" employment in an industry with consistent declining employment.

So far, the 2012 session of the legislature has seen six bills introduced that propose tax credits, some of which might be nice except for the fact that the legislators introducing them have no idea of their cost to the General Fund, nor have they proposed any way to replace the lost revenue at a time when the state faces another huge budget deficit.

There are, however, two pieces of legislation pending that would help the state make tax credits more transparent and more controllable. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) has a introduced a bill that would require the publication of the names of certain entities receiving tax credits of more than $1,000. Ben Cline (R-Amherst) has a bill that would place a five-year expiration date for all tax credits and require the tax commissioner to report the estimated revenue loss of each state tax credit that is scheduled to expire in the next two calendar years.

These bills would be a start to finding a rational way to show legislators that tax credits are tax cuts, which result in either less money for vital state services or an increase in taxes on the rest of us. When tax credits equal 90% of the amount of money collected each year - the case in Virginia - something has to change.

Cline Rips Fake Budget Surplus


While Bob McDonnell and others in his administration are busy spending that non-existent "budget surplus," at least one Republican, Del. Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge), sees through the phony numbers and is calling for Bob McDonnell to use the available funds to end what Cline called two accounting maneuvers used to "balance" the state budget - not paying $620 million due to the Virginia Retirement System and forcing merchants to pay their sales tax receipts early.

Cline opposes the planned uses for a fake $400 million "surplus," mainly for a state employee bonus, a pittance for transportation, etc. Since the phantom money was found by accounting tricks, Cline, along with Del. Ward Armstrong (D-Henry), wants part of the money used to begin paying what the state owes the VRS for this biennium.

Last March, a study by the Pew Center on the States criticized the way the General Assembly and McDonnell used obligations to the state retirement fund to "balance" the budget. While we hear all the time how Virginia is the "best managed state," the Pew Center study put Virginia's retirement fund below fifteen other states, in the "needs improvement" category. Plus, the only reason Virginia ranked as well as it did in the study is the fact that more responsible plans run by counties and cities "helped save the state," according to the VRS board of trustees.

That Pew Center study didn't even include the worst of the 2008-2009 damage to state retirement funds. Virginia's underfunded VRS system is not simply the product of the recession, but also caused by deliberate policy moves by the legislature.

A 2008 report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission stated that state contributions to VRS have been lower than the board certified rate in ten of the last eighteen years, making VRS a bi-partisan loan agency for the Commonwealth. During those same 18 years, localities paid the amount the VRS board certified as necessary.