The interesting thing is not how Virginia’s overall budget has grown 20% in just two years (seen that number reported anywhere else?) What’s interesting is how many interest groups are openly pushing to make it even larger. The $23 billion increase is not enough! Just two years ago, in December 2017, Governor Terry McAuliffe dropped in his proposed budget for the budget cycle we are still in, Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020. Before the 2019 General Assembly worked its magic, the baseline two-year total for spending he proposed was $116 billion. Comparing an apple to an apple (which the political class discourages) the equivalent figure for the budget Governor Ralph Northam published last month is $139 billion, growth of $23 billion or 20%. That is the general fund and the non-general fund combined. It becomes more and more obvious that the non-general fund is the cart pulling this horse. At $90 billion over the next two years, it is almost double the proposed $48 billion general fund. Soon it will be more than double. The proposed gasoline tax increase of four cents per year for three consecutive years is included in non-general funds. The continued explosion of university tuition charges is in the non-general fund. The undefined, “sum sufficient” hospital assessments behind the massive increase in Medicaid costs are non-general funds, as are the matching federal dollars they leverage. The days of putting the main focus on the smaller general fund with its direct taxes are over. As noted, advocates for public education (call it K minus two to 12, since pre-K is expanding) want far more money from the state. The $1.2 billion spending increase the Governor has proposed is mainly focused on adjusting the base cost of existing programs for enrollment and inflation, plus a modest teacher raise. They want more for teacher salaries and other programs, the Full Monty from the Board of Education. Expect additional spending amendments from human service advocates, including a coalition that now wants to expand dental benefits for Medicaid recipients.
The wish will become flesh with many of these later this week, when proposed amendments to the budget must be filed with the money committees. State employee groups, noting that neither year in the proposed budget includes raises for them, will be among the hardest to deny. The $200 million slush fund the Governor left unspent for the Assembly to play with will not be sufficient. Some key talking points: To start with something positive, the Governor held discipline and is significantly increasing the state’s reserves to almost $2 billion. Thank goodness Virginia has that beloved AAA credit rating and no governor or finance secretary wants to be remembered for losing it. We go to AA+ and nothing will hold them back. By the second year of the budget Virginia achieves so-called “structural balance,” when revenues and expenditures match without relying on reserves or by moving money between years. That will hold until the next economic hiccough or full recession, unless the General Assembly now blows it. Tax increases have funded this explosive growth, some open and some hidden. The hidden tax increase is the added state revenue created by conforming to all the tight new restrictions on deductions created by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, while keeping Virginia’s tax rates the same. This budget abandons the legislative requirement to track and hold that extra money aside for future tax relief, something discussed here just a few weeks ago. The taxpayer relief fund was enshrined in law as well as in the budget, but a budget bill language provision directly repeals the law, too. “17. That the fifth enactment of Chapter 17 of the Acts of Assembly of 2019 and the fifth enactment of Chapter 18 of the Acts of Assembly of 2019 are repealed.” That’s clear, right? Over two years the state will reap hundreds of millions from individual and business taxpayers paying more than they would have on the same income two years ago. But President Trump’s tax cuts also stimulated the economy, so incomes are up as well – a double windfall for the state from him, and one impossible to track and calculate. Politicians love tax hikes you cannot see. The tax hikes you can see are not that clear, either. The two hospital taxes created to fund the Medicaid expansion and the hike in Medicaid provider payments are intentionally hard to track. Nowhere in any of the presentations made December 17, from the Governor, the Secretary of Finance, or the Director of Planning and Budget, will you find the dollar value of those hospital taxes mentioned. In prior years there has been a table spelling out the specifics on all tax rule changes, positive and negative. That is lacking this year, a disappointing retreat from openness. But there is a $250 million over two years estimate in one of the slide sets on the proposed tobacco and vaping taxes, with another reference to $61 million from the first stage of the gas tax increase. New taxes on certain gambling machines (“games of skill”) may produce another $125 million over two years.
The non-general fund tax hikes are really fueling higher general fund spending. For example, the new tax on those now-unlicensed games in bars will transfer to school spending. The gas tax revenue will displace general funds that were being used for transportation. This is more reason to focus on the full budget and end the distinction between general and non-general funds. Stand by for updates. There is plenty in this budget yet to be explored in detail, and if the pattern holds both the House and Senate money committees will publish detailed analyses soon. Maybe one of them will put all the tax changes on one table or chart and save me an exercise in Excel. Read more email the firstname.lastname@example.org
The House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment on Dec. 18 against President Donald Trump. Soon after the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) advised that she wouldn’t be sending the articles to the Senate until such time as the Senate was willing to guarantee a “fair” process and trial, and would call certain witnesses. Pelosi’s threat has led to confusion because it’s unprecedented and because the language of the Constitution and the Senate rules are somewhat vague. Notwithstanding, her decision has cheapened the impeachment process and hurt the nation and its people. According to the Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials: “1. Whensoever the Senate shall receive notice from the House of Representatives that managers are appointed on their part to conduct an impeachment against any person and are directed to carry articles of impeachment to the Senate, the Secretary of the Senate shall immediately inform the House of Representatives that the Senate is ready to receive the managers for the purpose of exhibiting such articles of impeachment, agreeably to such notice. “2. When the managers of an impeachment shall be introduced at the bar of the Senate and shall signify that they are ready to exhibit articles of impeachment against any person, the Presiding Officer of the Senate shall direct the Sergeant at Arms to make proclamation, who shall, after making proclamation, repeat the following words, viz: ‘All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against ——— ———’; after which the articles shall be exhibited, and then the Presiding Officer of the Senate shall inform the managers that the Senate will take proper order on the subject of the impeachment, of which due notice shall be given to the House of Representatives.” In other words, the Senate rules appear to suggest that the House must appoint managers and notify the Senate once the managers have been selected. Unfortunately, the rules are silent as to when this must occur. Therefore, House Democrats could possibly argue that they are well within their rights to wait to select the managers until such time as certain conditions are met. Of course, this argument isn’t without its potential problems. To begin, Article 1 of the Constitution states that the House has the sole power of impeachment, while the Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments. Therefore, since the House voted to impeach the president, and since the Constitution is silent as to the requirement to name managers, some would argue that the power now shifts to the Senate to try the impeachment case. Clearly, this argument only holds water if the president is truly deemed to be impeached. However, this, too, is not entirely clear in the immediate case because the House has refused to present the articles of impeachment to the Senate. More particularly, some have suggested that for the president to be impeached, two things must occur. First, the House must vote in favor of impeachment (which occurred here). Second, the House must present the articles to the Senate (which hasn’t occurred). Unless both of these things occur, some have opined that the president hasn’t truly been impeached. This is one theory that’s being considered by American Center for Law & Justice Director Jordan Sekulow, who stated on Fox News:The Senate did not consider President Clinton impeached until the House actually voted on the procedure to name its House managers that would then go to the Senate to present the articles of impeachment. So, that’s why you could argue that the president has not actually been impeached.” Unfortunately, there’s very little guidance here. On the one hand, it’s doubtful that the Framers intended for the impeachment process to allow the House to hold a sitting president hostage by way of voting to impeach him and subsequently holding onto the articles as a bargaining chip for an indefinite period of time. This would be unconscionable and would make little sense. If that was the case, Pelosi could, hypothetically, wait until the next election in hopes that the Democrats retain the House and take control of the Senate. As Pelosi recently stated, the president will “be impeached forever. No matter what the Senate does. He’s impeached forever because he violated our Constitution.” On the other hand, there’s nothing in the Constitution compelling Pelosi (the House) to immediately send the articles to the Senate. Pelosi’s decision not to send the articles to the Senate has resulted in various interpretations regarding the legality or constitutionality of this approach. It’s a gray area that the Framers likely hoped wouldn’t happen or possibly didn’t anticipate. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could theoretically assert that the Senate has the right to try the case before the House presents the articles to the Senate or appoints managers, this decision could also face scrutiny. The same could be said if McConnell attempted to revise the Senate rules in order to require the House to immediately select managers and present the articles to the Senate once they are voted on. For example, Democrats could possibly argue that this would violate the House’s right to decide how to present the case to the Senate and who would serve as managers (whether the Senate has to wait for this is unclear). Putting aside the potential constitutional and legal obstacles associated with Pelosi’s decision, her decision has made several things abundantly clear. First, Democratic claims that the president’s impeachment and removal are of pressing concern are simply disingenuous. After all, it’s the Democrats in the House who are holding up the process and who are willingly taking an extended vacation for the holidays. A truly pressing matter would undoubtedly be handled much more expeditiously. Second, the fact that the Democrats in the House have decided not to present the articles to the Senate casts serious doubt about their true intentions from the start. In other words, was the entire impeachment inquiry and vote an effort to smear the president, poison the minds of the American public, and to appease their left-wing base without any intention to present the matter to the Senate for trial? Additionally, Pelosi’s decision bolsters the argument that the Democrats in the House are happy to put their own personal vendetta against the president ahead of what’s best for the nation and for the American public. Not only did they pursue an unconstitutional and partisan impeachment inquiry, they subsequently placed the nation in limbo by deciding to hold the articles over the president’s head for the indefinite future, despite its negative impact on the nation and on the ability of Congress to get real work done for the benefit of the people. While the election is still quite some time away, the American public should remember that House Democrats put their personal interests ahead of those whom they are supposed to serve. They put the nation through a grueling, one-sided, partisan, and divisive impeachment inquiry and subsequently slammed the brakes before the process could be resolved in the Senate.
Read more https://www.theepochtimes.com/author-elad-hakim