the movie "My Cousin Vinny," the New York
attorney played by Joe Pesci is initially out of his
league when trying to argue his first case in the
Southland. The same seems to have been true for
Republican Vinny Callahan, the powerful chairman of
the House Appropriations Committee, in his first
2003 budget battle with Republican Finance Committee
Chairman John Chichester.
As legendary sportscaster Warner Wolf use to say:
Let's roll the videotape. Yesterday,
"Maximum" John told the clerk of the
Senate to cut the upper chamber's budget by 15
percent, according to a Jeff Schapiro story in the
Richmond Times Dispatch. This is the biggest cut
ever proposed by lawmakers to their own perks,
pensions, expenses and other privileges. Yet four
days ago, writing in the Washington Post, Mr.
Callahan and his fellow House Republicans took an
entirely different approach to the demand the
General Assembly rein in its out of control
"We read with amazement Paul Goldman's attack
on Virginia's General Assembly ["Statehouse
Spendthrifts," Close to Home, Sept. 22] ... For
fiscal 2003, the General Assembly budget is $53
million out of a general fund budget of $12.6
billion -- less than one-half of 1 percent of the
total -- a lean amount to provide the necessary
checks and balances on a vast executive
Vinny was reacting to the analysis and demands in my
printed in papers and on Web sites around the state,
detailing a 3,000 percent growth in General Assembly
spending in the period discussed in the Callahan
So compare: Chichester agreed with me and called for
a 15 percent cut. But The Washington Post response
from Callahan et al. did not list a SINGLE DIME in
cuts they were prepared to make. NOT A PENNY.
Rather, they said Virginians should feel lucky they
didn't charge more for their legislative duties.
Admittedly, House Republicans held a press
conference not long ago in response to my article.
They said they were considering cuts of about 1.2
million in their budget, although it was not clear
whether this amount was on a yearly basis or over
the two year period of the state's biennium budget.
This GOP response is totally out of touch with
fiscal reality. The state budget is a wreck, its
financial foundation crumbling under the weight of
the recklessness of those running things in Richmond
in the recent past.
According to Mr. Chichester's protege, Secretary of
Finance John Bennett, the state budget faces a
deficit likely to approach $2 billion.
For sure, this John-John tag team probably puts
Vinny and his House mates at a disadvantage in the
So it is possible Mr. Callahan does not yet
appreciate the need for the state's political
leaders -- the ones who got us into this fiscal mess
-- to lead by example and show that their call for
"shared sacrifice" is not aimed at
everyone but themselves.
Mr. Chichester has finally admitted the obvious:
General Assembly spending is out of control, as this
author has been maintaining for years and that the
time has come to cut, if not to ax, their growing
perks, pensions, expenses and empire building.
"Everything is on the table," said Senate
Clerk Susan Schaar in terms of how the Senate would
operate on itself budget-wise. "Physician, heal
thy self" goes the old expression and it
applies to the General Assembly.
As for Mr. Callahan saying I had "attack[ed]"
the General Assembly, this will surely come as a
surprise to the leading Republican newspaper in
Virginia, as it has praised my efforts over the
years to rein in the General Assembly spendthrifts
and recently credited me with forcing the governor
and the General Assembly to get serious in cutting
out the political spending in the current state
Moreover, Mr. Callahan might want to note that
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw,
also now favors the 15 percent reduction in the
General Assembly budget. In terms of leading by
example, House of Delegate Democrats have proposed
cutting the General Assembly spending by far more
than Mr. Callahan and the Republicans.
So budget round one goes to Mr. Chichester.
Eventually, I believe Mr. Callahan will rethink is
position, especially as he realizes how shrewd
"Maximum" John has been on this first
budget battle. Sen. Chichester knows the Finance
Committee staff and J-LARC, the General Assembly
unit that investigates spending in state government,
will suffer the least from his budget cuts. Why?
Because money is power in Richmond, and to the
extent the Senate or General Assembly weakens its
ability to understand money matters, they basically
Thus, Sen. Chichester realizes his Committee will
stand to gain power, in relative terms, after the 15
percent ax falls. Eventually, Mr. Callahan will
realize the same parallel truism applies to his
power as head of the House Appropriation Committee.
At the end of "My Cousin Vinny," Joe Pesci
leaves town a wiser man, having won his case and the
girl of his dreams.
So don't write off Vinny Callahan and the House
Republicans yet. Moreover, if they can emulate Mr.
Pesci, and get Marisa Tomei to come to their rescue,
then they will surely play to a packed house at the
October 28, 2002
(c) Copyright. All rights reserved. Paul Goldman.