Rebel With a Cause

Paul Goldman


Legislator, Heal Thyself


If the General Assembly wants to balance the state budget, it should start with its own bloated finances.


There is a good reason state politicians in Richmond don't want to honestly address Virginia's fiscal and budget debacle. Let me ask you this question: How much do you think it costs to run Virginian's "Legislative Department," state budget lingo for the General Assembly and its operations?

Let me give you a starting point: The biennium budget passed in 1970 appropriated about $3.5 million to run the Legislative Department for that two-year cycle, including money for the Capitol Police.

We started a new cycle this past July 1. So, how much to you think the Legislative Department costs now? According to Virginia's state legislators, they are underpaid and understaffed. So perhaps you would guess the budgeted amount had increased 500 percent -- to $17.5 million -- giving them a small premium above the inflation-adjusted value of a 1970's dollar. But that number is a pittance in today's General Assembly. Legislators now receive more than $4 million just in undocumented and unaccounted-for expenses during a budget cycle.

How about a 1,000 percent increase, bringing the total to $35 million? To put that in perspective, a home that cost $35,000 in 1970 would cost $350,000 today if it had appreciated 1,000 percent, something few Virginian's have been fortunate to experience. But again, not even close.
Two thousand percent? Sorry, still way too low. The right number? The new state budget gives the Legislative Department $119,460,976. And this does not include the other monies allocated for General Assembly members hidden in document's 500 pages of small print.

My on-line calculator says that comes out to a 3,413 percent increase. If this is the budget work of the self-described conservative GOP General Assembly majority, what would happen if the "liberals" were in charge?

To be fair, the Legislative Department includes the Capitol Police, a force that has grown to more than 100 positions and a $10 million budget. It also includes over $19 million for the Auditor of Public Accounts, although that agency does not seem to have been looking at the General Assembly recently, and $6 million in a special fund to defray certain Medicaid and indigent care costs.

These are important state functions. But the cost of running the General Assembly - staff salaries, year-round committee and subcommittee meetings, twice-a-year legislative sessions, expense accounts, the tops-in-the-nation per diem compensation, pensions, year-round taxpayer-subsidized health care for part-time legislators and other perks -- now totals a mind-boggling $52,231,182.

Plus, this does not include the cost associated with researching, drafting and printing thousands of pieces of legislation, even though most are not taken seriously by the General Assembly. Their Division of Legislative Services costs taxpayers approximately $8.8 million.

Despite a Cabinet Secretary of Technology and an entire information technology apparatus in state government, the Legislative Department insists on its own Division of Legislative Automated Services at a cost of more than $6 million per budget cycle.
The General Assembly budget contains roughly $1.35 million for the Virginia Commission on Intergovernmental Cooperation, $1.2 million for the Virginia Crime Commission, $850,000 for the Joint Commission on Health Care, $325,000 for the Joint Commission on Technology and Science, $300,000 for the Virginia Housing Study Commission, $300,000 for the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, even $79,000 for the Commissioners for Promotion of Uniformity of Legislation. Yet other state agencies and commissions focus on many if not most of the these areas.

Clearly, the General Assembly's spending is out of control. And just as clearly, its $120 million budget should be cut by at least 10 percent, which is in line with what the politicians in Richmond say they must cut out of many other state activities. For that matter, the same carving knife needs to be applied to the Offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General.

This irresponsible spending by the General Assembly, both on themselves and their own empire-building, has to stop, either voluntarily or by the exercise of political muscle. Until it does, the public is right in believing the politicians in Richmond can not be trusted with any new state tax revenue.


-- December 9, 2002


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Paul Goldman, the Rebel With a Cause, was chief political strategist for the past two winning Democratic governors in Virginia and was credited with leading a "revolution in American politics" by The New York Times for his role in breaking America's 300-year-old color barrier in national politics.