A Hole in the House Budget Numbers

Critics have pointed out a problem with the House of Delegates budget projections, and this time I have to agree. Scott Leake, executive director of the Senate Republican Leadership Trust, puts it this way in today’s critique of the House budget:

“The House budget depends on over a half billion dollars on increased driver fines and fees, 590.2 million to be exact, over the next four years. The Senate expects less than half that amount.

“There are serious misgivings over whether that massive amount will ever materialize. Will low income and youthful drivers be able to comply? And can fees be imposed on actions made before a law is passed? We’ll see.”

Phil Rodokanakis raised that last point in his column today (“Taxing Drivers“). House Bill 527 would increase fines on drivers based on the number of points on their Division of Motor Vehicles driving records. But that amounts to fining someone ex post facto — making someone pay penalties for driving offenses he may have committed before the law was passed! A big chunk of the House’s anticipated revenue could be subject to legal challenge.

Additionally, motorists aren’t going to twiddle their thumbs while the state slaps them with huge fines. As an anonymous Bacon’s Rebellion blogger commented, with more to lose, more motorists will hire lawyers to dispute their tickets — and some will win. The state cannot extrapolate revenue based upon previous patterns based on low fines. Another downside: state police will spend more time testifying in court, less time handing out tickets.

I have to agree with Leake on this one: The senate revenue projections look more responsible than the Houses’ on this particular issue.

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14 responses to “A Hole in the House Budget Numbers”

  1. gfsegal Avatar

    However, Leake’s “fact check” needs a check of its own. He only tells part of the story when he highlights that the House spends less (frankly not a bad thing given how fast the budget is growing). His format suggests that the House is cutting the budget – rather, the House does increase the budget for each of these categories, just not as much as the Senate want to. Only in government budgeting is this deemed a cut.

  2. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    So the Senate takes in $200m less in one year than the House. Let’s say it is $250m. Then what falls off the plate? What can’t be funded? If you can’t name it, you can’t claim it.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I vote for eliminating from the future funded projects all roads within a few miles of Poquoson. JAB says all is perfect there anyway.

    And I concur that it is truly saddening, even sickening, to see Republicans using the tactic I call “Reagan Cuts” against each other. I’ve called it that for years in honor of the first major victim I remember, President Reagan, who proposed spending increses smaller than the liberals wanted only to be accused of “cuts”. There is an honest point to be made if the proposed increase either falls behind inflation or behind the growth in people served (say a 2 percent school budget increase in response to a 5 percent enrollment growth). But in most cases the proposed increase is more than adequate, just less than desired.

    And to call that a cut just stinks. This initial ally of the Senate side in this argument has been put off by that tactic.

  4. Virginia Centrist Avatar
    Virginia Centrist


    Are you saying that more drivers will make use of traffic lawyers?

    Isn’t Dave Albo, the chief proponent of this initiative, a traffic lawyer?

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Anyone who thinks that raising the traffic fines will raise significant revenue on which the state can reliably base a program has been drinking “joy juice.”

    There are millions–if not billions–of unpaid traffice fines in this state. And you say “Well, we’ll revoke their licemses?” How many people are driving now without licenses? This is akin to a “voluntary tax.” Some will pay, many won’t. Another bad idea.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Virginia Centrist, You are correct, Dave Albo defends people charged with driving under the influence and other traffic violations. From thewebsite of the Albo and Oblon law firm:

    We Have the Experience to Aggressively Represent You

    Our firm’s Traffic Law section has experienced lawyers who aggressively defend these serious cases. The section leader, David B. Albo, served as a Fairfax City prosecutor for three years before devoting his full time to private practice. Three other attorneys are former prosecutors, as well. Some of our lawyers teach DUI defense law to other Virginia lawyers at leading Continuing Legal Education programs. Most recently, Albo & Oblon’s innovative DUI and traffic defenses have been featured in editions of Virginia Lawyers Weekly and The Washington Times. Some of the firm’s lawyers have also appeared in the national broadcast news.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous 9:59 raises another interesting issue. Are there, in fact, “millions” of unpaid traffic fines in Virginia? Does anyone collect that information? Where would we go to find it?

    What are the repercussions of failing to pay traffic fines? Can someone, in fact, lose their driver’s license? How many people have lost their licenses for failure to pay their traffic fines?

    Will an increase in the level of fines result in more people driving without licenses? If so, what will the repercussions of that be?

    The idea of turning traffic fines into a revenue stream could be a classic case of a law with unintended consequences.

  8. Anon (:59 Avatar
    Anon (:59

    Mr. Bacon, you may ask the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia.

  9. Anon 9:59 Avatar
    Anon 9:59

    Let me add that the provisions of HB 527 try to bypass the provision of the Virginia Constitution which provides that “..all fines, forfeitures and remittances” shall be paid into the Literary Fund. It gives the Commissioner of the DMV the right to assess a higher fee on license renewals for those who have accumulated a certain level of points through traffic offenses.

    Is it constitutional? Well…maybe although there may be debate about not doing indirectly what is prohibited directly.

    But leaving that aside, think about the “uninsured motorist” fee that is required to be paid by those who are not insured. There are numerous drivers who simply ignore this provision of the law. What about “habitual offenders” who drive notwithstanding the legal prohibition that they not do so? The general public tends to regard driving as a right not a priviledge and feel no compunction to pay a high price for the perceived right.

    A system of taxes and “non avoidable user fees” is going to raise the revenue needed for a transportation program.

    The House “plan” isn’t a plan. It is a two year stop gap after which we’ll find ourselves back in the same old soup.

    It will longer than two yeas to deal with our transportation needs.

    By the way, I’m not connected in any way to the construction industry. I’m a citizen from Western Virginia and I know that a “regionalization plan” is going to nail us to the wall out here!

  10. Scott Leake Avatar
    Scott Leake

    Annon 8:55 – I’m sorry you did not have access to my original text. I was careful not to call the differences “cuts” for precisely the reasons you raise.

    My statement read, “There can be a meaningful policy debate over what spending items are needed, necessary and vital or not. However, there is no getting around the fact that the House budget spends significantly less than the introduced budget or the Senate budget in a number of areas.”

    The larger point I was seeking to make is that the House is able to infuse more cash into transportation for the next two year (but not threafter!) by issuing new debt to the tune of over $550 million for capital projects for which the Senate primarily spends cash.

    Back to your “cuts” concern, you are correct. Does the Senate spending plan go beyond “adequate?” One small example: Western Va. Community College has a newly renovated science building devoted maily to cotinuing education. The introduced budget and the Senate budget provide $1.2 million for lab equipment. The House budget strips it out. What good, I ask, is an empty building? Is the House budget “adequate” on this point?

  11. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Scott Leake: Nice try on the poster children – Community College example. You’re leaving out info.

    – Do you have a wish list from Western Va Community College?
    – What are all the differences for that college between the Senate and the House?
    – Need to see the whole budget for the college to see if they can’t pay for the lab equipment with existing funds. What was their plan? When did they make it?
    – Did the college not plan for the equipment to be purchased – except by a special and additional grant of money from extra taxes pushed on us by Republican Senators?

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Guys, you are wrong on ex post facto. It only applies to criminal penalties. Civil fees, fines, etc. do not fall under that umbrella.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Since people have started to personally attack me, just wanted to drop a note. First, all of us have jobs. The House pay is $17,640/yr. That won’t make the house payment. And my job is that of an attorney
    Second, we can fix the ex post facto problem on points with a delayed effective date to give people notice. Third, “ex post facto” is a term used in criminal law. This is not a criminal law issue. But I understand what people are talking about. Fourth, Mr. Leake’s comments that the House and Senate use different #’s for what the Abuser Fee bills will raise does not note that the Senate Bill and the House Bill are very different. That’s why the revenue estimates are different. Finally, the Senate is trying to raise your gas taxes, so why is everyone dwelling on this “Abuser Fee” issue? I don’t quite understand why no one is yelling at the Senate for raising your gas tax. Be that as it may, we can agree to disagree on the Abuser Fee, but your comments on the charges being levied for points that people have on their records prior the effective date of the law are good ones and we can fix it.

  14. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Anon: ‘no one is yelling at the Senate for raising your gas tax?’ I may not be yelling, but I writing and speaking against it. So are other Conservatives.

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