The One Object Rule

In his most recent column, “The One Object Rule,” Philip Rodokanakis broaches a fundamental issue in the General Assembly maneuvering over taxes and transportation. The “one object rule” in the Virginia Constitution, he argues, prohibits the General Assembly from passing a budget with yet-to-be-enacted taxes embedded in it. Patrick McSweeney raised a similar alarum in a column a month ago, and House Speaker William J. Howell has raised the issue as well.

Of course, the state Senate insists that passing a budget with taxes baked in, which gives it considerable leverage in negotiating with the House, is perfectly legal. I’m no lawyer. I don’t know. My question is this: Does the “one object rule” prohibit the Senate budget?

According to Phil, someone filed a lawsuit after the enactment of the 2004 budget and built-in tax increase on the same grounds. The case was dismissed on the grounds that it was not “ripe,” meaning that all other avenues for determining the case had not been exhausted. Here’s Phil’s interpretation:

The courts seem to be saying that no one should be held accountable for a possible violation of constitutional prohibitions until after the actual violation has occurred. This absurd legal thinking is akin to saying that the police cannot arrest a person who attempts to murder his victim — until after the murder has been committed.

Phil’s argument make sense to me. But, then, I’m not a legal scholar. Can anyone shed some light?

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4 responses to “The One Object Rule”

  1. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    My recollection is that Bob Marshall and/or Scott Lingamfelter raised the same objection to Marky Mark’s budget two years ago, and it didn’t get very far. ‘Course, the House GOP is demonstrating a lot more testicular fortitude this time around, so who knows?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    It is precisely these sorts of intramural scrimmages that the courts have routinely sidestepped, and the basic constitutional premise is separation of powers.

    The US Supreme Court has traditionally led the way in declining, as a matter of judicial discretion, to referee purely “political” questions, where one branch of government challenges another branch’s exercise of some power. The courts usually view these family feuds as having been rightly decided by the framers to be reserved to the “political” branches, as those wearing robes are above all that.

    Frequently, the court will not expressly say it is sidestepping a political issue, but it will find one or more excuses, such as whether the case is “ripe” (not fully developed and there are other options to address it) or “moot” (may have been a no-no, but it’s over with and nobody was harmed).

    There are always exceptions to any rule.

    As a practical matter, the one-object rule means that a bill cannot include anything that is not stated in its title (“an act to amend, to thus and such, etc”). The purpose of the rule is to avoid legislative surprise like we have in DC, where members routinely vote on mega-bills that contain provisions wholly unrelated to the bill’s primary purpose.

    To me, the House position is that a bill to appropriate funds cannot contain a provision to raise those funds. It may be technically correct. But it seems to me that taxes are more germane to a spending bill than the odd assortment of provisions that are routinely included in the budget bill as language — which has been common practice for decades.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Both delegates and senators of both parties have routinely inserted “language” into the budget. Quiting doing so was one of the reforms the GOP vowed to undertake once they came to a majority. They have succeeded with that reform as well as they have undertaken merit selection of judges, nonpartisan redistricting,and the barring of legislators serving as Commissioners of Accounts (ie: Bill Howell amd Randy Forbes)and appearing before state regulatory bodies (ie Bob McDonnell and Ken Stolle).

    By the way, someone tell Phil: the House budget includes borrowing not authorized by legislation. Glass houses and stone throwing, anyone?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Uh, don’t forget who elects the judges and sets their salary, benefits and retirement….

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