The General Assembly has a long history of funneling money to non-state entities in direct violation of Section Article IV Section 16 of the Virginia Constitution. For years members of the General Assembly brazenly proposed bills to unlawfully appropriate taxpayer money until an opinion of the Attorney General in 20111 pointed out this was legally indefensible. Of course, the allure of buying votes with taxpayer money is hard for those with potentially situational morals to withstand, so a different avenue for unlawful diversions of public money had to be used.
It’s called “the budget.”
The budget is an absolutely wonderful avenue for someone to purchase political favors with your money, as the formation of the budget is done in relative secrecy and usually the public isn’t informed of what is actually in the budget until it’s passed, in homage to the kind of politics Nancy Pelosi is so famous for. This year the public gets a whopping 48 hours we’re told to review the conference report, which represents what the various budget committees have hammered out behind closed doors and pretty much represents the final compromise. If you were inclined to read all 579 pages, plus hundreds of amendments, and contact your legislator to object to something, your chances of being able to influence a change is just about nil unless you happened to discover something like a back-door way to implement medicaid expansion or something.
The budget process in Virginia represents the worst of legislative trickery. A few powerful senior members of the General Assembly exercise near-dictatorial control over what happens, they do so shrouded in secrecy, there’s no meaningful public debate over what it contains at all, and it influences public policy in ways far beyond what normal legislation might ever achieve. There’s also no opportunity to speak of to object to what’s in it or advocate for changes to it. Of course that’s where unlawful behavior happens. Nobody is going to raise a constitutional question about the budget, since just about everybody has some pet project embedded in it where they inserted a special favor to some interest group funded with your money and they can’t put that in jeopardy.
Perhaps you want to fund charities that have as their primary purpose facilitating the movement of illegal aliens into our communities? Senator Chuck Colgan added $200,000 on page 310 of the budget for that. Or maybe you want to give $10 million to a private college to start a program that will probably get plastered with your name. You can thank Senator Tommy Norment for that one. Perhaps your fancy is to give taxpayer dollars to select businesses that you have connections with that are already receiving federal tax dollars to begin with, but it’s not enough for your tastes. Sen. Jennifer Wexton is who you thank for that, to the tune of $350,000 on page 100. It’s bipartisan, bicameral theft and you get to fund it.
Someday there will be someone who figures out who has legal standing to sue the Commonwealth and force it to comply with the Constitution. You’d think all of us, the ones footing the bill for all this corruption would have that legal right, but the law doesn’t always make sense in that way. If any public interest law firm out there is interested in pursuing this, I bet it won’t be hard to at all to find plaintiffs. I’d be more than happy to be one.
1: Ken Cuccinelli wrote that opinion, which is curiously not available any longer on the website of the Attorney General of Virginia. I guess that’s an indication of how useful it would be to have current Attorney General Mark Herring take a look at this.
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