of Virginia government has gone up more than 3,400 percent in 30 years
me make a friendly challenge while you read this article: start trying
to guess how much it costs to run the "Legislative Department"
as the General Assembly and its operations are known in state budget
line item lingo.
The biennium state budget passed shortly after Linwood Holton became the
first Republican governor in 1970 appropriated around $3.5 million to
operate the "Legislative Department," including the money for
the Capitol Police then not included in this part of the budget.
So I ask you: What do you think has been the increase in the
"Legislative Department" budget in the past 30or so years?
Most people would guess 500 percent. This is understandable. I mean: How
many Virginians working in the 1970s have had a 500 percent rise in
their incomes in the past thirty years? Not very many.
Let me see: 3.5 million times 5 would equal 17.5 million.
Sorry, but that number isn't even close to actual budget appropriation.
According to the new state budget, General Assembly leaders say they
would have to shut down the State Legislature if that is all the funds
they were given. A tempting thought no doubt, but that's for another
Fact: Right now, General Assembly members receive more than $4 million
in undocumented and unaccounted-for expenses ALONE during a budget
So please, check that blood pressure: I don't want anyone having a
stroke while reading this column.
Your next guess, please:
$35 million? This would translate into a 1,000 percent increase in the
Let's put that in perspective. If you bought a home in 1972 and it cost
$35,000, then a 1,000 percent increase would make it worth $350,000
This is surely not the experience of most people in Virginia.
Sorry: but again, this isn't even close.
This would equate to a $70 million price tag for the General Assembly
and their Legislative Department.
That's a lot of money, enough to get you a cushy spot on the list of
Virginia's 100 richest families.
But still way short. The right number: According to Item 24, on page 17
of the State Budget approved on May 7, 2002 by Gov. Warner, the total
cost of the "Legislative Department" is given as $119,460,976
dollars. Naturally, this does NOT include any other money the General
Assembly is hiding in other parts of the budget, a document over 500
pages of small print and buried political expenditures.
This equals a 3,000 percent percent increase. Actually, my online
calculator says 3,413 percent. But let's use 3,000 percent, as it is an
easy to remember round number.
At their spending rate, it will not be long before we can call every
member of the General Assembly the $1,000,000 man -- or woman -- as the
case may be. Move over Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner, TV's six million
dollar man and woman.
I ask you: If this is the budget work of the self-described
"conservative" GOP majority in the House of Delegates, one can
hardly imagine what they think would happen if "liberals" were
running the State Legislature.
But to be fair to these wild spenders, the Legislative Department
consists of several different agencies, such as the Capitol Police
force, which has grown to a cost of more than $10 million a budget cycle
and more than 100 positions. In addition, there is the Auditor of Public
Accounts, responsible for financial compliance audits, although clearly
he has not made one of the General Assembly recently. His operation
costs more than $19 million. Additionally, there is a budget line item
for a Senate Discretionary Fund of more than $6 million that goes to pay
for certain Medicaid and indigent care.
These are important state functions. But at the same time, the state
budget says that the cost of running the General Assembly -- the staff
salaries, the growing number of year-round committee and subcommittee
meetings, the two annual state Legislative sessions, the record high
expense accounts and per tops-in-the-nation per diem compensation, the
pensions, the availability of year-round taxpayer-subsidized health care
for part-time legislators, and the like -- now totals an incredible,
mind-boggling $52,231,182 of the people's tax dollars.
Moreover, this does not include the cost for researching, drafting and
printing the thousands of pieces of legislation submitted by legislators
each year, even though most are not taken seriously by the General
Assembly. The State budget puts the cost of this Division of Legislative
Services at approximately $8.8 million when you deduct the money in this
budget which goes for increased building maintenance at the General
Add those two budget line items together and you get a total in excess
of $60 million.
Despite the existence of a Secretary of Technology in the governor's
Cabinet, and an entire information technology apparatus in the Executive
Branch, the state budget says the Legislative Department also has it's
own separate Division of Legislative Automated Services at a cost of
more than 6 million per budget cycle.
The Legislative Department budget also contains roughly $1.35 million
for the Virginia Commission on Intergovernmental Cooperation, nearly 1.2
million for the Virginia Crime Commission, about $850,000 for the Joint
Commission on Health Care, around $325,000 for the Joint Commission on
Technology and Science, roughly $300,000 for the Virginia Housing Study
Commission, nearly $300,000 for the Virginia Freedom of Information
Advisory Council, even $79,000 for the Commissioners for Promotion of
Uniformity of Legislation.
I mention these entities because there also exists in state government
numerous other agencies and commissions, to say nothing of individuals,
also focusing on many if not most of the these areas. Clearly it is
possible to combine some of these entities and thus save a substantial
amount of money to be used to protect the delivery of essential
Conclusion: General Assembly spending is out of control. I am not alone
in this thinking either. Last week, Lt. Gov. Kaine announced that he was
not going to take the $32,400 made available to his office every budget
cycle for the supposed "reimbursement" of expenses: money
given to the lieutenant governor without his having to document any such
Kaine should be applauded for his precedent-setting act of fiscal
responsibility and accountability. A close reading of this budget item
also says the Speaker of the House of Delegates likewise gets this same
amount of undocumented expense money. But to date, Speaker Bill Howell
has not said whether he will follow the lieutenant governor's example.
Atty. Gen. Kilgore has announced that he will now be the first attorney
general to only take money for documented expenses, and thus reject the
way the legislators take money allocated for reimbursed expenses without
providing any proof that they did in fact have such expenses.
Mr. Kilgore should also be praised for taking this unprecedented step.
Gov. Warner has announced that instead of hiring someone to fill the
vacancy created by the resignation of his policy chief, he is going to
assign her former duties to the counsel to the governor. He, too,
accepts the premise that I and others have advocating: there is plenty
of opportunity to merge functions. This will save money, and improve
Bottom line: The General Assembly's $120 million budget can be cut by 10
percent or more, roughly the size being talked about by the state's
Secretary of Finance in terms of average line item budget cuts for many
other state activities.
In that regard, the same amount -- in my judgment -- can and should be
cut from the nearly $4.9 million allocated to operate the governor's
office, the $850,000 given to the Office of Lieutenant Governor and
roughly 48.5 million in the budget for the attorney general.
It would be a terrible mistake for the politically powerful to believe
they can exclude themselves from carrying their fair burden of the
"shared sacrifice" they say is necessary.
Copyright. All rights reserved. Paul Goldman. 2002