Transparency is the basis of an open, democratic government. As Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” For the past two sessions (2010 and 2011), I have sponsored legislation to bring more transparency to the budget process and Virginia’s economic development incentives.
As a result, the General Assembly money committees now issue reports concurrently with the conference budget report to identify any non-state appropriations and other items that were not included in the original budget bills passed by either the Senate or the House, and measures that represent legislation that failed in either chamber during the legislative session.
Budget items are commonly inserted into the conference report at the last minute – items which members have never considered, or, in some cases, have rejected. The lack of documentation and accountability for slipping in special “earmarks” fuels cynicism about the process.
The Commonwealth would benefit from more transparency in its economic development efforts. Any business entity receiving public subsidies for the purpose of economic development, and recipients needing tax credits, should demonstrate how the subsidy creates jobs or economic growth. A bill I sponsored led to the creation of a Commission on Tax Preferences that will produce a report soon on this issue.
I co-wrote an opinion essay with my colleague, Republican Delegate R. Lee Ware of Chesterfield discussing the issue of Virginia’s tax credits. You can read it here.