Wednesday, February 16, 2011

UPDATE: From Del. Lynwood Lewis

The General Assembly has gone through the cross-over period and now the House Bills are on the Senate side and the Senate Bills are on the House side for consideration and are working their way through the committee process.

I wanted to discuss briefly a bill that I introduced this year which was laid on the table in Appropriations but which I think has a great deal of merit going forward and that is House Bill 2517, the zero-based budgeting bill. Zero-based budgeting is a budget management tool that provides a means of evaluating operations and programs. While theoretically each departments budget would begin at zero and build from there, in practice it is usually not purely zero-based but rather on the margins around the department or agencys current budget level. However, it does require and provide for a complete review of all aspects and functions of the particular agency. Usually, three or more alternative budgets have to be submitted for each program which make up what are called decision packages in the zero-based budgeting system. At least one of the alternative budgets has to be less than the current budget.

It is paper and time intensive, but it offers a thorough efficiency and results-based review of the way we budget our tax dollars. It also offers greater transparency on the budgetary decision making process.

While the Appropriations Sub-Committee which heard my presentation on the bill, which had two Republican co-sponsors, seemed very sympathetic to the notion of zero-based budgeting, it is a significant and fundamental change in the way Virginia constructs its budget. Therefore, the matter was "laid on the table" for this Session. I have learned in my time here in Richmond that many worthy ideas and practices begin with the planting of a seed which, in time, takes root. I am hopeful that the concept of zero-based budgeting will eventually take hold in Virginia, and hopefully I can be a part of bringing that about.

The Commonwealth received some good news last week with a continued increase in state revenues yielding an additional $152 million for our state's two-year budget period. The Governor, wisely, has asked the legislature to put the money in the state's "rainy day fund" and also to make payment towards the debt owed to the Virginia Retirement System and to eliminate the accelerated sales tax program, which was really a budgetary gimmick used to close the states revenue gap last year. Revenue from individual withholding taxes increased by 5.2% while the estimate had been for an increase of 3.4%. This is apparently due to a rebound in small business hiring.

The Senate and the House have both released their budget amendments to the Governor's introduced budget amendments. As is typical, they are at odds and will be reconciled by a committee of conference which is made up of legislators appointed by the Senate and House. This group of legislators will work long hours in an attempt to negotiate and finalize amendments to Virginia's two-year budget plan.

I will be in Richmond until Saturday, February 25 when the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn at 12 noon. It is important that I hear from the people that I represent. Please do not hesitate to contact me while I am in Richmond at (804)698-1000 or by email at or by mail at Delegate Lynwood Lewis, P.O. Box 406, Richmond, VA 23218.

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