Archive for February, 2009

Crossover Day

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Today was Crossover, the day the falls midway through each session when all bills in the House have to make it to the Senate to survive, and vice versa. Those bills that didn’t make the cut are now marked as “Failed” throughout the site, and there’s a whole mess of ’em.

The Explainer: Fiscal Impact Statements

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

There’s a little link that you might see in the sidebar of some bills: “Fiscal Impact Statement.” It sounds boring, but it’s actually pretty interesting, and well worth looking at. Just about any bill that the legislature’s staff figures is going to cost money or save money gets submitted to a nonpartisan review process to estimate how much money we’re looking at.

To look at one bill that’s popular on Richmond Sunlight, consider Del. David Englin’s Indoor Clean Air Act, which proposes to ban smoking in restaurants. The Department of Planning and Budget issued a fiscal impact statement for that bill. They figure the bill will affect the Virginia Department of Health, the Department of Medical Assistance Services, and all localities in the state. They don’t see that it’ll cost the health department any more, so it shouldn’t cost anything. And anybody caught smoking in a restaurant will have to pay a $25 fine, so that’s money coming in…but they’re not guessing how many people will end up having to pay up. So there’s no net dollar value in this impact statement, which is too bad—it’s great to be able to put a dollar value on a bill.

Another bill getting a lot of attention is Del. Bob Marshall’s opposition to the REAL ID Act, which proposes that the state refuse to participate in the federal government’s efforts to establish a national standard for identification cards. DPB’s impact statement is a bit more specific on this one. The state is set to spend $5.2M annually to comply with REAL ID, so that would be some immediate savings. But Virginia would also lose out on a lot of money: “The revenue impact of this bill likely would be much higher than its impact on expenditures, but it is impossible to quantify the revenue impact precisely.” If state agencies can’t comply with federal standards, DPB figures they’re likely to lose federal contracts, probably worth a lot more than $5.2M. Also, it would result in about 200,000 commercial drivers losing their Virginia licenses, since they wouldn’t meet federal standards, which DPB describes dryly as having a “negative impact on commercial activity in the Commonwealth.”

There’s some really good stuff buried in fiscal impact statements. If you want to know whether a bill is a good idea, check for that “Fiscal Impact Statement” link in the sidebar and give it a read. Many of them conclude that it’s impossible to determine the impact, but many contain some real gems.