Cuccinelli opines that taxes and fees can be embedded in the state budget
Just in time for Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to announce his 96 amendments to the state budget, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli authors a legal opinion today indicating that he believes the Virginia Constitution does not prevent lawmakers from embedding taxes or fees into the budget.
This has been a controversial issue in recent years, with many Republicans arguing that the General Assembly cannot write new taxes or fees into the budget without adopting a separate piece of legislation on the issue. They believe such tax increases violate the Virginia Constitution's requirement that legislation address only one topic. The budget, they reason, is a document that appropriates money. How could it legally also call for collecting revenue?
Conservative Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) had requested Cuccinelli's opinion on the issue, given that this year's budget does, indeed, include fee increases.
And, lo and behold, Cuccinelli writes that the budget is constitutional, citing a 2008 Virginia Supreme Court decision. (The plaintiff in the case: Bob Marshall.)
"I recognize that this conclusion may be difficult to accept in light of the plain language of the Constitution," Cuccinelli writes. "Nevertheless, I am constrained to follow the Virginia Supreme Court's consistent interpretation of the single object rule in determining the scope of this provision."
Cuccinelli's ruling came just in time. McDonnell amended the state budget today to include an additional fee increase beyond those adopted by the General Assembly in March. He proposed increasing fines for speeding by $1 per mile over the posted limit.
Marshall said he agreed with Cuccinelli's legal reasoning but continues to believe that it is bad policy to embed tax or fee increases in the budget. He said he will propose a constitutional amendment next year to prohibit the practice.
"I think it's horrible that the legislature gets to hide tax increases behind the budget," he said.
Marshall said he wasn't crazy about McDonnell's amendment on speeding fines, noting that the $1 per mile higher fee would be designed entirely to collect money for the state, not to discourage speeding. "I just don't like doing that," he said.
April 14, 2010; 7:05 PM ET
Categories: Rosalind Helderman
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