long are voters going to let politicians get by with
empty promises about lock-boxes and guarantees? Both
Republicans and Democrats are guilty. Sooner or
later, there must be a day to hold these politicians
voters were asked in 1987 to approve a
state-operated lottery, the promise or inducement
was that the profits would be spent on public
education. That didnít happen. Lottery
proceeds were used for all sorts of other purposes.
So the voters demanded the only thing that would
guarantee that the lottery proceeds would be spent
on public education and nothing else ó a
General Assembly can enact laws as it chooses unless
the Constitution of Virginia has a provision
restricting its power. (State legislators are also
restricted by federal laws in certain respects.) The
General Assembly can repeal or amend any state law
at its pleasure, regardless of what was promised
when the original legislation was enacted.
should be thankful that we hear less and less from
members of Congress about a lock-box for Social
Security taxes. Absent a constitutional amendment to
create one, it is legally impossible for members of
Congress to guarantee that Social Security taxes
wonít be used to balance the federal budget for
purposes other than funding Social Security
retirement benefits. While there is less of
this misleading talk of guarantees as to how taxes
will or wonít be used at the federal level,
Virginia politicians continue to indulge in it. Some
of that talk is causing political discomfort for the
Governor and members of the General Assembly as they
struggle to balance the state budget.
embedded in Virginiaís law is the constitutional
principle that individual legislators and even the
legislature as a body canít bind themselves to act
or to restrain from acting in a certain way in the
future. Even side agreements legislators enter among
themselves to gather support for certain legislative
proposals canít prevent them from taking whatever
action seems appropriate in the future.
principle means that a statute ó no matter how
absolute its language and how solemnly legislators
promised not to modify it when they enacted it ó
can always be repealed or amended.
Gov. Mark R. Warner scrambles to fill the current
$1.5 billion budget deficit, he has to survey with a
fresh perspective the spending decisions made in the
past in light of the limited sources of state
revenue. Not all commitments made in the past ó
even as recently as the last session of the General
Assembly ó can be honored. Something has to give.
is especially painful because the 2002 session of
the General Assembly already reversed commitments
made to the voters about earmarking certain taxes.
It diverted approximately $317 million of sales tax
revenues from the Transportation Trust Fund, which
is established by statute, to address the $3.8
billion deficit it confronted when it dealt with
putting together the current biennial budget. Those
tax revenues had been dedicated by a 1986 statute to
the construction and maintenance of state highways
and other transportation facilities.
should be more circumspect when they talk to the
voters about assuring through statutory language
what will happen in the future. Nothing they include
in statutory language will prevent a future General
Assembly from repealing or amending that statute.
Voters need to understand that.
Sept. 23, 2002