Below is our interview with House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R-8, Salem). We submitted the questions to him via e-mail and he replied and returned them to us. Here it is in its entirety — as the questions were submitted and as his answers were written.
Familyfoundationblog: Mr. Majority Leader, thank you for agreeing to do this interview! You are the first member of the leadership of either party or chamber to agree to an interview at familyfoundation.org.
The House, for years, has passed, often with huge bipartisan majorities, many of our priority pro-life, pro-family bills. Thank you for your leadership and the caucus’ resolve in those matters. With that ground covered, so to speak, we thought we’d ask you about some other issues. We, and our readers, are looking forward to your answers and greatly appreciate your participation. Hope we haven’t built up expectations and the pressure. …
Familyfoundationblog: What big issue or reform would you like to see the caucus embrace and lead the General Assembly in passing? For example, SOQ reform? A taxpayer bill of rights? Budget reform? Real estate tax reform? Or something else entirely?
Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: In the long-term, it is the budget that poses the greatest challenge for us. Simply put, some key core services are growing at an unsustainable rate. With its budget doubling over the last decade, Virginia is among the top five states for spending growth. Unfortunately, it will probably take a strong Republican governor, one committed to thoroughly reexamining the role, size, and scope of state government before this can be successfully addressed.
Familyfoundationblog: The House Republican majority has decreased over the last few cycles. Why is the GOP losing seats and how does the caucus plan to reverse the trend?
Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: Explaining why we’ve lost seats is complex, but the short answer is a combination of changing demographics in some parts of the state, the national political climate, and an inconsistent campaign operation overall.
We are preparing for an aggressive campaign to reclaim seats, and I have been concentrating my efforts on lining up strong candidates in Republican-leaning seats we do not currently hold. I am encouraged by our early work on this, and I think we’re going to have some very exciting contests this year as a result.
Familyfoundationblog: Last session Delegate Ben Cline’s (R-24, Amherst) online spending transparency bill, which would have put the budget online in a Google-like, user-friendly format, so an average Joe could look up any state expenditure, did not make it out of sub-committee. Several states have adopted such an online budget. We think budget transparency is important in general to generate public trust of government, but also to shine the sun on some nefarious groups that get state contracts, such as Planned Parenthood. What do you think the chances of passing such a bill are this session? Will it be a priority of the leadership? Most Virginians favor this and some think the GOP has ceded the issue for the Governor to carry out on his own.
Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: This year, the House approved Delegate Cline’s Budget Transparency Bill (HB 2285) by a vote of 99 to 0. We have passed budget transparency measures previously (the issue has long been a priority of Senator (Walter) Stosch (R-12, Henrico), and former Delegate (Michelle) McQuigg spearheaded this effort in the House). As Chairman of the FOIA Commission, I know all-too-well that Virginia’s government needs to improve the user-friendliness of its reforms and transparency measures.
Familyfoundationblog: The Standards of Quality formula is a big concern for many Virginians because it is antiquated and either needs massive reform or needs to be scrapped and re-fashioned from scratch for a student-based, more efficient education funding system. This would save hundreds of millions of tax dollars that could be re-prioritized. Do you see an opportunity to address this at some point in the near future?
Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: No. I don’t believe the prospects for any substantive government reform in any area are promising under the current administration.
Familyfoundationblog: Everyone is curious now about the leadership’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision on the regional transportation authorities. Did you agree with the decision and did you think it is a good one?
Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: The Court’s decision was well-reasoned, and there were some aspects of it that did not come entirely as a surprise. For legislators, though, the decision was frustrating. The bill that left the General Assembly would have complied with the Court’s requirement that an elected body would have to impose the taxes. The Governor’s amendments changed that aspect, and it was those amendments the Court struck down.
This was not the first time that a portion of HB 3202 fell into disfavor because of the Kaine Administration’s amendments. The controversy over abusive driver fees was largely fueled by the public’s rejection that the fees applied only to Virginia drivers. This was not the case when the bill left the General Assembly. The Kaine Administration made that alteration. In that case, the change was not disclosed in the Administration’s briefing to the General Assembly on its amendments to HB 3202.
Familyfoundationblog: Are tax and fee increases the only things lawmakers are looking at? Why not make real cuts and/or prioritize tax dollars out of the General Fund toward transportation funding if it’s that much of a crisis?
Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: Actually, the House passed a bill during last year’s Special Session that would do just that, dedicating the growth of current revenue stream — income from Virginia’s ports — directly to transportation. The Administration and the new Democrat Senate majority would not consider any measure that would increase the revenue flow to transportation without increasing taxes. This year, Delegates (Glenn) Oder (R-94, Newport News) and (Dave) Albo (R-42, Fairfax) have made significant improvements to that bill (HB 1579), and the House approved it by a vote of 67 to 31. But as long as the Democrat Senate majority and Governor Kaine insist on tax increases, the prospects for real progress on transportation are seriously diminished.
Familyfoundationblog: Perhaps one of the most talked about moments — and certainly one conservatives relished — of last session was on January 24, when you forced the vote on a couple dozen Democrats who refused to vote on one of their own member’s bills, a bill that would have allowed public employees to bargain collectively (see video here). You made our blog’s Quote of the Day for that! So, please take us through that:
Were you expecting the Democrats not to vote and prepared to force their vote? Or was this a spontaneous reaction? All they had to do was vote present to avoid this, right? Also, many have asked us why did you not record their vote in the affirmative to put them on record for public employee collective bargaining? What other insights can you provide our readers on this rare parliamentary event?
Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: The House Rules are very specific on this. If a member is in their seat but not voting and another member points that out, their vote must be recorded in the negative. This same motion was the first rules motion I made as a second-year delegate in 1995. We were in the minority then and I wanted to learn the rules thoroughly. Now every time there is a tough vote to take, I’m on the lookout for members hiding form the vote. An abstention would have prevented the challenge.
Curiously, the Democrats got over their shyness about expressing their support for collective bargaining later in the session. We ultimately got a vote on this issue, as the Democrat majority in the Senate passed a similar measure. At that point, they went on the record, with an overwhelming number of their caucus voting for an expansion of collective bargaining.
Familyfoundationblog: Mr. Majority Leader, thank you very much for your time during this especially busy period during the General Assembly. We greatly appreciate it and hope you enjoyed answering these questions, and hope you will join us again in the future.
Majority Leader Morgan Griffith: Thank you. The Family Foundation plays a vital role during each General Assembly session, providing members with much-needed information and a well-grounded perspective on the issues that are vital to Virginia’s families. I know our members greatly appreciate the hard work you do on behalf of the families of Virginia.