Fiscal Review Director Resigns. Rep. Mark White Cites “Tension.”
Jeff Spalding announced he was leaving as the state’s chief Fiscal Review guru, less than 9 months after he took the job. Joint Fiscal Review chairman Mark White said there was “tension” between some of the lawmakers and Spalding. In this case, RTP speculates “tension” is nothing more than a euphemism for Spalding being asked to essentially lie through his teeth to come up with bogus numbers leadership needed to kill bills they disagreed with.
Anyone with half a brain knows that leadership and committee and subcommittee chairmen like Mike Harrison, Charles Sargent, Mark White, etc. regularly used the fiscal note as a bludgeon to kill legislation they didn’t like – especially legislation that likely would pass if the entire legislature got a chance to vote on it. More often than not, controversial and dubious fiscal notes are produced with no one claiming or accepting responsibility for having requested them. It’s a tactic people like Harrison learned at the knee of Jimmy Naifeh.
Big fiscal notes are then used to kill legislation outright or as an excuse to put a bill “behind the governor’s budget” – an almost certain sentence of death.
Abusing the fiscal note is a slimy, dishonest and underhanded tactic, using highly questionable criteria, sometimes created out of thin air and within hours or minutes of when it is needed to kill legislation that leadership doesn’t like. RTP has exposed the practice before (See “Lies, Damn Lies and Fiscal Notes”). In that article RTP suggested that then-Fiscal Review Director Lucian Geise might want to get his resume updated. In fact, Geise was gone less than 9 months later, replaced by Spalding, who lasted a mere 6 months.
A great example of how it’s done was the open carry gun bill sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss a while back. He got his bill out of subcommittee, and then magically, overnight, a ludicrous $100,000 fiscal note gets attached to his bill. The Van Huss bill’s fiscal note was almost comical in its reasoning: It claimed the state would have to reprint permit cards to reflect the new privilege of open carry. And just where did the anonymous $100,000 calculation come from? It was obviously pulled right out of leadership’s butt.
One of the more notorious examples of fiscal note abuse by the leadership was a Hall Income Tax bill by Rep. Billy Spivey. For weeks, his bill carried a nominal $50,000 fiscal note. One afternoon, his bill got put on notice to be heard the next day. Then at 3:00AM (as in the middle of the night) someone anonymously had the Finance Review staff put a $5 million fiscal note on Spivey’s bill – an astronomical increase. Hours later, the bill was defeated with the excuse that it just “cost too much money.”
What’s more, leadership has for years blatantly ignored or twisted their own rules on fiscal notes. Fiscal notes are supposed to be calculated and attached to a bill shortly after a bill’s introduction or being placed on the calendar, to give legislators time to research, consider, discuss and/or dispute the note and the merits of the bill. That rule is rarely followed and many bills not favored by the leadership are jerked around and slapped with a B.S. fiscal note at the last second.
RTP also reported on this phenomenon: (“Let’s Get Fiscal”). We are nothing, if not thorough.
We will likely never know for sure if Spalding resigned over such shenanigans, but what is clear is that the fiscal note process is regularly used to cheat the process and to deny the voters the right to have legitimate floor votes on legislation.
Word is Speaker Harwell is going to replace Spalding with some former Enron accountants who are now out of prison and looking for work. Or maybe one of the bean-counting geniuses at Lehman Brothers?
Any way you add up the numbers, count on the taxpayers to get screwed.