April Fools: Top 6 not-so funny jokes VA pollticians played on taxpayers

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Virginia politicians and bureaucrats have pulled some not-so-funny jokes on taxpayers in the last year.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Virginia politicians and bureaucrats have pulled some pretty unbelievable pranks during the past year, from creating million-dollar bus stops to allowing unelected officials unlimited salaries.

It would all be pretty hilarious — if the joke weren’t on Virginia taxpayers.

In honor of April Fool’s Day, here are the top six costly and not-so-funny jokes Virginia politicians and bureaucrats have pulled on taxpayers in the past year, as reported by Watchdog.org.

1. Illegal, but untraceable welfare transactions

In Virginia, it’s illegal to buy things like lottery cards and booze with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare benefits.

The kicker: Virginia auditors and agency heads — let alone the public — have no way to access or track that data. Virginia contracts with a third-party company, Xerox, to handle the TANF financial details. So, state officials say checking transactions to make sure retailers and recipients aren’t breaking the law — would be against the law.

2. Unaccountable commissions

In an attempt to prioritize the Hampton Roads region’s plethora of transportation projects, Virginia lawmakers decided to hand the task off to a 21-member commission.

The kicker: It sounds like a solution that could help one of the most important backlogged projects move forward faster — except the members of the commission are unelected and executive staff could earn limitless, taxpayer-funded salaries.

3. Outlandishly priced bus stops

People don’t expect bus stops to be pretty. So Arlington County’s new “Super Stop,” although a bit larger than average, may not appear too shockingly out of place.

The kicker: What is shocking about the new “Super Stop,” however, is that it cost taxpayers $1.1 million. What’s even more shocking is the county was planning to build 23 more bus stops just like it — that is, until public outrage stopped the project in its tracks.

4. Bob’s big legal bills

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s media team assured the public time and again that the taxpayer-funded legal fees he was receiving were only paying the legal case involving ex-executive mansion chef Todd Schneider.

The kicker: When Schneider’s trial ended, however, the legal bills kept coming — to the tune of more than $800,000. And with the governor facing a federal investigation into his and his wife’s relationship with wealthy local businessman Jonnie Williams, that didn’t look so good.

5. General Assembly’s ethics … reforms?

When the McDonnell-Williams scandal brewing, lawmakers were forced to fix the state’s broken ethics system.

The kicker: The ethics reform package lawmakers finally agreed on, however, allows some of the same activities that landed the McDonnell family in trouble. The ethics bill caps gifts at $250, but doesn’t apply to things like travel, meals and entertainment.

6. McAuliffe’s short-lived gift cap

In light of the McDonnell scandal, Gov. Terry McAuliffe made good on his campaign pledge and signed an executive order capping gifts to himself and his family at $100.

The kicker: The new governor, however, only gave that executive order a lifespan of one year, as Watchdog.org reported first. His other executive orders last his full term or longer. If McAuliffe doesn’t renew his executive order — we’re still waiting to find out if he will — it will expire in January 2015.

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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