commonwealth of virginia, community development, economic development

 Volume 03 • Issue 16 August 9, 2004 





Totally fried

Just The Tip of the Dipstick

Higher gasoline prices hurt, but the big problem isn't OPEC -- it's the total cost of car ownership, made onerous by the fact that Virginians drive 40 percent more than they did a generation ago.



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Fill up your gas tank lately? I pumped 15 gallons into my Jeep Cherokee a couple of days ago. With “regular” running nearly $2 per gallon, it cost me nearly $30. Fortunately, I drive less than 10,000 miles a year, so a tank lasts me longer than it does most people.


All told, Virginians consumed about 4.9 billion gallons of gasoline in 2002, the most recent year for which Department of Motor Vehicles has compiled figures. Consumption, which has increased relentlessly every year since 1982, is undoubtedly higher this year. That means, at $2 per gallon, Virginians now are spending about $10 billion annually on gasoline. If crude petroleum prices move higher, as they very well might, Virginians could be looking at $2.50-per-gallon fuel in the not-too-distant future. Such a price hike would take another $2.5 billion in spending power out of our pockets.


There’s been a lot of loose talk among politicians about how to counter this threat to our standard of living. Get tough with the Saudis. Drill oil in the Arctic. Tap the strategic oil reserve. Research hybrid fuels. But there’s one thing that no one ever discusses, and it’s the root of the problem. No one has the guts to tell the American people, “Stop driving so damn much!”


Consider this: In 1973, Virginia motorists drove 12,231 miles on average. After eight years of conservation brought on by high oil prices, coinciding with a recession, Virginians managed to shrink their driving to 10,146 miles on average – a reduction of 17 percent. But then we threw our travel habits into reverse gear. By 2001, according to DMV figures, vehicle miles traveled per motorist had surged to a record 17,050 – an increase of nearly 40 percent!


Any guesses why we’re driving so much more? Try this: Three decades of suburban sprawl have forced Virginians into automobiles for every trip they take and separated their scattered destinations by ever increasing distances.                                   More >>


Doug Koelemay

Koelemay's Kosmos

Broad Horizons in Nano Tech


Could Virginia be where the metal rubber meets the polymer road?


The latest economic news has been very good from the Commonwealth’s technology center in Northern Virginia. After shrinking more slowly than other sectors from 2001 to 2003, tech employment growth again is driving job creation up (2 out of every 3 new jobs in Virginia are being created in Northern Virginia) and unemployment down (to 2 percent in Northern Virginia). Economist Christine Chmura sees technology-related wages and salaries in Northern Virginia rising over nine percent in 2004 and another nine percent in 2005 to total about $5.5 billion.


The technology-driven future for Virginia, then, appears to be bright. And since the future is where we are going to spend most of our time from now on, that is a good thing. But what about sectors other than software and information technology that anchor Northern Virginia’s tech economy? What about other regions? Will a new age dawn, as Don Henley sings, on fewer than expected? And what is the public sector’s role in all this?


First, remember some of the differences between the old economy and the so-called new economy, now that the new economy is back. In the old economy, Virginia’s economic development strategy was to attract companies from other states by selling itself as a cheap place to do business. Low taxes, low wages and geography were advantages for manufacturing and transportation. Investing in a high-quality environment -- education, health care, water resources, etc. -- was optional, because doing so might require taxes or regulations on businesses that more than anything were cost-conscious.


In the new economy, however, flexibility, adaptability and a willingness to embrace change began to define successful regions. Service companies and jobs exploded in places rich in ideas and talent and companies moved into regions with amenities and large pools of educated people. Information and communications became drivers. Return on investment, not the costs of inputs, drove new investments. Governments, businesses, universities and non-profits partnered in those regions to build new, diverse communities.  

                                                 More >>


Patrick McSweeney

The VEA Shows its Hand


The teachers union wants it all: $1.5 million per biennium from tax hikes plus the $1 billion a year Gov. Warner claims he can save through greater government efficiency. 


The Virginia Education Association was obviously animated by my commentary last month criticizing two members of the Virginia House of Delegates for supporting a huge state tax increase this year. The teachers’ union circulated talking points to encourage and guide responses to my column.

Had an elementary school student written these talking points, he or she would have been admonished for being non-responsive, but the VEA doesn’t operate under the usual standard. Its talking points made no effort to address the central point of my criticism.

The point of my column was that a tax increase this year could not be justified if the $1 billion in spending reductions Gov. Mark R. Warner has repeatedly claimed can be implemented are real. The two delegates, Chris Jones, R- Suffolk, and Preston Bryant, R-Lynchburg, never bothered to verify Warner’s claims. It’s time someone did.  


As members of the House Appropriations Committee, Jones and Bryant were well aware of these claims.  Both voted for a House resolution asking the Governor to provide information about the spending cuts he had been claiming for more than a year to have identified. When Warner failed to respond after two months, these two delegates decided to organize a coalition of delegates to push a tax increase that will cost Virginians more than $1.5 billion over the next two years.  

                                                 More >>


E M Risse

The Shape of the Future

Media Myopia


Articles and editorials in Virginia's newspapers consistently obscure the origins of traffic congestion and legitimize the special interests that benefit from raising taxes/building more roads.


The public responsibility to provide mobility and access is on the road to chaos. The question is: Who is leading the charge to inform citizens so a new, more intelligent strategy can be adopted? We have seen that it is not governance practitioners, either elected or appointed.  It turns out that it is not the media either.


This is the transportation story so far:

  • Mobility and access are essential if citizens are to be prosperous, safe and happy. The current strategies to provide mobility and access are tragically flaws. These strategies are perpetuated by myth and fraud. ("Self Delusion and Fraud," June 7, 2004.)

  • Current mobility strategies kill 10,000s every year and are the major cause of dependency on foreign oil and balance-of-payments deficits, as well as air and water pollution. ("Death and Taxes," June 21, 2004).

  • All citizens hear from the public officials responsible for mobility and access is that they need money. When voters say, "no," to tax increases, governance practitioners turn to private "partners". ("The Perfect Storm," July 12, 2004.)

  • Many different tactics will ease gridlock temporarily, but only Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns and a balance between transport system capacity and travel demand will put Virginians on the path to sustainable mobility and access. ("Out of Chaos," July 26, 2004).

All this makes for an easy to tell, straight-forward story. Why have the media been so dead set against telling it?

                                                  More >>


Barnie Day

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

What We're Up Against

Virginia faces a $100 billion - with a "b" - shortfall in transportation funding over the next 20 years. What do our presumptive gubernatorial candidates have to offer?


“Transportation is education. Transportation is health care. It’s how you get there and how they get to you. Transportation is access to recreation. It’s what brings everything we ate for breakfast, what we put on today.”


-- Virginia Transportation Commissioner Philip Shucet, The Free Lance-Star.


Let’s round a number off so that it is nice and tidy.  One hundred billion dollars. It looks like this: $100,000,000,000. That’s over $13,000 for every man, woman, and child who calls Virginia home. That’s the size of the transportation funding shortage we’re facing in Virginia over the next 20 years.


This one is not going to go away. The needs have been studied and documented to death. The facts are pretty stark. There is very little disagreement across the political spectrum on what these needs, these facts, are.


Over the next six years, we have identified construction needs of approximately $600 million dollars — projects already in the state’s Six-Year Plan — and $22 million that we can spend. And what is the general reaction to that fact? The Virginia legislature stripped funding OUT of the plan this year. And voters in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia roared ‘NO!’ to regional transportation tax increases last year.

                                                More >>


Barnie Day

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Paging Paul Harris


The Democrats unveiled a new African-American superstar, Barack Obama, at the national convention. A Virginia Republican, Paul Harris, could be his match.


If George Bush, Karl Rove & Company are smart — and some days there is evidence that they are — they will put Virginian Paul Harris front at center at the National Republican Convention. The former member of the House of Delegates from Charlottesville is the only — the only — black Republican in America who can hold his own with Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois who stunned a national audience at the Democratic National Convention.


The ideology that drives him aside, Harris is just as dynamic, just as skilled a public speaker, as Obama.  And his story is just as compelling. If the Republicans are serious about holding onto the three or four black votes that they have nationally now, they’ll be getting Harris limbered up. It will take someone of his ilk and abilities to go toe-to-toe with these sentiments from Obama:


“My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shard an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me the African name, Barack, or “blessed,” believing that in a tolerant America, your name is no barrier to success.”  

                                                     More >>


Michael Thompson

The Jefferson Journal

Keep Regulators' Mitts

off Telecom


Everyone wants to stimulate investment in telecommunications technology and broadband infrastructure. Free markets will do it best. 


Virginia is a leading force in technology and telecommunications in our country and throughout the world. Most email traffic passes through Northern Virginia. Our state government technology efforts are recognized as among the best.


Now Virginia should lead the way in bringing the wonders of the Internet to all our citizens as quickly as possible. Success in this endeavor will add significantly to the growth of our economy in the immediate years ahead.


The development of free markets around the world has shown that keeping government controls and regulations at a minimum spurs tremendous economic growth. This limited role of government put American business at the top of the world market. We must continue to keep the role of government regulation in check. Nowhere is this truer than in telecommunications.


The telecommunications sector is the key to bringing communities across Virginia into active participation with the changing world economy. As telecommunications changes, grows and morphs in ways that we could hardly have imagined a few years ago, government is trying to figure out how and whether it should intervene.  

                                                 More >>


Guest Columnist Becky Dale

Copyrighting Public Records


Can state and local governments copyright their own public records? The idea may sound crazy, but a General Assembly committee is studying that very issue.


These truths we hold self-evident…" Thomas Jefferson in writing the words of the Declaration of Independence down on paper created an "original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression." Could he have claimed copyright for it?


The Continental Congress made a few amendments to Jefferson's draft. In making amendments and thus creating a derivative work, would the Congress have infringed on his copyright? Could Jefferson or the Congress have demanded royalties from the newspapers and broadside publishers printing the Declaration?

"That's absurd," you may say. "The Declaration of Independence is a public record. Public records can't be copyrighted." Governmental bodies, however, are claiming copyright in public records.                          More >>


Guest Columnist Donn Dears

Just the Facts, Ma'am


Ever wonder about the claims made by environmental groups? TSAugust, staffed by volunteers, sets the record straight.


Environmental issues affect everyone and have a significant effect on Virginia’s economy, but environmental news is often inaccurate or misleading. Peddled by extremists and organizations with an axe to grind, much of the news about the environment is merely regurgitated by reporters who are short on time and in need of an interesting story.


Nothing is more frustrating than reading an article yet knowing that the contents are factually inaccurate.


This frustration led to the establishment of a nonprofit, TSAugust, whose sole mission is to bring factual information about the environment and economic growth to Americans using the Internet. The quirky name was selected to make it easy for people to remember the web address, The name itself is derived from “The Second of August” which is when most delegates signed the Declaration of Independence.                               More >>


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Jim Bacon, an insurrectionary with a pen and a keyboard, applies his critical eye to government, public policy, economic development and community revitalization in Virginia.

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In This Issue...




Koelemay's Kosmos: Broad Horizons in Nano Tech


Patrick McSweeney: The VEA Shows its Hand


E M Risse: Media Myopia


Barnie Day: What We're Up Against


Barnie Day: Paging Paul Harris


Michael Thompson: Keep Regulators' Mitts off Telecom


Becky Dale: Copyrighting Public Records


Donn Dears: Just the Facts, Ma'am




Pundit Watch


Readers Respond





Pundit Watch


by Will Vehrs


Top Politicos

Taking Flak


In an attempt to jump-start the slow news month of August, pundits were either chronicling attacks against Virginia’s top politicians or making charges themselves.


Attorney General and presumptive 2005 GOP gubernatorial nominee Jerry Kilgore has had his hands full fending off controversies in both Richmond and his native Scott County. Margaret Edds of the Virginian-Pilot reviewed the “distractions — some niggling, some serious.” She doesn’t believe the long-running eavesdropping scandal or the Election Board contretemps in Scott County threaten Kilgore’s standing in the Republican Party, but it doesn’t make his “autopilot” road to coronation “universal.”


Gov. Mark R. Warner has been flying high since the tax-raising end of the General Assembly, taking leadership of the National Governors Association, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, and being identified as a “rising star” in Newsweek.  Suddenly, from out of these cheery blue skies, Gregg Easterbrook of The New Republic identified Warner as the poster boy for the “government waste” practice of using private planes instead of flying commercial. Virginia’s governor got a waiver to fly into Reagan National Airport 46 times since September 11, 2001, far surpassing the 26 flights of the next most prolific user, Georgia’s Republican Governor Sonny Purdue.  Easterbrook, a specialist in environmental issues, charged that “the new private jets being sold every year equate to three times the petroleum waste and greenhouse-gas emissions of the new Hummers being sold each year.”  

                      More >>




Readers Respond


Andrew F. Flores: Wake up, Mr. Day!


Stephen D. Haner: A Happier, Safer Time? In Your Dreams


Deb Arrington: Whose Good Deed Never Goes Unpunished?


Rob Jackson: On the "Network of Space"...


Gordie Ziegler: Free Trade and "Unlimited Wealth"


Jesse Dolan: Separate Marriage from Civil Unions



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