Category Archives: Budget

The Koch’s Bizarre Meddling in Chesterfield

koch brothersBy Peter Galuszka

The Koch brothers are back in the bucolic suburban tracts of Chesterfield County.

This time, their national group, Americans for Prosperity, has launched a robocall campaign to oppose a proposed real estate tax hike of 4.6 cents to help pay for $304 million renovations to schools or perhaps hire more teachers to bring classroom sizes back to pre-recession levels.

It’s apparently the second time that Americans for Prosperity have been on their case in Chesterfield. Last year, the hard-right group sent out bizarre “report cards” to ordinary citizens bashing them for not registering to vote.

In one famous local case, a recipient was actually a registered and active voter and greatly resented the idea that a multi-million dollar national outfit like the Americans for Prosperity was trying to monitor his personal business.

This time, Sean Lansing, the group’s Virginia director told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the goal is to “educate” residents on the issues, as if they are too stupid to understand local tax and classroom size problems that they probably know far better than some AEP appartchiki.

Chesterfield has caught itself in a bind because it hasn’t raised real estate taxes since 1990 despite its brisk growth rate. Voters in November voted down a 2 percent meals tax that could have raised money for schools. Henrico County voters, by contrast, narrowly approved a 4 percent meals tax and thus have no budget crisis that another tax hike is needed to resolve.

Admittedly, one of Chesterfield’s problems is bad planning. The staunchly Republican county has a long history of being very friendly to developers. Consequently, the county is in a constant service “catch up” mode. Need schools, such as Cosby High near some of the county’s largest residential developments, was already way overcrowded before it was finished a few years ago.

What is puzzling is what the Koch brothers are so interested in Chesterfield. It is hardly an election battleground. There is no strong Democratic or other opposing party. Yet with consummate arrogance, this cabal believes that residents need robocalls to “educate” them.

“Educate” them for what? If you want good schools and other services, someone has to pay for them. And as a Chesterfield resident for nearly 14 years, I can attest that taxes here are considerably lower than other places I have lived as an adult (Washington, New York, Chicago, suburban Cleveland, etc.).

McDonnell’s U.S. 460 Debacle

va_route_460_improvementsBy Peter Galuszka

Towards the end of his term, former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his transportation chief, Sean Connaughton, bulldozed through a dubious project that would build a superhighway from Suffolk to Petersburg along the path of old U.S. 460 in southeastern Virginia.

Few understood the urgency of such a project, which involved a public private partnership that Virginia so loves. Mayors in Tidewater cities questioned it. Some scratched their heads as to why it was rolling forward without environmental permits.

Well, now it has come to a screeching halt. Some $300 million has been spent on the 55-mile-long road that will cost a total of $1.4 billion. Not on shovel of earth has been turned. The new administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe has pulled the plug on it for now.

US 460 Mobility, the PPP3 type firm pushed by McDonnell to proceed with the fast-track plan, did not return phone calls to the Richmond Times-Dispatch after Transportation Secretary Aubrey L. Layne Jr. announced the temporary halt.

At issue are permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other issues. Normally, such matters are dealt with before the state commits to a road. This apparently fell by the wayside because of the public-private partnership deal, Layne said.

How odd is that? Why did the McDonnell administration zoom forward with such a deal?

He certainly laid the public relations groundwork for it. I wrote a story about a year ago in Style Weekly noting that Chmura Economics & Analytics, a Richmond forecasting firm hired by the state, “predicted a massive boost in jobs and investment: $7.3 billion in economic impact through 2020. Besides 4,295 temporary construction jobs, the project would support 14,120 other new jobs. These include 4,730 jobs in Hampton Roads linked to greater port activity and 689 jobs at the 40 service business — at least four for each of the highway’s nine interchanges — that would accompany the new thoroughfare.

“The bulk of the remaining jobs — 8,415, more than half of the predicted number — could come from advanced manufacturing or automotive factories that might locate at industrial “megasites” in Isle of Wight and Sussex counties.”

But when I looked at where and how these jobs might be created, the numbers started to slide. It was all very murky and much in the future.

Connaughton tried to sell the project by saying the new superhighway was needed to handle extra truck traffic hauling ocean-going containers that would swamp the Port of Hampton Roads as the Panama Canal was expanded. He also said that Tidewater needed a second evacuation route if a monster hurricane loomed.

Del. S. Chris Jones, a Suffolk Republican, says he’s very concerned about how this all happened. He says he wants to “figure out how this could happen, who was responsible for the contract and what we do going forward.” The next forum comes April 23 when Layne and VDOT Chief Charles Kilpatrick brief the House Appropriations Committee which is headed by Jones.

The big takeaway here is how the state and its business elites rush forward with Public Private Partnership road projects as a way to fast track and sidestep financial and impact problems. There’s been a tremendous amount of cheerleading about PPP on this blog. It is time to settle down, take a deep breath and reconsider.

In other words, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Calculate ROI on Pothole Repairs, Too

potholeby James A. Bacon

Del. Christopher Stolle’s transportation-prioritization bill (described here) has passed the House of Delegates and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Transportation. The bill would create a methodology for prioritizing the expenditure of transportation funds, including such factors as congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, and environmental quality. Given the fact that it has stirred no controversy, passing the House 97 to 0, it appears that the bill has a good chance of being enacted into law.

While the Senate still has a chance to amend the legislation, it should take the opportunity to add one more factor to the mix: the cost of deteriorating roads on Virginia motorists. If the goal is to create economic benefit to Virginians, then one benefit would be to reduce the wear and tear of potholes and ailing pavement on vehicles — a sum that The Road Information Project (TRIP) says costs Virginians $1.4 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs, or $264 per motorist.

To get an idea of how significant that is, compare it to the estimated $5.2 billion-a-year cost of traffic accidents (medical costs, lost productivity, travel delays, insurance costs and legal costs) in Virginia, and the roughly $2.4 billion-a-year cost of traffic congestion (time wasted, extra gasoline consumption). Damaged roads may be the least of the three but it’s still a biggie.

Now consider that, according to TRIP, 22% of Virginia’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition. The implication is that additional investment in upgrading the condition of Virginia streets, roads and highways would reduce the damage that motorists incur. Currently, the commonwealth spends about $1.8 billion yearly on road maintenance. Let’s say, for purposes of illustration, that by spending an extra $500 million a year on maintenance to bring roads up to tippy-top standards the Commonwealth could save motorists $1 billion a year in lower repair costs. That would represent a two-to-one cost benefit ratio. It would be hard to argue that such an investment should not be made — as long as the money invested comes from motorists themselves, not the general public.

Conversely, one could argue that if cutting maintenance by, say, $100 million resulted in an increase of only $50 million in statewide repair costs, the Commonwealth would do well to cut that spending, suck up the resulting deteriorating in road quality and spend the money on something that provides more economic bang for the buck.

I have no way of knowing which case is the more plausible, and I doubt Virginia’s elected officials and policy makers do either. The point is, we need a methodology for estimating the Return on Investment of maintenance dollars just as much as we need it for estimating the ROI on new construction projects. If better-maintained roads yields more benefit to the public than a new highway, light rail line or traffic-light synchronization, we should spend the money on better maintained roads. Likewise, it’s possible that we’re spending more on maintenance than we should. In either case, we can make better decisions if we know what the heck we’re doing.

Update: Here’s the latest VDOT data on the state operations & maintenance program. The condition of Virginia’s secondary roads, primary roads and Interstate highways all continued to improve in 2013.

Keep ‘em Poor; It’s for the Best

minimum-wages-around-the-worldBy Peter Galuszka

The think tanks are spinning their lines now that Congress is considering raising the federal minimum wage.  A Democratic proposal would hike the level from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016, putting more money in the pockets of 27.8 million people.

As The New York Times points out this morning, think tanks and other professional navel gazers are coming out with the pros and cons of doing what seems to be a no brainer. One Employment Policies Institute in Washington  claims that hiking the wage would increase poverty and unemployment.

Not reported, the Times notes, is that the think tank is run by a P.R. group paid in part by the restaurant industry which has a vested interest in keeping wages low.

So, I guess it is no surprise that on Sunday’s “Commentary” front page in the Richmond Times-Dispatch  is a piece making pretty much the same argument. It was written by A. Fletcher Mangum, managing partner of Mangum Economics in Richmond, who also advises the governor and General Assembly.

Mangum argues that raising the wage is a bad idea because, “If politicians want to help the least fortunate among us, knocking an unlucky number of them into employment is simply not the best way to do it.” Virginia is one of 19 states that follows the federal minimum wage as its own. Twenty states have higher minimum wages and four have lower rates and (of course) are all in the South.

Mangum’s logic is keep ‘em poor because they are more hireable that way. Mangum offers no other economic argument, but that should be no surprise since he’s writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch whose editorial policies tend to represent the Capital’s monied classes and business interests. It was this way when the Bryan family owned the TD and hasn’t really changed with Warren Buffett.

Now I have been an editor and actually used to handle the first reading of some economic opinion pieces like this. If I had been at the keyboard, I would have demanded a higher altitude argument than improving wages will hurt the poor because if you increase the price of something people automatically buy less of it.  One could make a similar argument as justification for usury, penury and slavery that way, but I don’t edit the TD. I do know that Richmond and Virginia in general are rather short on economic forecasters.

The New York Times, which is somewhat more sophisticated than Richmond’s daily newspaper, on the same day refuted conservative arguments that hiking the minimum wage only hurts the lowest working classes. “The weight of evidence shows that increases in the minimum wage have lifted pay without hurting employment. . . ,” the Times says.

But that doesn’t stop conservatives from claiming, as Mangum does, that raising the minimum wage prompts less employment or that it will push up prices for goods. “Those arguments are simplistic,” The Times says.

I tend to agree. The bigger issue facing this country is dealing with the disparity in income and larger gulf between classes. CEO pay has skyrocketed to obscene levels over the past decades while CEO performance has hardly matched it.

Yet there are plenty of people out there, such as Mr. Mangum, who seem to want to keep people making less than $15,000 a year by arguing disingenuously that it’s really the best they can hope for.

The House Proposes Overhaul in Allocation of Transportation Dollars

congestionby James A. Bacon

In September House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, gave a major policy speech to the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce declaring that money alone cannot solve Virginia’s transportation problems. He called for a “new way” to think about those problems that relies heavily upon new technology and prioritization of projects by Return on Investment.

Part of the promised legislative package came to light in a bill filed by Del. Christopher P. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. in which the Commonwealth Transportation Board, acting in cooperation with regional organizations, shall develop a process for prioritizing funds allocated under the Six-Year Improvement Program.

There are two critical pieces to the reform. First, funding categories shall include highway, transit, rail, roadway, technology operational improvements and transportation demand management (TDM) strategies. While technology projects have been getting more funding in recent years, there still is a bias in the Virginia Department of Transportation to increasing capacity by building new roads and adding new lanes. The bill potentially puts technology and TDM projects on an equal footing.

The other breakthrough is the methodology used to rank priorities. States the bill: “The prioritization process shall be based on an objective, quantifiable analysis that considers at a minimum the following factors relative to the cost of the project or strategy: congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, and environmental quality.”

The CTB may assign different weights to the factors based upon geographic location and other factors. Small pots of money — air quality funds, state matching funds and the like — are exempt.

The bill was expected to win approval by the House of Delegates some time today.

Bacon’s bottom line: I’m not so naive to think that these reforms will totally take the politics out of transportation funding decisions. I’m sure the special interests will have a lot to say about the factors and weights that go into the ranking methodology, and I’m certain they will make the case that certain projects are so unique that they should be exempt from this review altogether. Still, objectively quantifying the touted benefits of projects and calculating the Return on Investment for each should be a real eye-opener. When it can be demonstrated that a politician’s pet project offers fewer benefits per dollar expended than competing projects, it will be a lot more difficult to push it through.

This reform likely would divert money from splashy, high-visibility mega projects to smaller projects with more localized impact but a higher ROI. The new methodology also is likely to steer more money into technology and TDM programs, which have gotten short shrift in the past.

Presumably, the CTB would build upon the ranking methodologies already under development in the Secretariat of Transportation, so we won’t have to wait for years until the new prioritization process is approved. This bill is unlikely to generate one one-hundredth of the visibility that Governor Bob McDonnell’s transportation tax overhaul did but it is every bit as important. Virginians can be assured that their money will be better spent.

Hmmm. Tastes Like Chicken.

eating_crowTime to eat crow. The tax assessment numbers are in for Henrico County, and they are disappointing indeed — up only 2.8% from last year. (I blogged about Chesterfield’s assessment results yesterday.) I had suggested that soaring home sales prices would give a much bigger boost to the tax base, obviating the need for a 4% meals tax. The number was slightly higher than the 2% percent that the county administration had budgeted, but not enough to close the county’s perceived long-term budget gap.

So, kudos to the county administration for getting it right.

This still doesn’t change the bigger-picture narrative I advanced about Henrico County — the county cannot continue doing business as usual. I do not buy the false alternative that local governments have no choice but to raise taxes or cut services. The county manager took a small step in the right direction recently when he proposed disposing of excess property, a move that would simultaneously lower operating expenses, increase the tax base and strengthen the county’s balance sheet. But that’s just a start.

Henrico County needs to get serious about exploiting the potential of the “smart city” revolution criss-crossing the globe. The county needs to move more aggressively to urbanize selected parts of the county to bolster its tax base with higher-yielding, lower-costing development. And it needs to take greater advantage of the burgeoning revolution in online learning. In the final analysis, the meals tax is an $18 million blip on a billion-dollar budget. It’s a temporary patch. It’s also over and done. Let’s start thinking about longer-term reforms.

– JAB

Henrico’s $6 Million Surprise

bestproducts

Photo credit: Times-Dispatch

When last we heard from Henrico County officials about the parlous state of the county budget, we were told that it was necessary to impose a 4% meals tax because there was no other way to balance the budget without raising taxes or gutting the school budget. Tax foes argued that the county would not need the $18 million in meals tax revenue if it cut expenses instead. One of the strategies mentioned we mentioned was selling excess county real estate.

County officials disputed our arguments and got their meals tax referendum past the voters, but look what’s happening now! The county has announced its intention to sell the old Best Products Co. headquarters site, which it had purchased in 2011 for $6.2 million with an eye to turning it into a county-government facility. After some study, according to the Times-Dispatch, county officials concluded that the cost of configuring the facility as a county building wasn’t worth the cost.

It turns out that the complex has been costing the county about $150,000 a year to maintain. The county has been foregoing about $70,000 a year in tax revenue by taking the property off the tax rolls. Voila! Selling the property will yield an instant $220,000-a-year budget gain! Oh, yes, the county also expects the property will sell for as much or more than it paid.

And there’s more savings where that came from. According to the T-D:

As his recent State of Henrico County address, County Manager John A. Vithoulkas outlined a commitment to minimizing the county’s stock of unused buildings. He pointed to a former library and a former fire station, currently on a lease-to-own program with groups in the community.

“If we have assets, as a county, that are not in use, that are fallow, if you will, we are (going to put) them into use,” he said.

Questions that Henrico citizens should ask. On the one hand, it’s good to see that the county administration is making efforts to reduce the cost structure of county government. On the other, this incident does not inspire citizens to trust that government. Why did the county wait until three months after the election to release this information?

One cannot help but wonder if county officials sat on the information for political reasons — it would have undermined their case that Henrico had no alternative but the meals tax to raising property taxes or cutting school spending. It’s not absolutely clear from the T-D story when a decision was made to dispose of the property, but it appears to have been some time ago. States the T-D: “The county awarded a $400,000 contract for a study of its space needs and of how to use the Best building. It quickly became clear that it wouldn’t be cost-effective to renovate the building, so county officials shut down the study.” (My emphasis.)

Questions: When did the county shut down the study? When did the county put the property back on the market? What other magic tricks will county administrators pull out of their hats? Stay tuned…

MBUFs and Value Capture asTransportation Financing Tools

focus_area_oneby James A. Bacon

A common challenge for every state is finding the funds to expand the transportation system to serve a growing population and economy. Virginia endured a grueling debate last year over former Governor Bob McDonnell’s proposal to shift much of the burden to the state sales tax. Other states have made a similar choice.

The problem with taxing retail sales to pay for transportation is that it demolishes the user-pays principle, with the consequence that there is no longer an objective criteria for allocating funds. Predictably, the pot of transportation dollars is now up for grabs, as evidenced by a slew of bills in the General Assembly that would have the effect, directly or indirectly, of limiting the flow of dollars to mass transit. Greater Greater Washington, which has a round-up of the bills here, framed the issue this way: “Was last year’s transportation bill a bait and switch?” 

Anti-transit proponents can rightfully claim that mass transit is uneconomical and totally dependent upon subsidies. Of course, transit advocates can advance the identical argument about roads. Virginia’s system is so riddled with subsidies and cross-subsidies that virtually nothing pays its own way and every funding decision becomes a political slugfest because no mechanism exists (a) to prevent transfers of wealth from one constituency to another or (b) to ensure that transportation dollars are funneled to projects that offer the greatest economic payoff. 

That’s why Smart Growth America’s new publication, “The Innovative DOT: a handbook of policy and practice,” is so welcome. In the first of eight focus areas, the handbook explores new mechanisms for funding transportation projects. If we can figure out how to make different transportation modes pay their own way in Virginia, we can dispense with a lot of politics and focus on putting money to work where it will do the most good.

While the handbook points to several states that have tapped sales tax revenue to fund transportation, I find two other alternatives preferable. One is Value Capture. The other is the Vehicle Miles Traveled tax.

Value capture. The premise behind Value Capture is that transportation improvements create economic value and represent a windfall gain to property owners lucky (or shrewd) enough to own land in the right location. Those landowners should help pay for the value created.

New transportation improvements such as transit stations, roadway networks, or interchanges add value to nearby properties, but while anyone can use those new facilities, all users do not share equally in the added value they produce. …Value capture offers and equitable means of recouping value from the private sector in proportion to the benefit received from transportation improvements. Applied correctly, value capture is narrow and targeted. It is generally not only palatable to, but often supported by, private property owners because they receive a direct and tangible benefit from their investment.

Value capture techniques take many forms, any one of which may be the most advantageous for a particular situation. Generally speaking, the one that makes the most sense to me is the Transportation Benefit District (or Special Assessment District). Property owners benefiting from a transportation improvement create a special tax district to generate revenue to pay off the bonds that finance construction of the asset. Property owners willingly accept the tax surcharge because they know the new transportation asset will create more than enough value in the form of higher rents and leases to pay for it. If property owners balk because insufficient value is created, that’s a good sign that the project is economically unjustifiable and should not be built in the first place.

Mileage Based User Fee (MBUF). One can debate around and around who should pay for new construction, but a bedrock principle of transportation financing is that drivers should pay to maintain roads and highways in direct proportion to which they cause wear and tear on roads and highways. With virtually all cars equipped with GPS positioning devices, there is no technological barrier to capturing how many miles a car travels in between trips to the gas station and collecting the tax at the pump.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has allocated $1.86 billion in its Fiscal 2014 budget for the maintenance of all roads, highways and bridges in Virginia. A tax equivalent to 2.6 cents per mile would cover that entire cost plus the six percent-of-revenue that SGA says it would cost to administer the tax. Two-and-a-half cents is a trivial percentage of the 56 cents per mile that the Internal Revenue Service estimates it costs to operate a vehicle. Moreover, adopting an MBUF would allow the state to eliminate the $600 million it anticipates collecting from motor fuels taxes, $639 million from the retail sales tax, $233 million from motor vehicle licenses and $131 million from insurance premiums, with more than $250 million left over to cut the motor vehicle sales tax by one third. Continue reading

Federal Transportation Funds Running Short? Try Local Innovation.

Innovative_DOTThere are two ways to respond to the shrinking federal budget for transportation projects: You can whine and mewl and curse the injustice of things, or you can look for other ways to cope with the country’s transportation challenges. Smart Growth America (SGA) has chosen the latter course, publishing “The Innovative DOT: a handbook of policy and practice,” which systematically explores alternatives to the old tax-and-build paradigm. This handbook covers ways to allocate existing revenues more efficiently, enact pricing strategies, adopt system efficiencies and integrate transportation and land use — the very things that states and localities should have been doing all along.

As SGA asks, “Could state DOTs provide better service for less money?” To pose the question is to answer it. “States and their departments of transportation (DOTs),” states the handbook, “are reevaluating and retooling traditional practices to ensure that those practices continue to provide users with a robust, economically beneficial transportation network.”

Insofar as necessity is the mother of invention, the impending contraction of federal transportation funds actually may prove to be a good thing. The Handbook doesn’t recommend which strategies to pursue. But it does lay out the array options available to state and local policy makers, and provides case studies of how different states, regions and communities made them happen. As SGA makes clear, every state is different. Not every option is suitable for all 50 states. But state officials can learn from what others are doing.

There is too much densely packed material to summarize in a single blog post. For details, I refer you to the handbook itself. However, there is such a treasure trove of information that, as time permits, I will explore several handbook themes in future posts with an eye toward defining policy options appropriate for Virginia.

(Full disclosure: Smart Growth America sponsors the Bacon’s Rebellion blog.)

– JAB

The McDonnells and Their Apologists

maureen_and_bob(1)By Peter Galuszka

It seems bizarre to balance news of the worst political corruption scandal in the state’s history and efforts by bloggers and commenters on Bacons Rebellion to dismiss it all as “everyone does it.”

The apologia is getting a little too hot and heavy here. One famous blogger wanted to smack former governor Bob McDonnell on the backside of the head, implying they are closer than brothers and that’s all what he really needs as punishment for doing the bidding of his greedy wife.

What’s being lost here is that the indictment of the McDonnells is a huge turning point in Virginia political history. It means that the old noblesse oblige manners dating to when the state was ruled by a rich and exclusive cabal of white men has long since vanished along with the idea that the “Virginia Way” means serious ethics rules are not necessary.

Big news, this.  It’s not 1920 anymore and hasn’t been for nearly a century. The Old Dominion has emerged into a completely new state where top politicians are born elsewhere (George Allen, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Terry McAuliffe and even Bob McDonnell).

Rather than drawing from landed gentry the leadership comes from rich, self-made men, such as Warner who amassed $200 million or more in the cell phone and IT business or McAuliffe who built a fortune in various businesses. The other recruiting ground is service, including military, mayor, prosecutor or attorney general (Jim Gilmore, Kaine, McDonnell).

In the latter track, it is harder to build a fortune. It is harder still when religious or social conservative views make one compelled to breed prodigiously. You end up with a lot of mouths to feed and college tuition to pay. Nowhere was this more evident that with the McDonnells and their five children. In the old days, Scott Junior would have been sent off to “The University” or Washington & Lee while Sarah Jane went to Sweetbriar or somewhere thanks to old family money.

A few more myths to demolish:

  • McDonnell will walk because there’s no “quid” to the “quo.” Admittedly, this is always a tough on in corruption cases. Even Blago from Illinois almost walked when there was indisputable evidence that he was selling Barack Obama’s seat. In West Virginia, they had Gov. Arch Moore accepting a half a million in cash in an envelope from a coal company wanting to avoid black lung fund payments. The donor was even wearing a wire and there was some question. But they both ended up in prison.
  • McDonnnell technically did not have to concretely “deliver” anything for payoffs, just had to imply such. The indictments show a series of events. Maureen asks for favors (sometimes Bob does) and there’s some kind of event to promote Anatabloc, the product upon which Star Scientific’s financial future depended. The Food and Drug Administration since has said Anatabloc is not tested or approved. Star had used medical outlets such as the RosKamp Institute and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to imply they backed the product. Johns Hopkins pushed back. Jonnie Williams tried to get Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia to vet it by dropping the McDonnells’ name and pointing to events staged for him by the McDonnells. That could be quid pro quo enough.
  • Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Federal prosecutors had to act because there was a clear and steady cycle of solicitations from the McDonnells, gifts and loans from Williams and then some activity on the First Couple’s part promoting Williams and his company. There were no isolated events.
  • The “everybody does it” defense. This doesn’t wash. First, it is true that one can drive a truck through Virginia’s ethics rules. No prosecutor could make a case on state law. But the indictments are federal charges. They include wire fraud. Federal law also covers gifts to public officials in exchange for something – perhaps political juice for medical research studies. It doesn’t have to actually happen. Lastly, there’s the nettlesome problem that McDonnell might have falsified loan application documents to hide his relationship with Williams. ”Intent” is always tough legally, but when one gets into bank documents, it’s a new ball of wax.
  • Why didn’t voters know that the McDonnells were in such dire financial straits when they were elected? Where was the media? These days most job applicants go through a credit check. The fact that the First Couple made bad financial decisions and couldn’t manage their credit should have raised bright red flags.
  • McDonnell’s apologists – most of them conservatives – can be aggravating in other ways. They likewise claim to be wardens of public money, but Virginians such as you and I are going to be stuck with more than $780,000 in legal bills defending Maureen and Bob for the designer dresses, the Ferrari, the Rolex and so on. This is because firebrand Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli was in a conflict of interest because he accepted Williams largesse, too. New Attorney General Mark Herring has put a stop to this nonsense. So where are the nearly broke McDonnells going to get their legal funding? There is a defense fund that was started last summer but it only has a measly $2,000 in it, showing that Virginians aren’t exactly storming the Bastille over Maureen’s need for Oscar de la Renta clothing.

What this likely means is that the McDonnells, lacking resources for a lengthy court battle, will cop a plea and avoid lengthy jail terms. Point made: “Orange is the New Black.” And maybe the apologists will shut up long enough so we can get some needed ethics reform.