Category Archives: Taxes

McAuliffe: Time for Some Real Ethics Reform

mcauliffePeter Galuszka

One can hardly blame Gov. Terry McAuliffe for ditching the General Assembly’s absurdly weak ethics panel along with deep-sixing the line items in the budget that restrict him from expanding Medicaid.

Obviously, the nice-guy, bipartisan approach he had advocated simply isn’t possible with the likes of Tommy Norment and Bill Howell in the legislature. So, it’s hard ball time.

After a year-long trauma of the tawdry gift accepting of former Gov. and Mrs. Robert F. McDonnell and their upcoming corruption trial, it is high time the state got serious about ethics reform. But true to form and the traditional senses of entitlement and privilege, the General Assembly has created a ridiculously weak entity called the Virginia Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council.

This wrist-slapper would collect and review financial filings of donations to legislators and help “educate” those poor dears about those mistakes they might surely make even though they obviously didn’t intend to.

As for real teeth, it has gums. It doesn’t cover “intangibles” like trips to the Masters, deep-sea fishing, African boar-hunting, feasts at high-end steak houses and so on. Dominion, Altria and anyone else can shower on such goodies. Jonnie R. Williams could still fly Bob and Maureen anywhere in his private jet. Subpoena power? Forget it!

Well, McAuliffe has defunded this effort and wants real ethics legislation by next assembly.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s cozy politicians are “shocked, shocked, mind you” that the feds are taking a harder look at them. Many can’t get over the fact that McDonnell was actually indicted. They can’t believe he really faces trial in six weeks. Five former Attorneys General harrumphed their way to federal court saying that this is certainly not corruption. A federal judge effectively showed them the door.

Now we have a new federal case. Veteran State Sen. Philip Puckett, a key Democrat, decided to take a powder just before the General Assembly vote on the $96 billion, two-year budget and the Medicaid expansion matter. His bizarre departure just before the vote tilted matters the way of conservative, anti-expansion Republicans.

It was said at the time that Puckett might be considered for a six-figure job at the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, which would be a step up from the $18,000 he makes as a senator. In the mix, his daughter could get appointed as a state judge.

The outcry was so strong that Puckett withdrew from the tobacco commission job possibility. But there’s a federal probe in Abingdon and Puckett has hired Thomas J. Bondurant Jr., a former federal prosecutor. Likewise lawyering up is tobacco commission head Terry G. Kilgore, who will be represented by Thomas Cullen, another former federal prosecutor. This sounds just like GiftGate.

Now the tobacco commission has always been a fun place since it doles out hundreds of millions from the state’s settlement with Big Tobacco back in the 1990s. Many of the 46 states who got the money used it to prevent smoking but Virginia also created a gigantic slush fund supposedly to advance products in the Southside and Southwest tobacco belts that grow bright leaf and burley.

Their first act was to hand out checks worth thousands to anyone who held a tobacco quota in a now-defunct tobacco program. You could use this to invest in your community, buy new golf clubs or vacation in the Maldives. Your choice. (We Virginians like free choice, it’s the Jefferson thing).

A few problems set in. Turns out that former director of the commission, John W. Forbes II, was dipping in the well to the tune of $4 million and also set up a suspect “literacy fund” worth $5 million. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence after his trial in 2010.

Since then, there’s been more suspect stuff going on. Last fall, for instance, the commission gave a $240,000 grant to Virginia Intermont College, a tiny and troubled liberal arts school in Bristol. The college has received lots of money form the commission over the years.

Well, the grant was supposed to help Intermont turn the corner financially as it tried to merge with another institution. The latest is that the merger failed and Intermont is kaput and the city wants it to pay its bills. And where did that $240,000 go?

Not to worry, folks. We’re dealing with Virginia gentlemen here and we are all honorable. Or maybe not. As State Sen. Creigh Deeds says: “We ought to be troubled. We ought to all tremble. I’ve read some pretty nasty speculation. We ought to fear people talking like that. … When you’re elected to office, your public actions ought to be beyond reproach.”

Brat and Cantor: Two Unsavory Choices

BratCantorWebBy Peter Galuszka

The hottest political race coming up is the Republican primary this Tuesday involving the 7th Congressional District now represented by Eric Cantor, a powerful conservative who is House Majority Leader and could possibly one day be Speaker of the House.

His opponent, college professor David Brat, has gotten much national attention because Brat is trying to out-Tea Party Cantor who tried to shed his Main Street background and led the insurgent Tea Party parade during their days of glory back in 2010.

But if you want to see just how intellectually barren both men are, read what they wrote in opposing columns in the Richmond newspaper this morning. They show just how out of touch they are and how they are dominated by a tiny group of hard-right fanatics who have split the state GOP.

Brat is an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in the quaint railroad town of Ashland that might be a set for a Jimmy Stewart movie.

He spends a lot of time debunking Cantor’s ridiculous claim that he is a “liberal” college professor but the very fact that he is doing this is a throwback to the Old Virginny days of yore. First, off, what is wrong with being a “liberal professor?” Are we supposed to have academics that pass a litmus test? Maybe Brat would have House UnAmerican Activities Committees on colleges to make sure that “liberal” professors don’t poison young minds.

Secondly, the use of the term is an exercise in euphemism that smacks of the Massive Resistance days when a candidate was accused of being a “social engineer” if he or she backed integration and civil rights.

And while Brat makes some fair points about Cantor masquerading as a budget hawk, his ideas on finally dealing with undocumented foreign-born residents are downright scary and are obviously intended as a populist ploy to the lower elements of voters.

Indeed, Brat’s column raises serious questions about just how well he understands economic reality, especially when it comes to immigration. Forces are aligning for some kind of long-overdue resolution of immigration. He claims Cantor backs amnesty for undocumented workers. (If so, what’s wrong with that?)

Brat paints a weird picture in which “illegals,” working in collusion with giant corporations, are stealing jobs from “real” Virginians. I won’t go into the borderline racist and nativist aspects of his statements. They smack of the older days of the No Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan that wanted to keep non-Protestants, such as Catholic Irish, Poles, Germans and Italians, or Chinese or Japanese, out of the country.

Strangely and even more troubling, Brat simply doesn’t understand the American labor market. One of the reason so many immigrants are in some sectors of the economy, such as construction and poultry processing, are because the jobs are dirty, messy and there aren’t enough native-American workers willing or able to do them. That is why turkey processing plants in the Shenandoah Valley have so many hard-working Hispanic immigrants. Ditto construction jobs.

At the other end of the spectrum, Professor Brat ignores the dilemma at the high-end of the economy. American universities are not producing enough software and other engineers so we have to import them through visa programs. Some companies are so hungry for foreign intellectual talent that immigrants end up working just across the border in Canada where it is easier to get visas although their efforts support American firms.

This may come as news to Brat in his little college town, but the world is becoming more global and, like it or not, there will be more foreign-born people working here and elsewhere. His complaint that illegals are getting soldier jobs that Americans might want is strange. The military needs to wind down after 13 years of war. One wonders if Brat even has a passport and has traveled overseas.

Cantor’s column is the usual Eddie Haskell boilerplate. He spends a lot of time tearing down the Affordable Care Act. Republicans have launched at least six unsuccessful assaults on it and still refuse to accept the Supreme Court’s decision of a couple of years ago.

Generously funded by the managed care industry, Cantor raises no alternatives to the current health care system that is plagued with overbilling, a lack of transparency and has cruelly prevented millions from getting coverage because of “pre-existing conditions.” Granted the roll out of exchanges was a mess last year, but health care sign ups have exceeded expectations in Virginia. The expected number was 134,800 in enrollment plans under the ACA. At the beginning of May it was 216,300.

Neither candidate talks about crucial issues such as income inequality, climate change or America’s changing role in world diplomacy. Neither talks about about poverty or smart growth or student debt.

Cantor is likely to win Tuesday but neither man seems worthy of leadership. They are just more evidence about how the right-wing fringe has been allowed to highjack the agenda. As this continues to happen, Virginia will be stuck in its ugly past.

Why Executive Fiats Are Needed

idiot gets shotBy Peter Galuszka

Two initiatives — one on the state and the other on the federal level– show just how untenable the politics of confrontation has become. It is forcing the executive side to take charge at the expense of the legislative.

Democrats Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Atty. Gen. Mark Herring are exploring ways to have the governor take emergency authority to continue operating the state of no budget is passed by June 30. Herring has brought in a constitutional ringer from the University of Virginia to help out.

Meanwhile, on Monday, President Barack Obama will unveil new rules to stem carbon dioxide pollution at electricity power plants. This will most likely involve some kind of cap and trade system that actually has worked for a couple decades for preventing emissions that contribute to acid rain.

Obama is late in promulgating the rules because King Coal and its well-paid lobbyists and members of Congress want to blunt the impact on coal-fired electricity plants that provide about 40 percent of the electricity in this country. They and the annoyingly boring global change naysayers have rendered Congress useless in addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time. Result? Gridlock.

So, Obama is taking executive power through existing law, namely air pollution laws that date back to Republican Richard M. Nixon.

It’s a shame that there can’t be intelligent discussion about either issue. In Virginia’s case, the stubborn resistance by conservative Republicans in the House of Delegates to expanding Medicaid has deadlocked action on passing a $96 billion two year budget.

Turns out that the fiscal situation is even more dire because of a $350 million shortfall this year in revenue which is the result of many wealthy Virginians taking advantage of capital gains tax law changes that made it better to ditch stocks last year as they did. The shortfall will only snowball if nothing is done. Localities and state employees will be severely impacted.

Hence McAuliffe is seeking out a Constitutionally-acceptable way to keep the government going regardless of what hard-liners like House Speaker Bill Howell do.

So, there you have it: rule but executive fiat. To be sure, in Virginia’s case, there are possible ways to get out of the mess, namely Republican Sen. Emmet Hanger’s compromise plan on Medicaid. But when it comes to global warming, forget it. The power of the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel industry is simply too great. No matter what practically every climate scientist in the world says, we are having to answer to the deniers.

Hang on. June will be a lively month.

Sen. Emmett Hanger’s Good Idea

emmett-hangerBy Peter Galuszka

Could some seemingly small technical changes in legislative tactics and voting powers on an obscure commission clear the way for passing a state budget and expanding Medicaid in some form?

Sen. Emmett Hanger, a Republican senator from Augusta, thinks so. If he’s right, there could be a way out for both Republican House Speaker Bill Howell and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe who are taking the stubborn impasse right up to the wire of June 30.

Hanger is proposing technically separating Medicaid expansion to 400,000 lower income Virginians from the budget debate, but with a twist.

There would be legislation linked to the budget requiring changes in the voting of a legislative commission known as the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) which was formed in 2013 and must agree that enough positive change in the Medicaid program is taking place to allow expansion. It would most likely occur through private insurance exchanges of some type.

“By October of this year we might be able to begin some limited enrollments,” Hanger told me in an interview.

I called him because, frankly, I didn’t understand media accounts of what he was proposing although the reports indicated that there could be some kind of breakthrough involved. My undergraduate degree is in international relations and I used to study diplomacy. I realize that such types of granular give and take can bring tremendous progress. I am intrigued.

Of course, I could be dead wrong and Virginia will not pass a $96 billion, two-year budget, the state will lose its good bond rating, government will shut down at least in part, teachers won’t get paid and those caught in health care limbo between Medicaid and Obamacare will remain there.

Talking with Hanger gave me some perspective that I didn’t have and haven’t read in the Mainstream media.

First, he said that the General Assembly has already approved Medicaid expansion. It did so last year with former Gov. Bob McDonnell in office. But it also created the 10 member legislative Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission to identify problems and offer improvement suggestions for the state’s Medicaid program. No expansion can occur unless the commission approves. Hanger is chairman of MIRC.

By law, any expansion of Medicaid must be approved by a supermajority vote of the commission. That means that a majority of the five Senate members of the commission would have to say yes. Ditto a majority of the five House members.

Hanger’s proposal would make it a straight majority vote of six out of 10 members from both Senate and House sides. Plus, they won’t vote to approve expansion, only to disapprove it. In the meantime, MIRC would set clear metrics to benchmark what reforms are truly wanted.

Medicaid expansion would involve some kind of private health exchange (now dubbed “Marketplace Virginia”), and there would be added safeguards that there would be adequate copays by participants and ways to make sure that emergency rooms aren’t suddenly flooded with newly insured patients. He also wants a workable data system to keep track of patients and payments and other safeguards to prevent abuse. There are at least 17 categories of improvement areas.

The Senate would concede and use the House’s budget bill. The House would drop “Marketplace Virginia” from its bill and would concede that addressing additional Medicaid reforms would be required.

“Technically, it delinks Medicaid expansion from the budget bills,” says Hanger. But he adds that many seem to have forgotten that the General Assembly actually approved of Medicaid expansion last year “if a series of reforms were taken.” He says his plan would insure that just that happens and he believes it could happen quickly while the budget impasse is resolved separately.

He says that Howell, who has stubbornly resisted any Medicaid expansion this legislative session, seems amenable. So does McAuliffe.

The danger, of course, is that decoupling Medicaid from the budget bills takes away leverage points from both sides. Democratic Senator Dick Saslaw fears some kind of trick as do some Republicans.

My view is that sure there’s that risk, but it’s getting really late to keep playing chicken. My view also is that McAuliffe has done a hell of a lot more to compromise than Howell has.

Also, in my view, a private exchange is not the best way to go to expand Medicaid but the reality is that Virginia has a highly conservative legislature. Other conservative states such as Indiana have managed health care expansion through private exchanges, so I guess half a loaf is better than no loaf.

It seems that Hanger’s proposed deal might just get that, and not too late, either. It’s worth a look since the financial and health alternatives are truly terrible to contemplate.

Revisiting Taxation and Migration

Hit the road, Jack

Hit the road, Jack

by Timothy Wise

Your humble scribe, ElGrowlerGrande, first became interested in the issue of taxation and interstate migration after reading a paper by Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder. We discussed this in an article in the July 28, 2003 edition of The ACTA Watchdog, focusing on the question of how decisions of the Arlington County Board affect peoples’ decisions to move or stay.

Tables 1, 2, and 3 in that 2003 edition of The ACTA Watchdog, which used IRS county-to-county migration data, provided an array of information for tax years 2001-2002, and suggested a correlation between Arlington’s high taxes and peoples’ decision to move elsewhere.

Consequently, a series of posts the past week by Lyman Stone at the Tax Foundation’s Tax Policy blog caught our eye. Stone used a 5-part blog post to  respond to a “voluminous” report, entitled “State Taxes Have a Negligible Impact on Americans’ Interstate Moves,” by Michael Mazerov of the very liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (updated May 9, 2012).

Here is how Stone introduces the series, and summarizes what he consider’s the key claims in the CBPP study:

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Michael Mazerov has a voluminous new report discussing how state tax policies relate to migration. It’s an interesting debate to be had, both because migration is a major economic issue for many states, and because the two extremes of the debate tend to be so vocal. Advocates on one side appear to argue that small changes in taxes create huge changes in migration while advocates on the other seem to suggest that people don’t respond to taxes at all. CBPP’s new report says that “State taxes have a negligible impact on Americans’ interstate moves,” and so falls pretty comfortably in the “taxes don’t affect migration” camp.

The report’s key claims can be summarized as:

1. Interstate migration is small and declining, so, implicitly, it is not extremely economically important.
2. People mostly move for jobs, family, cost of living, and climate, but not for taxes.
3. Low- and middle-income households are more likely to move than high-income households, contrary to what “conservatives” claim.
4. High-tax states actually don’t have that much more net out-migration than low.”

Stone admits to there being “a grain of truth to CBPP’s position. People move for many reasons, and taxes are only one of many influential factors.”

The five parts in the series are too long to condense into even a medium-length Growls. Links to all five parts can be found here in part 5.

In part 5, Stone writes: “In a long series of tables and state-to-state comparisons, Mazerov lays out an argument that the migration flows between high-tax states and low-tax states are, contrary to public perception, actually quite similar. For example, he cites that 68.3 percent of the households moving out of New York will be replaced by households moving in, and offers a similar statistic for other states with net outward migration.” Stone then responds:

Unfortunately, he doesn’t provide the data for states with net inward migration. He also doesn’t provide information on how much income migrates; and in fact doesn’t even show the actual population changes, just the number of “households,” which may vary in size.  These omissions are particularly odd as, in the paragraph right above the incomplete chart, he says it’s important to look at “all of the available migration data” (emphasis Mazerov’s). This could lead to readers getting the wrong idea that differences among state migration patterns are small. In fact, that is exactly what Mazerov does claim, when he says “As it turns out, net migration in most states is indeed quite small compared with total or gross migration” (emphasis Mazerov’s).

Stone also provides a table of the “differences in net migration” for the years 1992-2011. Just the differences for New York and Virginia are sufficient to show the significant differences in migration patterns between states: Continue reading

Mo’ Money for a Broken System?

broken_downby James A. Bacon

The nation’s roads and bridges have a feevah and Josh Voorhees has a cure: mo’ money for the federal Highway Trust Fund. Writing in Slate, Voorhees highlights Congress’ inability to find new revenue sources to replenish the fund, which faces an $18-billion-a-year shortfall every year over the next decade.

“Current tax rates—18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline, 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel—aren’t enough to prevent America’s roads from crumbling and bridges from collapsing,” he writes. Bridges are structurally deficient, he reminds us, urban highways are congested and too few Americans have access to mass transit. Adding urgency to the situation, he notes that America’s road system is ranked only 18th globally — the U.S. is losing its economic competitiveness!

The good guys in his article are those who implemented, or at least advocated, higher federal taxes for transportation. Alas, he laments, “Recent history suggests such days of good policy winning out over good politics are behind us.”

The fact is, there hasn’t been good transportation policy at the federal level for the decades. The federal gas tax, enacted by Herbert Hoover, was necessary to pay for construction of a system of national highways. That it did, quite successfully. But federal programs never declare, “Mission Accomplished.” They morph into something new. And the “Highway” Trust Fund has evolved into a program that doesn’t just underwrite construction and maintenance of highways but one that subsidizes mass transit and all manner of other non-road spending, not the least of which is the cost of administering the federal program itself.

The best thing Congress can do is dismantle the federal transportation bureaucracy and transfer the gas tax revenue to the state transportation bureaucracies. It is axiomatic here in Virginia that federal money bogs down the lengthy approval process for transportation projects with even more bureaucratic process and, thanks to the strings attached, runs up the construction costs. Cutting Uncle Sam out of the loop would save both time and money.

I harbor no illusion that states are any less likely to spend money on boondoggles than Uncle Sam. While the states are closer to “the people,” they are also closer to developers and other special interests who lobby for projects that benefit them at the expense of the public. But cutting the federal strings and overhead at least would make the boondoggles cheaper.

The conventional wisdom conveyed by Voorhees’ article is riddled with other assumptions that I do not accept such as, for example, the notion that the federal government should do more to offset maintenance under-funding. The under-funding of maintenance is a problem, perversely enough, that the Highway Trust Fund helped create. The program entices states to undertake expensive mega-projects by sharing the up-front capital cost. States leap for the “free” money to help cover the up-front costs — the problem is especially prevalent with mass transit projects — oblivious to the fact that new capacity adds to ongoing maintenance and operations costs. States overbuild their transportation systems, maintenance & operations obligations escalate, and they scrimp on repairs to find money for the next new project.

Another issue: In the business world, corporations continually review their portfolios of assets, sloughing off divisions and subsidiaries that don’t justify continued investment. When was the last time the state or federal government ever reviewed its portfolio of transportation assets? Once a road gets built, it never gets downsized. How many lane-miles of highway serve counties with dwindling populations? How many country roads revert from paved to gravel? The United States has erected a system that only grows and never retracts. As long as Uncle Sam is doling out cash, states have little motivation to reconsider.

These and other travesties can happen only in a country in which citizens are convinced that “someone else” should pay to build and maintain everything from city streets to highways, bicycle lanes to light rail lines… a country in which there is no accounting for life-cycle costs… a country in which transportation planning is divorced from land use planning… a country in which accountability for results is diffused between federal, state and local governments…

I don’t mean to pick on Voorhees — many others think as he does — but the idea that raising taxes is the default solution to our nation’s transportation challenges is ludicrous beyond words. The transportation system does need more investment. But until the ramshackle structure for financing highways, bridges and rail is fixed, Americans should have no confidence that the money will be well spent.

Rethinking David Brat

BratBy Peter Galuszka

Knocking David Brat as I did a couple of days ago got the predictably nasty response from Rebellion-land.

So, I went back and looked into it a little more, without an eye towards his Tea Party links.

What did I find a mixed  bag for the economics professor who’s challenging Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. There also is some bad news involving rabidly right-wing media celebrity Ann Coulter, a true rug-biter.

The interesting news comes from Brat’s Website:

“Throughout his entire career, Eric Cantor has supported countless measures and budgets to increase our debt and grow government. Despite his fiscal rhetoric, Eric Cantor voted for new spending measures like Medicare Part D, TARP bailouts, Chinese bailouts, Wall Street bailouts, two unfunded wars, and backed the kick-the-can-down-the-road Ryan-Murray budget.”

No argument there. I will never forget my interview with Eric Cantor during the Great Recession and he told me, emphatically, “We have to get the federal government out of the capital markets!”

I replied: “But you voted for TARP.”

There was a 25 second pause and then the Congressman said, “It was a crisis situation.”

There was another one of these spending things involving the ultra-capable but ultra expensive new jet fighter, the F-35. Veteran aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney had the Pentagon OK to make the engine for the fighter. But General Electric and Rolls Royce wanted part of the multi-billion-dollar expenses and pressed to have an alternative engine made as well, adding to the overall cost. The Pentagon didn’t want it.

But Rolls Royce had just moved their North American headquarters to Northern Virginia and was building a jet engine factory near Petersburg. So guess which budget-hawk, cost-slashing super  hero pushed the second engine? Eric Cantor, that’s who. I don’t believe the second engine went through, but you get my drift.

It was also way too much inside baseball when the Richmond Times-Dispatch acted as a personal shill for Cantor while his wife served on the board of Media General, which owned the newspaper. Warren Buffett’s outfit eventually bought the paper but the conflict was rather odious while it happened.

Now don’t get me wrong. I fault Barack Obama for NOT SPENDING ENOUGH to get America out of the recession and disagree with Brat on just about everything economically. But I must admit that he’s right about noting Cantor’s two-faced posturing as a fiscal conservative when he went along with every budget-busting scheme George W. Bush could dream up,  especially two wars that we haven’t paid for yet. One of them wasn’t even necessary.

What I don’t like about Brat is that he attracts the wistful eye of someone like Coulter who is on a tear to deny amnesty to undocumented aliens. And since she claims that if amnesty occurs, Texas will be swamped with lots of new workers from “you know where” and you know what color they will be.

Is this a racist view? Damned right it is. OK, all you commenters, led by ultra-tough DJR, I want to see a lot of piling on this time! I am ready for you! Bacon can participate but he is basically a pantywaist.

Coulter and the Tea Party give me plenty of pause about Brat although he’s right about Cantor on many things.

Cantor’s Brat Problem

BratBy Peter Galuszka

The jockeying for power among Virginia conservatives is certainly curious if not frightening. It seems the diminished Tea Party is trying to make a comeback and relive its heyday of 2010 at the expense of moderates.

I personally hope they don’t because the movement brings up far too much hateful baggage of xenophobia, racism and mindless cost cutting while posturing as true-blue Americans. The more they do this, the more they conjure up some unsavory memories in American history such as the Know-Nothings or the Ku Klux Klan.

The flash point seems to be David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph Macon College in Ashland. Brat is trying to give House Majority Leader Eric Cantor a run for his money, which in itself, is not a bad thing.

Cantor has long been the tool of the white Richmond area elite. He used to be solidly Main Street although he did try to jump ahead of the Tea Party parade in 2009 and 2010 and it seemed very awkward. By conservative standards, Cantor is much more of a moderate than one might expect. The Heritage Action for America rates Cantor at 52 percent for conservative voting. Robert Goodlatte gets a whopping 75 percent Mark Warner (good for him) only 2 percent.

This is where it gets weird. Brat complains that Cantor isn’t conservative enough or tough enough on undocumented workers and the like. Cantor fires back with over-the-top ads claiming that Brat is a closet liberal for having worked on a bi-partisan economics group for Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine.

Meanwhile, reliable GOP operative Linwood Cobb gets ousted by Tea Party firebrand Fred Gruber as head of the 7th Congressional District Republican Committee.Cantor’s 7th District stretches from the booming, mostly white suburbs of Henrico County to rural, sleepy farmlands into Madison. There’s plenty of Main Street and Tea Party to spare in the district.

According to The Washington Post, the fringe conservatives in the GOP are angry that moderate Republicans are going forth with more sensible policies than sticking it to the innocent children of undocumented workers and trying to turn the clock backwards to ban same-sex marriage.

That just ain’t going to happen with lawsuits popping up all over the place and court rulings overturning. Eleven state and federal courts have ruled in favor of ending same-sex marriage bans, including Virginia. In fact, the Old Dominion’s case was heard at the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals this week and it, another or all will end up at the Supreme Court at some point. The momentum is clearly towards allowing same-sex marriage.

Brat has said he wants to return power from the federal level to the states, but if it means facilitating discriminating marriage bans I hope he fails.

It will be fascinating watching this all play out. The Tea Party rode a wave of bitter frustration resulting from the Great Recession that cut across both parties. It hit upon a mixed, mash-up of themes involving populism, raw Americanism, anti-Obamaism, and so on. It has been, by turns, a reaction to the tremendous inequality imbalance and pure racism. In other words, it’s part of many unrelated and sometimes unsavory themes. I went to some Tea Party meetings and found some bright folks and also people I thought should be locked up as border-line dangerous.

What seems to be lacking now is any intelligent policy planning for the slowly growing economy. While the feds have bailed out failing banks, there’s little help for the average borrower who needs help. Thus, they are forced or choose to hang on to cash and spending is anemic.

If Brat is supposed to be an economist, one would assume he might understand these things. I guess it wouldn’t matter anyway, because Virginia’s system of state and federal electoral districts is rigged so that a tiny minority of outspoken crackpots gets to be kingmaker. This is not likely to happen with Cantor during this June’s GOP primary but it a scary and real possibility.

And it is yet another reason why the Democrats like Terry McAuliffe and Mark Herring are increasingly turning to or are considering turning to independent or executive actions (not supporting the same-sex ban, stripping back McDonnell-Cuccinelli-era regulation of abortion clinics, possibly expanding Medicaid by order).

The Brats and the Cantors have done plenty to destroy bipartisanship. The state and the nation face far more serious challenges than letting gays get married or putting the screws to a hard-working, tax-paying worker who happens to be undocumented because he or she was brought to this country at age four.

Richmond’s Incredible Blindness

Mayor Jones

Mayor Jones

By Peter Galuszka

Following up on Richmond Opening Its Kimono post from Monday, I note some significant news developments and points:

First, the Richmond City Council has restored $10.6 million of the $13.6 million Mayor Dwight Jones wanted to keep his plan to build a new baseball stadium, slavery museum and mixed use development worth a total of $79.6 million. This ensures that the project will move forward.

Incredibly, at the same time, the council cut school maintenance from $3.2 million to $2 million when schools are in deplorable condition. “It’s been very encouraging to see the outpouring of support for public schools this year,” Jones said.

Secondly, I am deeply appreciative to commenter CRB who laid out many of Richmond’s problems that obviously are in need of immediate attention despite the Ruling Elite and Mayor Jones’ stubborn and relentless push for their dubious and unneeded Shockoe Bottom plan.

The clarity is so crystal here that it is overwhelming.

Richmond has among the worst schools in the state. It has the worst health conditions of any large city in the state. It has among the highest poverty levels in the state. So what gets cut? Funds to resolve serious and immediate problems. What gets funded? Pie-in-the-sky.

As BR commenter CRB states:

“They need to explain how a baseball stadium is the answer for economic development when the city ranks 121 out of 133 counties in Virginia in overall “health outcomes” – including (to name just a couple of markers) almost twice the number of premature deaths than the rest of the state, three times the number of reported sexually transmitted infections. In addition, only 7% of third graders PASSED the SOL math test during 2012-13 school year. We have the worst schools in the state of Virginia, and we have one of the lowest percentages of primary care physicians, dentists, and mental health providers. The brokenness of this city goes on and on and this group suggests that putting a baseball stadium, using public funds is the answer instead of using those funds to begin addressing the societal infrastructure. It’s simply heartbreaking.”

I did a little research that backs up CRB. The University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute published a recent student comparing health rates of all Virginia’s cities and counties for 2012. Guess where Richmond ranked? No. 125, which is dead last for big Virginia cities.

Petersburg was close at No. 123. Roanoke at No. 116 and Norfolk at No 106. Counties are healthy. Chesterfield was No. 39 and Henrico was No. 36.

Addressing health care should be a huge concern. Richmond boasts of Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and the former Medical College of Virginia that offer advanced level care for trauma, cancer, reattaching severed organs and so on. But why is that if you walk a few blocks north, west or east of the sprawling medical campus, you have horrendous conditions that lead to truly bad numbers? Where are nurses and primary care doctors? Preventive programs? Child care services? Elder-care?

As for cutting possible increases in school maintenance, all you need to do is click on this site and look at the photos by Style chief photographer Scott Elmquist and the story by reporter Tom Nash. Rather shocking, I’d say.

As for the 26 percent poverty rate, Mayor Jones has created some commissions and has brought in some Harvard-educated academics but it is hard to see what the trajectory is other than more studies.

So, there you have it, sports fans (excuse the fun). It’s the middle of the 9th inning. The score:

Shockoe Bottom: $10.6 million.

School Maintenance: $2 million.

The Kimonos Are Opening in Richmond

richmond-flying-squirrels-comic-nutzy By Peter Galuszka

There’s an old expression called “opening your kimono” that dates back to the 1990s but seems to have roots in Japan. It means having no secrets. When a Japanese husband and wife greet each other, they draw open their clothes to show they are being open – full disclosure in other words.

That’s the good news about the current debate in Richmond, a city chocked full of possibilities yet hamstrung by an infuriating level of pomposity that goes on in perpetuity.

It’s breaking open long-simmering rifts between the counties and the city and exposing flaws on all sides. It also is pointing out that the city’s Ruling Elite, hailed along by its metropolitan daily newspaper, essentially has feet of clay. Despite Richmond’s pretense, it is incapable of doing things that other Southern cities, like Atlanta or Charlotte, handle with ease.

The issue is where to locate a minor league baseball stadium. It is now on Boulevard conveniently located near Interstates 95 and 64. Fans like the current location. Some 64 percent of those who responded to a newspaper survey said so in September. But the stadium, the Diamond, is nearly 30 years old and is crumbling. The region’s inability to do anything about it is one reason why the AAA Richmond Braves bolted to suburban Atlanta after the 2009 season. They have been replaced by the AA Flying Squirrels – a team that has profound marketing savvy and patience.

Now for the players in the drama:

The Richmond Elite. It consists of Jack Berry, a former government bureaucrat who now heads Venture Richmond, a local, non-profit marketing group, Kim Scheeler, head of the chamber of commerce, and Thomas A. Silvestri, the publisher of the lackluster newspaper, the group’s propaganda organ.

Berry revitalized the idea of moving the Diamond to Shockoe Bottom in an op-ed piece in the city’s Pravda (RTD) last summer. Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones has made it a personal campaign. He wants an $80 million project in the Bottom that includes the stadium, apartments, a hotel, a publicly funded parking garage, a grocery store and so on. Also in the group are some developers in the Bottom who stand to make lots of money and an engineering firm that will, too. Lots of public money through bonds sales will be involved.

This group also wants a museum to slavery in the area where selling human beings flourished  to blunt criticism that launching a big in-city development based on entertainment, outdoor bars, baseball and nightlife. It might not suit with Richmond’s horrific history of once being the No. 2 slave trading market in the U.S.

Counter groups. Development proposals are also swirling to rebuild a stadium at the current site and to develop corresponding retail and perhaps some mixed use development there. One idea that came up comes from RebKee Company, a commercial real estate firm based in suburban Midlothian that had been working with Dan Gecker, a Chesterfield County Supervisor who is a commercial real estate developer. Unlike the Mayor and Berry’s Bottom plan, the RebKee idea would not involve public money. In other words – no public risk if it doesn’t work out.

Another wild card is Douglas Wilder, the country’s first African-American governor and former Richmond mayor, who wants to locate a slavery museum downtown near Broad Street at a former Baptist Church that was famous during the civil rights movement and is owned by VCU. Wilder’s earlier plan to build a national slavery museum near Fredericksburg turned into a disaster. However, the fact that such a prominent politician is going against Dwight Jones and his group is extremely significant. Not only does Wilder muddy the waters, he steals Jones’ thunder since Jones is also African-American – a fact that helps provide cover for the rest of the Richmond Elite which is predominately white.

The Average Joes. These are the Flying Squirrels fans who seem very happy with the new team, which does a much better job of keeping them involved than the Atlanta Braves, which owned the previous Richmond ball club. At least half of the fans are from the suburbs and tend to like the Boulevard area since it is easy to get to. Many Richmonders feel the same way. The Squirrels are privately owned and are associated with the San Francisco Giants. The old Braves seemed to be run by a gigantic and bloodless insurance company.

After Berry wrote his ex-cathedra epistle proclaiming the new Bottom vision, Richmond has been subjected to a steady drum beat of Times-Dispatch agit-prop for the idea. But they were stunned when gadfly Richmond Councilman Jon Baliles suddenly floated the RebKee possibility and launched something like the Great Schism (as in Church history). Continue reading