The Exact Moment Virginia Changed Forever

 

For veteran observers of the Virginia General Assembly, a brief oral exchange between an Amazon executive and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday was a bright flash of insight into Virginia’s new political landscape.

You do not see people, especially not people seeking a major expenditure of state funds, get that cavalier with the chair in that committee.  The nervous laughter from the audience that followed, and then lingered for a few seconds, was exactly that:  Laughter from nervous people.

A very big player has arrived on the scene in Virginia.  Everybody else just moved back one or more steps in the pecking order.  Live with it.

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What Principles Govern Virginia’s Approach to Tobacco, Vaping, Marijuana?

What’s she smoking? Is it anybody’s business? In an era in which health care costs are socialized, it’s everybody’s business.

Well, at least General Assembly Republicans are consistent. In the words of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the House of Delegates “snuffed out” a number of marijuana bills this week, including a proposal backed by Gov. Ralph Northam to decriminalize pot. Meanwhile, they propose tightening the vice on vaping products and raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21.

Republicans, it appears, are hostile to marijuana, tobacco, and indeed the inhalation of any foreign substance into the lungs. Tobacco, we know, can cause cancer. Vaping amounts to a nicotine delivery system. Nicotine is addictive, but it’s less clear that it represents a national health emergency. Indeed, my 20-year-old son, a vaper, argues that vaping substitutes for smoking tobacco, and that nicotine poses less threat to human health than the toxic brew resulting from combusted tobacco leaf. Continue reading

Asian Family Values

Data source: Virginia Department of Social Services

A few days ago I posted data showing that “Asians” in Virginia are a diverse group whose country of origin include India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines and many other nations. Some groups are very well-to-do, some middling. But none, regardless of the circumstances of how they arrived here, are poor.

In the past, I have attributed part of the superior educational and income performance of “Asians” to the strong, family-oriented culture of the diverse immigrant groups lumped into that broader racial classification. Recently, while poking around Virginia adoption data, I have uncovered one measure of how Asian family values make life better for children. Continue reading

GILTI And Other Tax Provisions Of Great Interest

Senate Finance Committee data highlights the “conformity” tax impact on Virginia corporations. The Governor’s Office data lumps in all forms of businesses, implying a smaller impact on Virginia business. (Click for larger view.)

In proposals which would further distance Virginia from the tax reforms of President Donald Trump, the General Assembly is being asked to let Virginia corporations keep two major deductions no longer allowed at the federal level.

If the General Assembly agrees, the chance for a general corporate income tax rate reduction probably goes away.  The protection of a well-connected few will outweigh a possible benefit to the many, which seems to be what always happens when Virginia tries tax reform.

The focus so far in the tax conformity debate has been on individual taxpayers, but $318 million of the $1.2 billion in new revenue generated by conformity over two years will come from corporations.  You won’t find that number in any presentations from the Northam Administration, but the Senate Finance Committee reported it (see chart above.)  In future years the new corporate income taxes grow faster than the individual taxes.

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SCC Rejects Most of Dominion Grid Proposal

The State Corporation Commission Thursday rejected in large part the highly-touted Dominion Energy Virginia proposal to rebuild its transmission grid, approving only the elements improving cyber and physical security.  Those were the least expensive and least controversial pieces of its application.

The 2018 legislation that stated major grid investments were in the public interest also re-stated the Commission’s charge to review them for prudence and reasonableness.

It did (here’s the order) and found this:

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Foster Care: How Big a Problem in Virginia?

Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission

As the General Assembly ponders how to reform Virginia’s sometimes-dysfunctional foster care system, I thought it worthwhile to present some data on the stakes involved.

The number of children in the system decreased between 2007 and 2013, then ticked up again in recent years. One reason for the increase, according to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report, “Improving Virginia’s Foster Care System,” was the creation of the Fostering Futures program, which raised the age at which children exit foster care from 18 to 21.

At the same time, notes JLARC, Virginia has the lowest rate of foster-care placement of any state in the country. In September 2016, the proportion of children in foster care was 2.6 per 1,000 children. States JLARC: “The precise reasons for Virginia’s low rate are unclear.” Continue reading

Finally, The SCC Is Full Strength

The Honorable (Again) Patricia L. West (Click for larger view .)

Former Chief Deputy Attorney General and Circuit Court Judge Patricia West is heading to the State Corporation Commission and the only question it raises is, why did the Republicans feel compelled to ram her election through with such speed?

Was the coalition that fragile?

West apparently has not practiced law in front of the Commission on behalf of clients, and certainly has not lobbied the General Assembly on behalf of regulated clients.  Her campaign contributions are modest.  She has a long resume of leadership posts around state government, and if she has expressed strong opinions on any of the various regulatory controversies of the day, no one is aware.  But people forget most of what the SCC does is not controversial.

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Shock! More “Surprise” Medicaid Cost Expenditures

Gee, who could have foreseen this? Virginia’s Medicaid expansion will cost more than expected. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch: A hospital tax designed to pay for Medicaid expansion might not cover the expense of administering a key provision of the legislation: a work requirement for people receiving benefits.

The Senate Finance Committee was “taken aback” earlier this week, reports the T-D, to discover that Governor Ralph Northam proposed using $13 million from the General Fund to seek federal approval of a work-requirement waiver. Senate Republican leaders also “expressed surprise” at a new estimate that Medicaid expansion would cost about $85 million more in the upcoming biennium than previously estimated.  Continue reading

Republicans Endorse Autism Bill. In Other Business, They Buy Pig in Poke

Bacon as beast

Republican leaders in the House of Delegates have endorsed a bill to expand coverage for children with autism. Existing law requires health insurers to reimburse autism treatments for children between 2 and 10 years old only. The proposed law would eliminate the cap.

The expanded coverage, which would help an estimated 10,000 people, would cost the state about $237,000 in additional healthcare insurance premiums, according to the Washington Post. Neither the WaPo nor Richmond Times-Dispatch provided an estimate of how much the measure would cost all Virginians, not just state employees.

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Uh, Why Does JLARC Scare AG Herring?

Virginia AG Mark Herring

Just what does Mark Herring have to hide?

One of my goals during four years as director of administration for Attorney Generals Mark Earley and Randy Beales was to keep the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission busy somewhere else.   Having JLARC combing through your office asking inconvenient questions is no fun.

But had JLARC shown interest, I don’t think our response would have been quite the whine about partisanship that is coming from the current incumbent in that office.  “No one should be under any illusions about the partisan, election-year motivations that led to this review,” says Attorney General Mark Herring in an AP article in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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Senate Committee Passes Rural Job Destruction Act

Now Hiring sign in Centreville, Va. Image source: Patch.com

Are you kidding me? The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee just voted to increase Virginia’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2021. The measure won the backing of Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, and Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. Now, it appears, even many Republicans believe that prosperity can be enacted by a legislative wave of the wand.

Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, summed up the argument for boosting the minimum wage: “We need to give working people opportunities, so that they don’t have to make the hard choice between food on the table or a roof over their head.”

Liberals feel sorry for people in poverty, so they mandate higher wages. My only question: Why stop at $15 an hour? Why settle for a mere “living” wage? Why not $30 an hour? Why not mandate a comfortable middle-class existence for everyone?  Continue reading

I-66 Rush-Hour Travel Speeds Up 12%

Source: Nick Donohue, Deputy Secretary of Transportation

Did the implementation of tolls on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway hurt or harm rush-hour travel times? I addressed that issue yesterday based on data from a Washington Post article. Now I supplement that post with data direct from Deputy Secretary Transportation Nick Donohue.

The tolls have been widely criticized by commuters, many of whom recoil at charges that have exceeded $40 for a one-way trip during rush hour. However, average eastbound travel speeds improved 12.2% for all lanes in the year since the tolls were implemented, according to Virginia Department of Transportation data that Donohue cited in a presentation to the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability last week. The greatest gains occurred between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. and around 9:30 a.m. Continue reading

Transportation Revenue Focus of Concern Again

U.S. retail gasoline prices adjusted for inflation. Source: EIA . The blue line is the adjusted price, looking back into the 1970s. Note the peak just about when Virginia thought it wiser to tax a percentage of price rather than a fixed tax per gallon. Find the interactive version here: https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/realprices/

In the middle of a booming economy, with many state revenue sources surging, flat transportation revenues were the focus of warnings Monday in presentations by Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne and Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.

“I think we are heading for a cliff,” Layne told the House Appropriations Committee.  “For the first time in our history, we’re seeing no increase in fuel tax revenue while vehicle miles traveled goes up.”

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Only in America…

The latest wrinkle in Virginia identity politics, courtesy of the Daily Press:

Add another hurdle to the Pamunkey tribe’s ambition to build the state’s first casino in downtown Norfolk:

The Nansemond tribe is objecting, saying the Pamunkey are trying to rewrite history by claiming the parcel they’re negotiating to buy from the city was once a part of Pamunkey “ancestral land.”

No Quick Fix for I-66

Image credit: Washington Post

When the Interstate 66 Express Lanes opened a year ago, they triggered a maelstrom of controversy as Northern Virginia commuters encountered new driving patterns. Motorists were particularly irate at peak rush-hour tolls rising as high as $47.50 to drive just a few miles on I-66 inside the Beltway. Virginia transportation officials said, never fear, people would adapt and the picture would improve.

So… Has it? The Washington Post has taken a close look at the numbers. And the newspaper’s verdict is: The express lanes have caused shifts in driving behavior — shifting more people to carpooling, more to mass transit — but for the most part commuters are as miserable as ever. Continue reading