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 Times Dispatch.

The Office of Attorney General is a major state agency, spending major bucks on a host of vital professional services.  It screws up and the consequences can be huge.  It is also a major launching pad for higher office.  The association of the various state AGs, with the acronym NAAG, is widely known as the National Association of Aspiring Governors.  Mark Earley was certainly an aspiring governor, and that was certainly one reason I didn’t want to risk a JLARC review.

But suck it up, Herring.  If you are running the place like a professional law office, keeping the partisanship to a small circle of senior advisers, then the report will be an asset to any future campaign.

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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.”

With the transportation funding package of 2013, Virginia became less reliant on an excise tax, fixed cents-per-gallon gasoline approach and started using the sales tax, percent-of-average-price model.  Wholesale prices have fallen rapidly since.  The tax was 17.5 cents per gallon before 2013, and is now 16.2 cents.  The Department of Motor Vehicles tracks prices and adjusts it annually.

Adjusted for inflation, as tracked by the federal Energy Information Agency in the chart above, the real price of gas has moved little in four decades and if anything is now about as low as ever.

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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

Crazy, Diverse Asians

Breakdown of Virginia’s Asian population by country of origin, 2017. Image source: StatChat blog

In their obsession with identity politics and racial/ethnic classification, federal and state governments in the United States classify millions of Americans as “Asian.” From a sociological perspective, “Asian” is a meaningless term. Asia is the world’s largest continent and has more diverse indigenous populations than any other. As this graphic from the University of Virginia’s Statchat blog makes clear, Virginians classified as “Asian” include people who trace their ancestry to the Indian subcontinent, Korea, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Thailand, Pakistan, and many other countries. These people do not share a common language, culture, or history. Continue reading

Doctors Without (State) Borders, Coast to Coast

If taken ill traveling in New York or Texas, or any other of the 50 states, odds are you would not question the basic competence of the medical professionals who treated you there.  But consult that same doctor over Skype from within Virginia and state licensing laws might get in the way.

A bill introduced to the 2019 General Assembly, pending now in both the House and the Senate, would eliminate that basic barrier by in effect allowing Virginians to use telemedicine on a national basis, removing the requirement for a Virginia license if the physician or other provider is in good standing where he or she works.

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Compassion for Unruly School Kids, Indifference for their Victims


In  the name of halting the “school to prison pipeline,” liberal legislators propose to take away an option — charging kids with disorderly conduct — that will make it more difficult to maintain discipline in school.

Bills filed by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, would exempt students from a disorderly conduct charge if they misbehave at school or on a school bus. “Our students cannot learn if they’re being put out of school because of behavioral issues,” McClellan said last week at a Legislative Black Caucus press conference. Continue reading

How to Look Fiscally Responsible While Being Fiscally Irresponsible

Governor Ralph Northam wants to boost the retiree health credit for state police, law officers, sheriffs and their deputies. He has included $8.1 million in his proposed FY 2020 budget to pay for a $2-per-year of service increase for state police and a $1.50- to $5-per year increase for sheriffs and deputies.

While the increase in benefits will be paid for, it legislative hearings have revealed how poorly these retirement plans are funded to begin with. Northam’s proposal would add $76 million in liabilities to two plans that are funded at less than 10% of their long-term obligations. House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, called the benefit increases “fiscally irresponsible.” Continue reading

Tax Conformity Bills Buried in Rules Committee

The House Finance Committee will hold its first meeting of the 2019 General Assembly Monday morning, finally starting public discussion of Virginia’s response to a major federal tax overhaul from 13 months ago that will…

No! Belay that!  All House bills dealing with how Virginia conforms to that federal change, and what other policy changes might follow, have been assigned to the House Rules Committee, chaired by Speaker Kirk Cox and meeting whenever the Speaker decides for it to meet.   The one bill on the issue assigned to Finance is likely to also be referred to Rules tomorrow.

Sending a controversial issue to Rules instead of the subject-matter committee is becoming a common House Republican tactic, with Rules the one committee where there is not partisan balance reflecting the 51-48 party makeup of the chamber.  The Democrats have six of 17 votes on that committee, and the 11 Republicans all chair committees themselves.  The tax measures sit with dozens of other hot button issues.  The days when Rules focused on resolutions and, well, the rules, may be gone forever.

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Passing the Digital Tin Cup

Dear Bacon’s Rebellion readers,

This is the beginning of a new year, the time when many online publications hit up their readers for donations (see the “subscribe” button in the upper left-hand corner). While we will gladly accept your contributions, which we apply to an upgraded hosting package and other services that improve our blogging productivity and your reader experience, but I hate to bludgeon you with annoying appeals for money.

Instead, there are better ways you can help. You can help us grow the publication.

The thing that keeps Steve Haner, Don Rippert and me pumping out in-depth news and commentary from a conservative/libertarian perspective is the hope that we might be making a difference. How do we tell if we’re making a difference? One obvious way is by the number of readers we reach.  Continue reading

Bristol’s Newest Savior: a Proposed Casino and Resort

Jim McGlothlin (right) talks about his proposed casino project. Photo credit: Bristol Herald Courier

The City of Bristol, having mortgaged its future with a failed mall development project, is betting on another big-ticket project: a proposed $150 million casino with accompanying hotels, conference center, retail, and restaurants built at the failed mall location. The backers assert that the Bristol Resort and Casino would create an estimated 2,000 jobs initially, growing to 5,000 eventually, and paying an average salary of $46,000. The project would generate $30 million annual tax revenue for the hard-pressed locality.

All the backers need is for the General Assembly to rescind its ban on casino gambling in Virginia.

Normally, I would be highly skeptical of a project like this. When developers spin a fantasy vision of jobs and tax revenues, there’s always a hook — all they need is a little support from government. Loans, subsidies, loan guarantees, whatever. But in this case, the Bristol casino backers are funding the project themselves. Continue reading

Pushing the Limits of Virginia’s Debt Capacity

Source: Debt Capacity Advisory Committee

by Richard W. Hall-Sizemore

The Commonwealth has been on a borrowing/building spree for the past few years and, as a result, its options for dealing with capital needs in the future may be constrained.

Since 1991, Virginia has voluntarily limited itself to the amount of tax-supported debt it would incur for capital projects.  This “debt capacity” is measured in terms of the percentage of general fund revenues that need to be provided for debt service on outstanding capital bonds.  The consensus between the legislature and the administration has been that projected debt service on tax-supported bonds should not exceed an average of five percent of general fund revenue over the ensuing ten years. Continue reading