Dominion Objects to Testimony on Pipeline Cost

One of the first decisions the State Corporation Commission may need to make in Monday’s hearing on the Dominion Energy Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is whether to allow and consider testimony about the cost of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Dominion filed a September 7 motion asking that testimony from a witness brought by Appalachian Voices “be stricken as irrelevant and improper,” which the environmental group answered with its own brief filed Friday.  Dominion argues the cost of the pipeline is not part of the IRP and is not properly before the commission in this case.  It will seek to recover the pipeline capital costs when gas from the pipeline is subject to a future fuel cost review.

Gregory Lander of energy consulting firm Skipping Stone states in his disputed testimony that the costs are already built in.  “The Company’s 2018 IRP embeds the costs of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline into each of the generation scenarios it presents…. (but) has not properly costed-out the all-in cost of increasing, beyond its current pipeline capacity portfolio, the costs associated with the level of pipeline capacity it intends to obtain on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

He claims that acceptance of the IRP by the Commission in effect accepts that up to $3 billion of the cost of building and operating it will be passed on to ratepayers over 20 years.  Those are in addition to the cost of the gas.  Opponents of the pipeline argue it is not necessary to bring natural gas via the ACP to Dominion’s generators, and if it does so it will be supplanting lower-cost alternatives.

“In reality, the Company’s goal is not to avoid scrutiny of the ACP costs in this proceeding, the Company’s goal is to avoid scrutiny of the ACP costs in every proceeding,” states the brief in support of retaining Lander’s testimony.  It noted a similar effort to keep the data out was made successfully in 2017’s IRP case and during the certificate of need case for the new natural gas generation plant in Greensville County.

This is just one of the disputes expected when the SCC takes live testimony for two days on the plan, which outlines several scenarios for meeting future demand in Dominion’s territory while meeting current and future environmental rules. The amount of demand growth over the period is itself the main point of contention, with opponents claiming the utility has inflated its needs to justify excessive new plant construction.

In rebuttal testimony Dominion pushed back on claims by the SCC staff and others that it won’t need additional generation. It says the others ignored recent winter peak demands and claimed that an economic slow period responsible for flat demand is coming to an end.  “The lack of economic growth in Virginia has been a key driver to the forecast being higher than what has actually occurred” wrote Dominion’s director of energy market analysis Robert Thomas.

One of the reasons cited for expected growth is the explosion of data centers in Virginia, but representatives of that industry filed their own written comments disputing they will cause higher demand.  The letter was signed by eBay and Adobe among others.

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Identity Politics Are So Extreme Now that Gays Look Old Fashioned and Conservative


For more than 20 years Godfrey’s restaurant and nightclub has been a prominent part of Richmond’s LGBTQ scene, hosting drag shows, creating a hospitable environment for young people with alternative sexual identities, and participating in charitable fund-raising events that transcend the LGBTQ community. As the restaurant website describes its mission: “RVA needs a space where young people can come together in an environment that is inclusive and safe regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. We hope Godfrey’s is that space.”

Despite its role in mainstreaming gay acceptance in the Richmond community, Godfrey’s recently ran afoul of LGBTQ militants at Virginia Commonwealth University. Now the controversy is spilling out beyond Godfrey’s and dividing LGBTQs along racial, generational, and gay/cisgender lines. Reports GayRVA:

Initially spurred by the debate over whether Godfrey’s could be considered a safe space for the LGBTQ community, the conversation has moved beyond any single venue. Members of the community have begun discussing local bar culture in general, and what a queer inclusive space could look like. Some don’t see any spaces in Richmond that fit the profile.

Some people describe the local LGBTQ bar scene as “anti-queer.” Numerous patrons of gay nightclubs cite “bad experiences” and “really traumatic stories.” A big problem: “predatory behavior” of cisgender males. Another issue: continuing evolution of politically correct terminology. For example, many older gays self-identify as “gay,” not “queer.” 

The issues erupted when two VCU student groups — Queer and Transgender People of Color Collective and Queer Action — launched a protest campaign against Godfrey’s. That campaign began with an open letter listing grievances against the restaurant, including:

  • Lack of gender-inclusive bathrooms;
  • people being policed for using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity;
  • Excessive police force used against patrons;
  • Numerous anti-black incidents with drag performers, staff members, and police officers.

The letter writers demanded that Godfrey’s make bathrooms “gender inclusive,” reduce the presence of police officers, acknowledge the restaurant’s racism, educate staff on issues of “racial justice and trans inclusion,” and apologize publicly.

Godfrey’s owners did not respond well to either the allegations of discrimination or the manner in which the demands were posted publicly. Wrote management in a publicly posted response:

My business partner and I are particularly incensed because of everything that we had to endure as a gay men growing up in the 80’s. We have been personally attacked and our lives threatened and almost every other person at our business has experienced real discrimination in some form or another.  So no, we are not going to bend to you or your groups’ demands because we haven’t done anything to warrant such an action.

As for escorting people out of the nightclub, well… people misbehave and the restaurant evicts disruptive people. Said Godfrey’s staffer Eric S. Kelsey in an interview with GayRVA:

Just this past weekend. I saw two individuals, two white straight males, escorted out by security because they’d snuck liquor into the bar. I’ve seen people from all walks of life in my time there. If they are breaking rules, they are being violent, they are disturbing patrons, they are being destructive, they are too drunk to even function, they are going to be taken out of the bar. And that I think is fair to ask of any establishment. Your main goal is to make sure no one is breaking ABC laws, because if we don’t do anything about it, ABC could come in and shut us down. If somebody’s acting violent, they have to go, it doesn’t matter who they are.

Bacon’s bottom line: As 65-year-old heterosexual Southern white male fitting just about every negative stereotype in the Left’s catechism of intersectionality, my opinion means nothing to the protesters. But I’m offering it anyway. For what it’s worth, I’m a live-and-let-live libertarian. I really don’t care what LGBTQs as long as they don’t infringe upon my right to do what I want to do. The gays I know (most of whom, admittedly, are of the older generation) blend into the community. No one cares that they’re gay, and they don’t waste their lives nursing grievances.

It is a disturbing sign of the times that the ideology of alienation has gotten so extreme that members of VCU’s LGBTQ community would target Godfrey’s, of all places. That’s par for the course, though, for campus leftists who cherish their victimhood and turn upon allies who don’t meet their standards of ideological purity. Some people live in a state of perpetual outrage and always find reasons to justify their never-dying anger. They can never be mollified. But their intolerance wins them no friends and generates no sympathy. In this dispute, Godfrey’s comes across as a law-abiding member of the establishment willing to enforce norms of respectable behavior. They may not want me, but I’m with them.

UVa’s $30 Million Raid on Tech’s Biocomplexity Initiative

Superstar faculty member Chris Barrett has leaped from Virginia Tech to UVa. Barrett is a global leader in applying computer science concepts and tools to make new discoveries in complex social systems.

The University of Virginia offered a biocomplexity research professor a 15% pay raise — to $450,000 — plus a rich set of fringe benefits to recruit him from Virginia Tech, according to Freedom of Information Act documents obtained by the Roanoke Times.

Chris Barrett, who was promised $30 million in startup funds, left his job as executive director of the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech to become the executive director of the Biocomplexity Initiative at UVa. He has persuaded at least seven of his Virginia Tech colleagues to join him in the move from Tech’s Arlington facility to UVa’s Fairfax health center at the Inova Bioinformatics campus.

Reports the Roanoke Times:

Barrett’s offer letter included a number of personal perks, including a $15,000 lump sum for moving expenses and temporary housing, a computer and cell phone, lab and office space including interim space, high performing computer resources and discretionary funds including a long-term rental car for use to travel to and from the Washington D.C., metro area and 10-15 business class trips worth up to $75,000 for the first year of his employment.

Perks were also guaranteed for other employees wishing to join Barrett. … Employees wishing to work for the initiative and Barrett could also be offered $15,000 for moving expenses and an allowance for temporary housing and “accelerated recruitment offer letters with appropriate faculty appointments and rank.”

Last week the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved drawing $30 million from the university’s billion-dollar Strategic Investment Fund to fund the package.

Outwardly, Virginia Tech has displayed no sign of animosity toward UVa. According to the Roanoke Times: “UVa’s Executive Vice President and Provost Tom Katsouleas told The Daily Progress that he was working with Tech interim Provost Cyril Clarke to navigate the situation. Tech president Tim Sands said in the first week of new UVa President Jim Ryan’s tenure he called the new president to discuss the impending changes at the two universities.”

Bacon’s bottom line: There are at least two prisms through which to view this $30 million deal: (1) the impact on Virginia university efforts to build their R&D programs, and (2) the impact on the cost of attendance at the University of Virginia.

The recruitment of Barrett and other Tech professors undoubtedly represents a coup for UVa. Press reports do not say how much Barrett and his associates generate in research funding, but it must be a substantial sum to warrant a $30 million UVa investment. At the same time, the deal delivers a significant blow to Virginia Tech’s Biocomplexity Institute lab whose 50 tenure-track professors pulled in $103 million in award grants in the first six months of the last fiscal year. Viewed from the perspective of Virginia’s higher-education system, the deal does nothing to enhance the state’s R&D standing: UVa spent $30 million to shuffle Barrett and his research team from one Virginia research institution to another.

Legislators undoubtedly will be asking themselves, does it make sense for Virginia’s leading research institutions to poach superstar faculty from one another? If a Virginia university is going to spend $30 million to recruit a big name, shouldn’t it aim to bring in someone from outside the state?

The transaction also provides insight in how much it costs to play in the R&D big leagues. The annual cost of attendance at the University of Virginia is about $30,000.  For what it cost to recruit Barrett and his team, UVa could have offset the full tuition, fees, room, board and other expenses for 1,000 students for a year. (Or, if UVa had put the money into a scholarship endowment, it could pay total expenses for 50 students pretty much forever.)

The Board of Visitors can argue that undergraduate students won’t pay a dime toward the recruitment package, which is being financed by the Strategic Investment Fund — a superfund cobbled together from various working capital sources and reserves and invested at a higher rate of return than was achievable previously. But money is fungible. The Visitors just as easily could have devoted the money toward lower tuition & fees or increased financial aid. Alternatively, if advancing UVa’s institutional prestige was the foremost consideration, they could have used the funds to supplement salaries of humanities and social science professors. A $50,000 salary supplement goes a long way to hiring a nationally renowned professor of history or English.

It will be interesting to see what kind of Return on Investment UVa expects from its $30 million outlay. How much outside grant money will Barrett be able to bring to the university?

From a statewide higher-ed system perspective, the question is this: How much more grant money will Barrett bring in as a result of his new association with UVa and Inova than he would have generated as a Virginia Tech professor? Legislators should dig for answers.

Hurricane Response Challenged By State Senators

Spending line items for $60 million state response to Hurricane Florence. Source: Secretary of Finance

On Monday, Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne talked about the cost of Virginia’s response to Hurricane Florence with little controversy, and that was before the storm spawned a series of tornadoes striking Mecklenburg County and Metro Richmond.

Thursday, after Florence visited Virginia directly, he made the same presentation to another committee and suddenly ran into major push back. “Shocking” was the word used by Senator Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, who then admitted he was engaging in “Thursday morning quarterbacking.”

Under authority granted in state law and the budget, Governor Ralph Northam declared an emergency in Virginia on September 11 and authorized the expenditure of up to $60 million from state funds. He ordered an emergency evacuation in certain lowlands. Because his order followed a similar federal declaration, Virginia stands to recover up to 75 percent of the expense from federal funds, but only on a reimbursement basis up to two years from now.

Layne, who is known for loving to provide the details, added a chart listing the various plan elements and their authorized cost, reproduced above. Given the worst predictions didn’t come to pass for Virginia, only some of the funds were spent and the final accounting is not yet made.

It was some of those line items that generated the commentary in the Senate Finance Committee, especially three emergency shelters for 5,800 people at a possible cost of $32 million. Simple math pegs that at $788 per person per day, for shelter in state-owned buildings, not hotels. Questions also arose about $20 million authorized for two Virginia-based specialized rescue teams, based on a planned 10-day deployment, and other line items that appeared to include very generous amounts for food and lodging.

“Where in the world are they sleeping and what are they eating?” asked Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland. “Somebody is gouging us.”

Layne promised to follow up with itemized costs and promised that auditors would be going over the expenses later. He repeated that what was authorized was not the same as what got spent, and the lump sum amounts for some of those teams probably included pay, transportation and other expenses beyond food and lodging. Some of them were dispatched to North Carolina instead when it became clear Virginia was out of the bulls-eye.

Would it really bother you if this rescue team had been sent from Virginia?

Which prompted yet another question from McDougle about whether North Carolina ever does the same and provides help when Virginia needs it. Layne was firm in responding to that, saying during his time as Secretary of Transportation he knew of times when North Carolina helped Virginia and he thought the Department of Emergency Management could provide other instances.  Senator Bill Carrico, R-Galax, a former police officer, chimed in with some examples from his part of the state.  Nobody else questioned the Governor’s decision to offer help to our neighboring state.

“If we had had the devastation we all expected, we wouldn’t be questioning this,” said Senator Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg. And one of her fellow Democrats, Janet Howell of Fairfax, went to climate change and how “these storms are coming at us at a frightening rate” and the federal government needs to “work on the models.”

Virginia’s response to this threat was far more robust than previous examples, as further data from Layne showed. He listed 26 “events” going back to 2010, including other hurricanes, with a total emergency response authorization of only $71 million. The big differences came from the early decision to mandate evacuations (with more that could have followed) and to open those three major shelters. Some of the expenses were made as emergency purchases outside the state’s normal procurement.

There might be an element of damned if you do or if you don’t in this.  It was a badly-needed reality check and drill, with some lessons to be applied next time, because there will be a next time and we can all see what the Carolinas are now having to endure.  Governor, Mr. Secretary, send them anything they ask for and we’ll worry about payment later.

Follow up:  Details added in the Richmond Times-Dispatch story sparked by the same meeting.  The reporter got to see the invoice for the shelter contract.

BVG Makes Case for Virginia as Offshore Wind Supply-Chain Hub

Manufacturing job-creation potential for the offshore wind industry. Source: BVG.

Virginia is very well positioned to establish a supply-chain hub for an East Coast wind-power industry, says a report written by offshore-wind consulting firm BVG Associates and underwritten by the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

Although Virginia will not participate in the “first wave” of  East Coast offshore wind projects, which is ramping up now in northern coastal states, Virginia-based businesses could supply key components to those pioneering efforts if the Commonwealth acts quickly, concludes the newly published report, “Offshore Wind in Virginia: a Vision.”

The report lays out the following scenario for wind farm-driven economic development:

Virginia will derive immediate economic benefits while maturing its offshore wind supply chain, ensure development of its own 2 GW [gigawatt] offshore wind by 2028, and provide the tipping point for a second wave of lower-cost projects off Dominion Energy’s service territories, notably the Kitty Hawk lease area in North Carolina.

The study should be read with the understanding that Sierra Club-Virginia is promoting Virginia offshore wind generation to advance its long-term goal of eliminating fossil fuels and nuclear power from Virginia’s energy mix. Even with that caveat in mind, the study provides the most detailed analysis yet published of how Virginia can leverage offshore wind into a major economic-development boon for the Hampton Roads maritime sector. The Northam administration has hired a BVG associate to help the state fashion a strategy to build an offshore wind supply chain.

According to the report, Virginia has five big competitive advantages:

  • An industrial coastal infrastructure, with large areas for laydown and storage, quayside length for load-out, and direct access to the open ocean with unlimited vertical clearance.
  • A large workforce with competitive pay scales and experience in shipbuilding, ship repair, ports, logistics, and vessel operation.
  • Highway, rail, and inland waterway connections linking Virginia’s ports to industrial centers throughout the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest.
  • Eastern population centers with high and growing electricity demand, particularly for the Internet economy. Northern Virginia has a large and growing data-center corridor, and two new data centers are being built in Virginia Beach.
  • High-voltage interconnection capability in Virginia Beach sufficient to handle the anticipated commercial wind-lease area after “moderate investment.”

The first two advantages make Hampton Roads an attractive location for the fabrication and assembly of jacket foundations and offshore substation platforms. Two sites in the region could be made ready for a steel fabricator within 20 to 29 months at a cost of $5 million to $15 million. Jacket and substation production could create more than 2,000 new direct and indirect jobs.

The first phase of offshore wind production will be expensive. Wind supply chains in Europe like to see an annual market of at least 1 gigawatt, the equivalent of 80 to 125 turbine nacelles, turbine towers, blades, or foundations. A factory owner would look to produce 200 kilometers of cable per year, a volume needed to apply lean manufacturing strategies. Lacking U.S.-based investment, first movers in offshore wind would have to pay premium prices. Another complication is the Jones Act, which prohibits European-built and based vessels from transporting components between U.S. harbors. Offshore wind-service companies cannot yet justify building state-of-the-art jack-up vessels in the U.S. in compliance with the Jones Act.

First-mover states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland — have committed to build more than 3 gigawatts of offshore capacity. Virginia has committed to build 5 gigawatts of renewable energy, including a substantial component from wind, by 2028. Dominion Energy has proposed to build two turbines with experimental designs to ensure that a larger wind farm could stand up to hurricane conditions frequently experienced in the Mid-Atlantic.

Writes BVG:

By the middle of the next decade, Virginia could be a leading U.S. market for offshore wind, driven by the ability to benefit from the lessons learned from northeast coast states and the maturing U.S. supply chain, complemented by Virginia’s strong infrastructure, location benefits, and deployment of offshore wind at scale.

Suppliers to the wind industry, such as turbine, foundation and cable manufacturers, like to see a regular run-rate for installed capacity. This allows easier investment planning and more efficient facilities. Manufacturers also need projects of a certain size to achieve economies of scale. … The Virginia market in our scenario is … not big enough by itself to attract investment, so the Atlantic Coast market as a whole is crucial. In our scenario, Virginia provides the tipping point, creating the demand needed to support an investment decision.

Some infrastructure investment in Hampton Roads may be necessary. Given the inevitable time lags in gaining regulatory approvals, BVG says, Virginia needs to act quickly. Portsmouth Marine Terminal would need between $11 million and $25 million to upgrade the port for major offshore use, with “additional costs in the facilities themselves.”

The report provides no estimate of how much it would cost to upgrade Virginia’s electric grid to accommodate a massive supply of offshore wind, nor, beyond general statements that wind power is complementary with solar power, does it discuss the impact of intermittent wind power on reliability. Fossil fuel advocates argue that wind and solar provide no surge capacity in extreme, polar vortex-like weather events.

The BVG study make no policy recommendations. It cedes that task to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, which is developing a strategic plant to identify supply-chain businesses and how to market Virginia as a hub for the industry.

Has City Population Growth Leveled Off?

Source: Demographics Research Group at UVa

After a decade of strong growth, the population of Virginia’s cities may be leveling off, says Hamilton Lombard with the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group. The rising cost of housing in Virginia cities is pushing households into neighboring counties, he says.

The major swing group is households with young children. For decades, families with young children moved from cities to counties in search of better schools. After the 2007 recession, Lombard contends on the StatChat blog, many families found it difficult to purchase a home, so they rented in cities where a larger share of the housing stock is rental homes. As a result, the share of children in city populations increased, leading to an unexpected surge in school enrollments in many cities. Over the past 10 years, cities accounted for seven of the 10 fastest-growing school divisions.

Lombard expects cities to hang on to their population gains, but he suggests that continued population growth will be difficult to maintain. The main problem is the difficulty of building new housing. In Virginia cities, vacancy rates are declining, and housing prices are increasing. Prior to the recession, for example, owner-occupied housing in both Charlottesville and Richmond was 27 percent cheaper than in surrounding counties. By 2016, housing was only 12 percent cheaper in Charlottesville and eight percent cheaper in Richmond.

Concludes Lombard:

In the coming years, home construction levels will need to increase for Virginia cities to continue growing at recent rates. Some cities, such as Richmond, have seen more home construction. But building new homes in cities can be difficult; most development in cities is infill which often requires more paperwork and faces more public opposition than greenfield developments.

If cities are not able to supply enough housing to meet demand, the recent trend of falling vacancy rates and rising home prices will likely continue, along with slower population growth.

Bacon’s bottom line: I concur with Lombard’s analysis. Cities have limited space for infill development, and established neighborhoods resist re-development at higher densities. There is a significant unmet demand for walkable urbanism found in the traditional neighborhoods of Virginia’s cities, both large and small, but people have to live somewhere and they will buy what they can afford, even if the surrounding amenities are not what they would prefer. I expect we will see “sprawl by default” — scattered, low-density, single-use development, not because it’s what the market demands but because that’s what counties zoned for in the go-go days of the early 2000s and that’s what’s in the supply pipeline.

Virginia State/Local Taxes Per Capita: $4,457

State and local tax collections per capita, FY 2015. Source: The Tax Foundation. Click to enlarge map for better legibility.

State and local tax collections per capita in Virginia amounted to $4,457 in fiscal 2015, ranking the Old Dominion as the 23rd highest taxed state in the country, according to the Tax Foundation. We are the most heavily taxed state in the Southeast.

If you believe state/local government should spend and tax more, this data gives you ammo. We have plenty of room to raise taxes. If you think state/local government spends and taxes too much… this data gives you ammo. We have plenty of room to cut taxes.

Shocker: Positive Signs from Washington Metro

I have relentlessly criticized the Washington Metro system for years, but I have to give credit to management under General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld for trying to steer the dysfunctional mass transit system in a fiscally sustainable direction. Today’s media reports highlight two straws in the wind.

First, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (MWATA) is trying to revive a plan to redevelop portions of the Huntington Metro campus in Fairfax County, according to the Washington Business Journal. An effort to redevelop a 1.15-acre parcel failed four years ago. But Metro has expanded the project scope to 12 acres.

The selected developer for this larger project would not only design the 12-acre site but also help WMATA determine the need for replacement transit facilities — the three parking garages at Huntington Metro Station had a combined usage rate of 61 percent for fiscal year 2018. WMATA recently closed an 885-space garage on 6 acres located on the south side of the station, where it sees an opportunity for redevelopment if parking demand doesn’t merit replacing.

Heavy-rail transit stations significantly increase the value of adjacent properties. Mass transit systems in other countries employ “value capture” strategies to extract some of that increased value to defray the cost of building and operating their stations. For the most part, Washington’s Metro system has failed to do that. Rather, property owners reaped windfall gains from the public’s massive investment. (A partial exception is taxation of property owners in Tysons to pay for a modest portion of the cost of building the Silver Line extension.) However, Metro frequently did build parking structures around its stations, some of which may be severely under-utilized. The potential exists to redevelop that property in light of market conditions that favor dense, mixed-use development around Metro stations.

Although the WBJ doesn’t frame the story this way, it appears that Wiedefeld is trying to extract maximum value from the limited property Metro does own around the Huntington station. If this redevelopment project is successful, it might be a template for extracting value from other Metro parking lots and garages.

Second, Metro is looking at the potential for privatizing operations of the Silver Line extension encompassing six new stations in the high-tech corridor between Tysons and Dulles International Airport, and beyond. Reports the Washington Post:

On Tuesday, the transit agency issued a request for proposals from private companies willing to perform maintenance and operations on the line extension, which is under construction by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. …

Metro has hinted for the past two years that its intention was to outsource the Silver Line service, suggesting that such a decision could save taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run. In January, the agency issued a “request for information” from potential contractors interested in the job.

Now, Metro says that hiring a private company to fill new Silver Line jobs, rather than adding to the ranks of unionized employees, will help control operating and maintenance costs, “including future pension costs, which have grown to unsustainable levels.”

Paul J. Wiedefeld

Wiedefeld said the effort is intended to help the transit agency start “living within our means.” “Competitive contracting is one tool to hold down pension cost growth, while providing quality service for customers.” Laughably, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 responded that outsourcing services would result in poor service for riders and subpar maintenance of infrastructure. Worse than the service and maintenance provided by the union workforce? That would be something!

Virginia has boosted its financial commitment to Metro to reduce a massive capital spending shortfall on the understanding that the mass transit authority would undertake meaningful reforms. Wiedefeld is making an honest effort to deliver on that promise, pursuing strategies that were never part of Metro’s past playbook. Whether he succeeds or not is a different question — that depends in large measure upon market conditions and cooperation from Metro’s labor unions. But he’s giving it his best shot.

ACLU: The System, Not Female Prisoners, Guilty

You find what you look for. When you look for statistical evidence of discrimination and injustice, you will find it.

In a corrections system in which 85% of prisoners are male, for example, the ACLU of Virginia finds evidence of “widespread and discriminatory suffering” imposed upon women. You see, while women constitute only 15% of Virginia prison inmates, their numbers are increasing at a faster rate than those of men — 32% over the past four years, compared to only 4% for men.

Over a 26-year period, the numbers are even more striking. The commonwealth saw a 930% increase in its female inmate population between 1980 to 2016: from 303 women in prison to 3,123.

“It was fairly shocking,” Bill Farrar, strategic communications director for the ACLU of Virginia told the Virginian-Pilot. “People should care about any group that is marginalized or adversely affected by their government in a disparate way.”

What Farrar finds shocking is not that women commit more crimes than they did three decades, which might be construed as a sign of corrosive social breakdown, but that society is incarcerating women who commit the crimes. In a study that prompted the Virginian-Pilot reporting, “Women in the Criminal Justice System: Pathways to Incarceration in Virginia,” the ACLU argues that many of the crimes are relatively minor in nature — “nonviolent crimes related to property, public order or drugs.” And, of course, the women themselves often are victims — of poverty, drug addiction or domestic abuse.

States the report:

Incarcerated women often become engaged with the criminal justice system as a result of attempts to cope with challenging aspects of their lives, such as poverty, unemployment, and physical or mental health struggles — especially those arising from drug addiction and past instances of trauma. …

The over-incarceration of women is a symptom of a complex network of social barriers, economic inequality, reproductive injustice, and racial and sexual discrimination deeply woven into our society.”

The ACLU’s bottom line: Society is guilty, not the women. The proffered solution: more study, more “training” of employees in the criminal justice system, more spending on social programs, more spending on substance-abuse programs, more spending on programs to deal with sexual victimization, elimination of cash bail, increasing the felony threshold to at least $1,500, repeal of the three-strikes-and-you’re-out law, and a host of other measures.

Bacon’s bottom line: A handful of ACLU recommendations might be worth considering, such as raising the felony threshold for property crimes, and steering women into substance-abuse programs as a first-time alternative to jail and prison. But one doesn’t need to frame such initiatives as responses to “widespread discrimination” in order to justify them.

Furthermore, not all women are in prison because of petty crimes. Roughly one in seven offenders in crimes of violence are women. The ACLU “reform” agenda would serve mainly to cast women as victims and hold them less accountable for responsibility for their actions, but do very little to curb anti-social behavior. 

VA CPAs Say Conform, Hold Tax Funds for Later

The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA) Monday called on the 2019 Virginia General Assembly to conform Virginia tax with recent federal changes, to track and sequester the hundreds of millions of dollars in higher taxes thus generated and to hold those funds for a future tax reform effort.

Nobody knows these issues better than the people who prepare tax returns, and the CPAs cite continued uncertainty over the full impact of the federal changes, especially with several issues still awaiting guidance from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.  The society’s position is detailed in a white paper.  It offers no firm advice on what policy changes should eventually be adopted.

“VSCPA leadership and the VSCPA Tax Advisory Committee considered and discussed numerous policy options in an effort to make a recommendation, considering extensive input from VSCPA members and tax professionals, and determined that there was no member consensus on any single policy prescription,” Vice President Emily Walker wrote in an accompanying news release.

The VSCPA has enhanced its clout on this issue by hiring former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Walter Stosch as an outside lobbyist.  Stosch’s message to conform in full and then hold the money for later decisions is likely to carry greatest weight with his former colleagues in the Senate.

On the same day the CPA’s position was announced the first piece of proposed conformity legislation was filed, a House bill seeking to allow one major deviation from conformity.  It would allow Virginians to take the standard deduction on their federal returns but still itemize deductions on their state returns.  The deductions they can take will be under the new federal rules, however.

In previous Republican-generated statements pledging to allow Virginians to keep state itemized deductions while taking the federal standard deduction, the question of which deductions – new or old — has not been addressed.  The new federal law places limits on state and local tax deductions, eliminates the moving expense deduction, and make many other changes.

Delegate Richard Bell (R-Staunton) is not on either the House Finance or Appropriations Committees and it is likely other bills will emerge, probably many of them, before the session starts in January.  To apply retroactively to tax year 2018 any bill will have to pass with 80 percent super-majorities in both chambers, requiring a bipartisan consensus.  A bill changing policy for tax year 2019 needs just the usual majorities plus the Governor’s signature.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne was back discussing the issue before the House Appropriations Committee Monday, at the end of his regular presentation on the state’s finances.  A CPA himself, he probably helped influence that society position paper.  The Northam Administration is resisting efforts to make immediate tax policy changes in response to conformity but has not ruled out a tax reform effort next year.

That approach has its own challenges.  By the administration’s own estimates, conformity with no policy changes produces almost $600 million in additional revenue for tax year 2018 from individuals and businesses.  To hold the funds in reserve for a future tax policy debate would require great discipline on the part of the elected leaders.  And if done in special session next year that debate would take place during the run-up to what is likely to be a bitter primary and election season for both House and Senate.

Layne has access to the revenue model produced for the state by Chainbridge Solutions LLC and added a data tidbit yesterday:  While some people will see a tax increase if Virginia adopts full conformity, others will see a tax increase if the state does not.  The individual tax hike from non-conformity is more than $181 million.  That’s far less than the other way around but demonstrates the complexity of all this.

Speaking of complexity, an effort to explain this in easier-to-understand language led to the production of another white paper, this one mainly written by me and distributed Monday.  You can find it on the Thomas Jefferson Institute website here.