Category Archives: General Assembly

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

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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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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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.

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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

Dominion Withdraws Renewable Tariff Effort

In the wake of the State Corporation Commission’s recent approval of a renewable energy tariff for residential customers of Appalachian Power Company, Dominion Energy Virginia has given up the application for its own more expensive proposal for a similar service to its residential and smaller business customers.

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Are You In…The Hugo Zone?

Are You In The Hugo Zone?

Delegate Tim Hugo (R-Centreville) is the point person for a state income tax proposal centered on less-than-full conformity with the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  It only helps a narrow subset of Virginia taxpayers, those in The Hugo Zone.  We will now try to take you there.  (If you want to imagine Rod Serling’s voice in your head, feel free.)

Under straight conformity, as proposed by Governor Ralph Northam, a taxpayer taking the federal standard deduction would be stuck with the state standard, as well.  Under straight conformity, deductions for local taxes on either return would be capped at $10,000.  Hugo, standing Friday with several key House Republicans, announced a bill to put Virginia out of conformity on those two points.

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Republicans Retreat From Trump Tax Successes

Virginia’s House Republicans on Friday rolled out proposed changes in the state income tax which backpedal from the signature accomplishment of President Donald Trump’s first year, his tax reform package which supercharged the economy.  They would conform Virginia’s taxes to the new federal law only in part (more details here).

One of the best policy provisions of that 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is a $10,000 cap on the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT).  No longer will the federal government subsidize out-of-control local and state taxes, and the state of Virginia should do likewise and cap the deduction for local taxes.

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Who Runs Virginia — Antiquarian Edition

Virginia history lovers rejoice! The House Clerk’s Office has unveiled the Database of House Members (DOME), which offers biographical and legislative service information on every House member since the House of Burgesses first convened in July 1619. A random selection of the tidbits contained in this historical treasure trove:

The first speaker of the House of Burgesses, meeting only 12 years after the founding of Jamestown, was John Pory. States the biographical summary:

Pory’s familiarity with parliamentary practice is evident in the assembly’s reliance upon committees, its decisions on the credentials of its members, its procedure in voting on legislation after three readings, and its determination of a judicial case after hearing testimony at “The Barre.” After it had levied a tax that included provision to pay Pory for his “great paines and labour,” the assembly was prorogued on 4 August 1619, and Pory prepared copies of the legislation for the localities that had sent representatives to Jamestown.

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Higher Standard Deduction Popular With Voters

The Northam Administration’s plans to spend most of the additional revenue created by federal tax reform may not prove popular if the public understands the alternative plans for real tax relief under consideration.

Three weeks ago, I complained that a poll from the Judy Wason Ford Center at Christopher Newport University didn’t ask the right questions, so the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy paid Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy to add a private question to its recent poll of 625 Virginians.  We added just the one question to clarify one aspect of the debate, with the results announced today.

The poll was in the field nearing its end when Governor Ralph Northam released his budget, which did indeed call for spending most of the federal tax change windfall over the next several years.  One way he proposes to spend it is by expanding the existing state Earned Income Tax Credit into a program which pays cash grants to low-income Virginians.  Is that expanding an existing program?  Close enough.

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Fools Rush In: Coal Ash Scene Setter

Coal ash pond at Bremo Power Station. Photo credit: CBS 19

“I hate to give out directions without knowing what the cost is going to be.  There’s far too much of that in government.” 

That was Senator Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach expressing his deep reservations about various proposals to deal with the 27 million cubic yards of coal ash that Dominion Energy Virginia has collected over decades near its major power plants.  Wagner, who chairs the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, was part of a joint subcommittee of that committee and its House counterpart that heard testimony  Monday but took no actions.

Legislation is coming.  Coal ash disposal in 2019 might turn into a replay of grid transformation in 2018, an omnibus electric utility regulation bill that takes on epic and expensive proportions as it moves through the legislative process.  It will also be a textbook example of what happens when legislators jump in to make billion-dollar decisions that could be made a better way.

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