No Surprise Here

Speaker-designate Eileen Filler-Corn, Fairfax. Photo credit: CNN

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Both the RTD and Washington Post today reported on the new Speaker-to-be’s first committee chair appointments. (This is one of the real powers of the Speaker of the House of Delegates.  He/she gets to make all committee appointments, including the chair of each committee.)  The Post was a little more muted, but from the RTD’s headline, “3 members of  Va. black caucus to lead House panels”, one would have thought the appointments were a surprise and part of a Democratic plan to give special perks to the black caucus. The chairman of the black caucus even weighed in by praising the “historic appointments.”

What would have been surprising would have been not appointing those members to the chairmanships.  Each one is the Democratic delegate with the most seniority currently on the committee.  So far, the new Speaker-to-be (herself certainly far from what a traditional Speaker has been) is going with tradition.

Who’s Minding the Budget?

The Richmond-Times Dispatch reports today that Governor Northam will be leading a trade tour of the Middle East, beginning tomorrow.  This is not unusual; governors routinely tour foreign countries talking up Virginia with government and private leaders in foreign countries.

However, the governor’s budget bill for the next biennium, the only budget that he will have complete control over (development and implementation) must be finished by about December 10, less than a month away, with the Thanksgiving holiday in there as well.  Again, this is not unusual; other governors have scheduled their trade trips during the middle of November.  This was frustrating for the budget writers in the Department of Planning and Budget because a lot of decisions had to be delayed until the Governor got back, thereby piling the work on the budget into the last few days before it had to be sent to the printer. Continue reading

How to Eliminate Regulatory Barriers to Battery Storage

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s move to an energy future dominated by solar and wind power will necessarily be accompanied by battery storage. Vast arrays of batteries will be needed to store and release electricity to offset the intermittent generation of solar and wind farms. Battery storage is exceedingly expensive now, but the price is expected to decline significantly in the decade ahead. While the speed with which batteries become economical to deploy on a large scale is highly uncertain, there can be little doubt that batteries eventually will become an integral part of Virginia’s electric grid.

A recent state-commissioned report, “Commonwealth of Virginia Energy Storage Study,” suggests that the near-term potential for energy storage in Virginia (over and above the Bath and Smith Mountain Lake pumped-storage facilities) could reach 24 to 113 megawatts of capacity, while the potential grows to between 239 and 1,123 megawatts over the next decade. The study, written by the Strategen consulting firm, recommends establishing a goal of 1,000 megawatts by 2030. (That would be two-thirds as much capacity of the state-of-the-art, natural gas-powered Greensville County Power Station.)

A number of things must happen to achieve this potential. The Commonwealth of Virginia has no control over the pace of technology advance, the global supply of critical raw materials (particularly cobalt and manganese), or the evolution of wholesale electric markets. But it can do a few things. Foremost is to address safety, permitting and environmental issues before they create bottlenecks to large-scale battery deployment. Continue reading

What is Libertarian Philosophy?

By Ronald W Reagan, posted by DJ Rippert

The more things change the more they stay the same. Just over 55 years ago Ronald Reagan gave his “A Time for Choosing” speech. To me, it exemplifies practical libertarian thinking. More than half a century later we live in a country led by an unhinged president. The opposition is led, in large part, by socialists who consider the truth to be a commodity to be used only when it benefits their personal goals or election chances. Closer to home Virginia faces a changing of the guard  Two black-faced racists and an accused rapist will marshal their new majority in Richmond this January to decide the direction of The Old Dominion. The only check on their ambition will come in the form of an opposition party whose pockets are stretched to near ripping with the money of special interests.

During trying times like these I think everybody needs to reexamine and reaffirm their personal political philosophy. The con artists from both sides of the twin cesspools in Washington and Richmond will continue to peddle their snake oil. Only an overall political philosophy will allow citizen-voter-taxpayers to sort the wheat from the chaff through the inevitable spew of intentional deception. In my opinion, Reagan’s 1964 speech embodies the essential, practical libertarian philosophy to which I adhere  I will use that philosophy in two ways. First, I will do my best to demand that our elected officials and candidates for office honestly and plainly describe their agreement or opposition to that philosophy. Secondly, I will cast my support to those elected politicians and candidates who most closely match that philosophy.

Bacon Bits: $$$$$ Edition

They didn’t ask this question until now? Will the wave of Amazon-inspired development in the Pentagon City area of Arlington County overwhelm the region’s transportation network? “Arlington planners, and nervous neighbors, want to know,” reports the Washington Business Journal. Some neighborhood groups are wary that the point of the planning review is to clear the way for a major up-zoning in the area. “They fear the county could determine that the neighborhood has the transportation infrastructure to handle more residents and allow for density increases — even though they believe the opposite is true.”

Meanwhile, JBG Smith Properties and other developers are pitching massive new projects around the new Amazon HQ. Not coincidentally, the WBJ reports, “JBG Smith ramped up its political giving in Virginia with control of the General Assembly on the line.” JBG Smith’s Virginia campaign contributions this electoral cycle: $34,206.

I didn’t know “Black Enterprise” was still a thing. The Mount Olive Baptist Church in Culpeper wants to create a network of support, mentorship and information for African-American small business owners. Black business ownership is increasing, but black entrepreneurs face big challenges. The goal of the network is to help them gain knowledge about finances, start-up capital and the industrial/managerial skills it takes to grow successful enterprises, reports the Star-Exponent. As the politics of grievance and victimhood have taken hold nationally, we don’t hear much about black enterprise these days. I cannot help but note that this initiative comes from a black church, not a foundation-funded think tank staffed by white intellectuals.

Can you say “overreach”? Virginia Tech will spend $5 million to $10 million to launch a biomedical research facility in Washington, D.C. by early 2021, the university announced yesterday. On a campus of a new Children’s National Hospital campus, four or five Virginia Tech research teams will conduct research on cancers of the brain and nervous system. Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands said in a statement the partnership fits Tech’s ambition “to solve big problems and create new opportunities in Virginia and D.C. through education, technology and research.” Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Government Programs that Actually Work

Brace yourselves for an unfamiliar sensation — a round-up of state/local government initiatives that show promise of yielding positive results!

Good for the taxpayer, good for the environment. The Roanoke School Board has approved a $16.8 million plan that will generate $1.3 million in annual energy savings by replacing HVAC units, retrofitting lighting with LED fixtures and implementing other energy-efficiency measures. If the projected savings don’t materialize, energy-services contractor Trane will pay the difference, reports the Roanoke Times. The savings of $2.7 million over 15 years is modest, but it is extremely low risk.

Frankly, this is the type of project that schools, local government, state agencies, and universities across the state should be looking at. Upgrading HVAC and lighting systems is extremely common among commercial real estate companies because it makes economic and financial sense. I suggested years ago that the Commonwealth should issue bonds to fund in projects just like this, billing it as an efficiency and environmental initiative. What’s holding us back from rehabbing government buildings everywhere?

Speedy tickets for speeding tickets. Virginia State Police have inaugurated a two-year trial run in Northern Virginia of an electronic summons system that digitizes the ticket-writing process. Since June, troopers have seen average traffic-stop times drop from 26 minutes using the old paper-form system to 10 minutes per ticket, reports the Virginia Mercury. Rolling out the system statewide could require a new $5 fee for all state-police traffic and criminal cases. But digitization could save money by getting troopers back on the road quicker and reduce congestion caused by rubbernecking drivers. Assuming he values his time at more than $20 an hour, even the guy getting the ticket is better off. What’s not to like? Continue reading

More Craziness: Now “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” Are a Thing

Second amendment sanctuaries across the U.S. Source: Wikipedia

by James A. Bacon

The Campbell County Board of Supervisors has voted to declare the county a “second amendment sanctuary.” It’s not clear from this WDBJ article exactly what that entails, but Wikipedia defines a second-amendment sanctuary as a jurisdiction that does not expend resources to enforce gun control measures perceived to violate the Second Amendment. The movement, which is particularly widespread in the West, is analogous to the “sanctuary city” movement in which local law enforcement refuses to cooperate with federal authorities in detaining illegal immigrants.

“We’re saying you have to defend our second amendment rights,” says James Borland, a member of the board of supervisors, which voted unanimously to pass the measure. WDBJ reports that the “resolution” will be conveyed to the General Assembly, “imploring lawmakers not to back laws that county leaders say target law-abiding gun owners.”

If declaring one’s county a “second amendment sanctuary” consists no more than forwarding a resolution to the state legislature, it’s harmless. If it means that local police and sheriffs cease enforcing locally unpopular gun laws, it is pernicious — just as sanctuary cities are pernicious. The trend of local politicians picking and choosing the laws they will support is extremely unhealthy. Continue reading

The Bureaucratic Nightmare of Hospital Billing

by James A. Bacon

It’s not easy going through life with Parkinson’s Disease, afflicted by tremors, stiffness, fumbling hands, and difficulty walking. Carrying on becomes a real challenge when you add debilitating rounds of chemotherapy. That’s the predicament my old friend Lisbeth finds herself in these days: fighting off two terrible diseases at once.

As you can imagine, the last thing Lisbeth needs as she’s trying to keep it all together is to get into a billing quarrel with her hospital. Most people in her condition would be too exhausted to study their hospital bills and spot the errors, much less to contend with an unresponsive hospital bureaucracy to get her money back. Most people would just let it slide. But Lisbeth isn’t like most people. She’s a crusader at heart, and her maladies have not conquered her spirit.

Lisbeth knows I blog about health care from time to time, and she approached me to tell her story. She laid copies of bills, correspondence and her  contemporaneous notes before me and walked me through her healthcare hell. Compared to tales of medical malpractice like amputating the wrong foot or contracting fatal infections in the hospital, this was tame stuff. What struck me, however, was that her complaints, though banal, are likely endemic in the healthcare system. Continue reading

Is Racism Systemic in Loudoun Schools?

by James A. Bacon

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has launched an investigation into Loudoun County public schools for failing to provide African American students equal access to advanced programs, reports the Washington Post. The announcement follows charges by the Loudoun NAACP that discrimination against African-Americans is “not just rampant, it’s systemic.”

It never ceases to amaze me how such politically progressive school districts can be so racist. Remember, Loudoun is the school system that introduced 5- and 6-year-olds to LGBT ideology by distributing “My Princess Boy.” And in August, Superintendent Eric Williams issued a statement condemning white supremacy and other forms of hate, emphasizing that the school system “rejects racist and other hateful behavior and language.”

From what I can gather from the WaPo article, the NAACP has two complaints. One is that African-American students are the victims of racist bullying and are subjected to a “hostile learning environment.” The other is that they are denied access to the challenging curriculum of gifted programs and AP classes. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: This and That

Out with a whimper. After months of studying gun violence, the Virginia State Crime Commission issued a report with no recommendations on how to curb the deadly toll in Virginia. The report said crime commission staff “determined that inconclusive evidence exists to develop recommendations.” That pretty much sums up the final two years of Republican ascendancy in the General Assembly. The GOP legislature will be remembered for having had no new ideas and having accomplished nothing. Virginia now can look forward to a Democratic-controlled legislature with too many ideas, mostly bad ones, that will accomplish too much… of the wrong thing.

One man’s trash is another man’s… uh, trash. Virginians recycled 46% of their trash last year, up three percentage points from the previous year, according to data recently released by the Department of Environmental Quality data. The Central Virginia Waste Management Authority had the highest recycling rate in the state with 59%. The Virginia Peninsulas Public Service Authority had the lowest rate with 29%. So reports The Virginia Mercury.

And people wonder why there isn’t more support for mass transit. Nearly 40,000 Northern Virginia bus riders could lose their service as transit workers move closer to calling a second bus strike. A strike by Metrobus workers at the Lorton bus garage has shut down 15 routes for three weeks. Now workers with the Fairfax Connector have voted to authorize a strike, which could be called at any time, reports the Washington Post. For all the problems associated with private automobiles, at least the drivers don’t go out on strike! Continue reading

Will VA Now Help Kill the Electoral College?

Where the National Popular Vote Compact stands: Passed in 16 states, passed one chamber in seven more.  Source: National Popular Vote

By Steve Haner

Add this to the pile of really bad ideas that now have a chance to pass in New Blue Virginia: Allowing California and New York to decide how to cast Virginia’s electoral votes.

Since millions who slept through government class were stunned to learn in 2016 that the popular vote doesn’t pick a president, efforts have been growing to bypass the Electoral College process. According to the folks at National Popular Vote, sixteen states with 196 electoral votes have voted to dis-enfranchise their people, and in several others at least one legislative chamber has agreed.

The Virginia General Assembly simply ignored House Bill 2422 during the 2019 Session. Its three sponsors, Northern Virginia Democrats Mark Levine, Kay Kory and Marcus Simon, will surely be back with a longer list of sponsors for 2020, and a House Privileges and Elections Committee with a Democratic majority.  Continue reading

Meatless food and the future of Virginia agriculture

Photo credit:

By DJ Rippert

Chow time. Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry. No other private industry is even close. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) claims that agriculture has an economic impact of $70 billion annually and provides more than 334,000 jobs in the Commonwealth. Virginia’s top agricultural products and their cash receipts are:

  1. Broilers (chicken) – $935M
  2. Cattle and calves – $413M
  3. Greenhouse / nursery – $306M
  4. Dairy products, milk – $306
  5. Turkeys – $236M

Of Virginia’s five top agricultural products four are under possible attack from a revolution in food technology – meatless meat. McKinsey & Company just issued the latest version of The Next Normal: Perspectives on the future of industries journal. The title? The future of food: Meatless. Some of the commentary in that journal ought to have Virginians wondering about the future of the state’s largest private industry.

Continue reading

Chesterfield’s Slow-Motion Suburban Suicide

by James A. Bacon

The traffic engineers, it appears, have won. Chesterfield County is doubling down on suburban sprawl with plans to build a series of “superstreets” at a cost of tens of millions of dollars over the next decade. While the massive infrastructure investment likely will reduce traffic accidents and improve traffic flow on the streets themselves, they will literally cement into place the county’s dysfunctional land use patterns.

This article in the Chesterfield Observer lays out the rationale behind the superstreet concept. “It provides for a high-capacity roadway, and also safety because you don’t have these intersections where [cars] cross paths in front of each other. It’s a way to eke out additional capacity without widening,” says Jesse Smith, the county’s transportation director. According to the Observer, work on the first project, on Iron Bridge Road (Route 10), will cost $64 million and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2022.

Greater Greater Washington critiques Chesterfield’s superstreet in a recent blog postGGW questions whether the added transportation capacity is needed, argues that the superstreet design rules walking and biking in the corridor, and contends that the money could be spent more effectively elsewhere, such as mass transit. The critique is worth a read. I agree with much of it, but differ in important respects. Continue reading

Inmates Need Costly Medical Care, Too

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In the most recently completed fiscal year, the general fund cost to provide medical care to Virginia prison inmates was $221.6 million.

That is a lot of money by any measure; it exceeds the entire budget of all but a few state agencies. However, despite its size, it does not get much public attention.

Like the state budget, medical costs threaten to consume the DOC budget.  The FY 2019 expenditures constituted more than 18% of the agency’s general fund budget. Each year, the budget request for additional funding for medical services is at the top of DOC’s list. Its FY 2019 appropriation for medical services exceeded its FY 2017 appropriation by $34.8 million. For the upcoming biennium, the agency has requested an additional $21.8 million in the first year and $28.3 million in the second year. Continue reading

The Cumberland Landfill: Another Case of Risk Illiteracy

by James A. Bacon

Last year the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors approved a conditional use permit for construction of a 500-acre mega-landfill. Some county residents welcome the facility, which would generate between $1.4 million and $2.8 million a year in host fees and provide a huge revenue boost to a county budget of roughly $15 million a year. But others oppose the project.

Irène Mathieu, a Charlottesville pediatrician, raises all sorts of phantasmagorical concerns in an op-ed today appearing in The Virginia Mercury. In her clinic, she says, she encounters children suffering from asthma or complications from premature births. “The scientific evidence tells us that air and water pollution are contributing factors to these children’s problems, and that the burden from pollution is disproportionately borne by children of color and those living in poverty.”

Threats to Cumberland County families and children — nearly one-third of whom are African-American, she points out — include groundwater contamination, dust, methane, and “dramatic surges in traffic.” The landfill, she adds, would close off a road in front of a historic African-American school, rendering community access nearly impossible. Further, she writes, “I worry about the self-worth of children who grown up with no access to their local history, the graves of their ancestors now a repository for trash.”

Wow! Where does one begin to dissect this kind of logic? Continue reading