Your Tax Dollars at Work: The Virginia Breeze

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) subsidizes three bus routes connecting communities in Southside and Southwest Virginia to population centers to the north. One of those, the Valley Flyer, links Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, ferrying college students to Northern Virginia and back. It carried more than 2,800 passengers in the 1st quarter of 2021. The farebox recovery was 45%, and the average cost per passengers was a modest $45.33, according to DRPT’s Virginia Breeze Bus Lines 1st Quarter 2021 report. Not bad as far as public transportation goes.

A second line, the Capital Connector, connects Martinsville with Richmond and Northern Virginia. It carried 820 passengers in the 1st quarter, for a 10% farebox recovery and an average cost per passenger of $231.60. Not so good.

Then there is the Piedmont Express, commencing in Danville and running through Altavista, Lynchburg, Amherst, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Warrenton, Gainesville and Dulles airport before terminating in Washington. The 1st quarter passenger count was 269, the farebox recovery 5%, and the average cost per passenger $729.63. Continue reading

Richmond Wants to Kill Its Gas Utility, Also Ending Service in Henrico, Chesterfield

Pending Termination

by Steve Haner

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That the (Richmond) Council hereby commits to working with the City’s Administration on an equitable plan to phase out reliance on gas and shift to accelerated investment in City-owned renewable energy and hereby recognizes that the continued operation of the City’s gas utility is an obstacle to the City’s goal of Net-Zero emissions in accordance Resolution No. 2020-R024, adopted June 8, 2020.

Translation:  The Richmond Gas Works, a municipal owned public service utility, is targeted for closure.   Council sees its continued operation as “an obstacle.”  The 117,600 customers (as of 2018) will need to run their lives and businesses without natural gas.  Those customers are not confined to the city itself but are also located in Henrico and Chesterfield counties.

Disclosure:  The neighborhood where Jim Bacon and I live, miles from the city line, is served by Richmond Gas Works.  Just last year at some expense I converted a traditional 80 gallon electric water heater to a tankless gas unit.  The goal was to save energy (it did), but if this happens, I’m back to the less efficient approach and my least favorite power company digs deeper into my pocket.

Every single candidate for the legislature in Richmond, Henrico or Chesterfield needs to tell the voters whether they will let this stand or oppose this effort to kill natural gas options.  It will end up before the General Assembly or the State Corporation Commission or the courts or all three.  The resolution itself contemplates needing legislation to accomplish its goals.   The city probably has a legal (and enforceable) obligation to continue service under current law. Continue reading

VDH Should Show Vaccinations for Age and Race Together

by Carol J. Bova

Jim Bacon used an infographic from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in his recent post, God, COVID and the Rage Against the Unvaccinated showing the percent of the eligible population in Virginia with at least one dose.

What the infographic doesn’t say is the numbers are based on Virginians age 12 and up. When you look at another VDH chart by age, you see some pretty impressive numbers from age 35 and up, ranging from 71.0 to 89.9 percent. Continue reading

2021 SAT Scores: Virginia Still Shines… With Caveats

SAT scores range from 200 to 800 in both English and Math. Composite scores range from 400 to 1600.

by James A. Bacon

CollegeBoard has released SAT data for the 2021 testing season, and the good news for the Old Dominion is that Virginia high school graduates outperformed their peers in the other 49 states (and Washington, D.C.). Virginia’s average overall score of 1151 for English and Math was 91 points higher than the national average.

Even in a normal year, however, comparing state SAT scores is a dicey proposition. This year, after K-12 schools across the country adopted widely different strategies in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, comparisons are even more problematic.

“While this year’s results represent a snapshot of achievement on the SAT during an extraordinary year,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane in a press release yesterday, “Virginia students overall continue to perform well above their peers nationwide.”

Lane’s statement holds up under scrutiny, as I shall show momentarily. Virginia’s schools did outperform their peers. However, Virginia schools have always outperformed other states. The key question for Virginia voters evaluating the performance of the Northam administration is whether Virginia’s lead over other states grew or shrank in the past year. Did we fare better or worse relatively speaking? Answers are difficult to come by. Continue reading

McAuliffe Promises $8.3 Billion in New Spending

by Jesse Lynch

As of August 2021, Terry McAuliffe has released over eighteen plans for his second term as Governor of Virginia. The policy proposals oscillate between highly specific and indefinitely vague. This report attempts to forecast five of these proposals: education, economics, entrepreneurship, COVID-19, and healthcare. The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy has attempted to assign a fiscal impact for all the proposals using publicly available information from reports from the Department of Planning and Budget, the Virginia House and Senate Appropriation Staff, and other entities involved in the allocation and appropriation of Virginia’s Budget.

Our budget projections are based on current spending, excluding the American Rescue Plan Act funding. According to our analysis, a McAuliffe budget would have the following significant effects:

  • Virginia’s Operating Budget spending would increase by $8,312,224,332 over the biennium. The General Fund would increase by $7,634,029,721, and the Non-General Fund (NGF) would increase by $678,194,611 (See Table 2).
  • McAuliffe’s proposals would represent an increase of 5.99% to the 2022-23 Operating Budget in new proposals.
  • The costliest proposed policy would be allowing Virginia’s state government employees to engage in collective bargaining, which would cost the Commonwealth more than $1,874,965,290.

Continue reading

September 16

At the Jersey Shore before I was born.

by Kerry Dougherty

I’m almost never satisfied with my writing. That’s why, if you read one of my posts in the morning and go back in the afternoon it will be slightly different. I can’t stop tinkering.

Over the years I’ve written a handful of pieces that I thought were pretty good. This is one. I’ve shared it before, but I’m posting it again today for those who may have missed it or don’t mind reading it again.

The reason for offering you this today will be obvious to anyone who reads to the end.

I can remember exactly where I was on September 16, 1998. I remember what I was wearing, the cup of 7-Eleven coffee that went cold on the tray table and the way the morning sun sifted through the dingy window.

Shortly after dawn, I was in a hospital bed in Hamilton, N.J., cradling the snowy head of the woman who taught me how to ride a bike, roller skate and shuffle cards like a blackjack dealer.

If you had peeked into her room, you would have seen a frail, sick woman. That isn’t what I saw. Continue reading

The Economics of Flood Control in Virginia

Hampton Roads base flood – 1% annual risk

by James C. Sherlock

We have work to do, and need to do it quickly and well.

  • If we want to get storm defenses built before major storm damage rather than after; and
  • if we want the federal government to pay 65% of the costs.

Let’s assume we do.

The “Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework” appears to be heading in a direction that may miss important pieces of any benefit/cost assessment. And those assessments drive federal interest.

The assumption in Framework going forward appears to be that the value of flood protection is in loss avoidance. Exclusively. 

Indeed, all of the work that I can find in flooding assessments Virginia is put towards the goal of understanding the costs of such losses.

Not sufficient, but fixable. Continue reading

Rules Are for the Little People: Terry McAuliffe Edition

Terry McAuliffe violated federal mask-wearing regulations while traveling on an Amtrak train this summer, as seen in photos obtained by Fox News. The Democratic Party candidate for governor, who has urged others to wear masks, spoke maskless on a cell phone while walking through Union Station and boarding a train, according to the passenger who snapped the photos. Continue reading

Quote of the Day: Mary Trigiani

Mary Trigiani is a management consultant in Southwest Virginia. One of her interests is rethinking “economic development” in the region. I was struck by this morning’s lead-in to her daily newsletter.

Economic development is, for some, the game of redistributing taxpayer money and sustaining agencies for that purpose – without reporting ROI back to taxpayers or marking real progress. When it’s done right, however, economic development is an intricate process of modeling businesses, vetting partners, and building bridges – so that people can find jobs, prosper, and enjoy life. This shift in definition is a condition of today’s renaissance. And I believe Virginia’s Great Southwest will show the way.

— JAB

God, COVID and the Rage Against the Unvaccinated

by James A. Bacon

“There is a growing rage among the people who are vaccinated about the people who have refused a free and effective vaccine,” Stephen Farnsworth, an oft-quoted political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said recently. “We’re all going back toward lockdowns because of the selfishness of a few.”

As Farnsworth notes, there may be political fallout from the rage against the unvaccinated. The people who feel this righteous anger carry an image of the unvaccinated as White don’t-tread-on-me Donald Trump voters putting their personal liberties ahead of the common good… Except when they acknowledge that a few of the unvaccinated are Black. They view Black vaccination resistance more charitably as an understandable, if misguided, response to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study that ended a half century ago.

But I wonder. How many unvaccinated Blacks cite the Tuskegee study? How many are wary of “systemic racism” in the healthcare system? Are such tropes widely shared view among Blacks — or a construct of journalists, academics and other members of America’s clerisy?

After a lengthy conversation with an African-American tradesman who is active in my neighborhood, I have come to question the Tuskegee talking point. And I suspect that vaccination resistance among many Blacks likely arises from their religious faith. Viewing the world through a secular lens, America’s clerisy may be downplaying the influence of religious thinking among the unvaccinated. Continue reading

“You Have to…”

by Dr. A Schuhart

The indoctrinal push to impose Critical Race Theory across American society is centered in the verb phrase to have to. Its primary meaning states a requirement, but it is a requirement that also connotes a threat for failure to comply. In every training and in every managed discussion of DEI at the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) that I have to attend, the arguments used to “persuade” me have been prefaced by this troublesome helping verb.

I hear “you have to see that” and “you have to understand” and “you have to look at it this way” in every part of the structure of this vast toulminian hornswoggle known as CRT. Yes, it is true that if I see it your way, then I will agree with you. But it does not follow that because you think you are right, that I have to see it your way, or consequently, that you have the right to force to do so. This is an irrational claim, a fallacy at the core of CRT “reasoning.”

Further, this belief that I have to think, or see, your idea your way gives rise to a set of false deductions that end in conflict, rather than consensus. See, you who think I have to think about CRT and DEI a certain way fail, firstly, to declare your full logical claim. What you mean is I have to see it your way for it to be true because the only way CRT can be true is if everyone says it is true, for it is not logically true (as I am demonstrating here). Continue reading

Understanding the Jackson Statue Controversy

by Donald Smith

Perhaps you’ve noticed the discussion over the past year about the banishment… er, sorry, removal… of Stonewall Jackson’s statue from the Virginia Military Institute’s Main Post. Well, here’s another contribution. I will make the case that the powers-that-be behind the excision of Jackson’s memory from VMI weren’t trying to help the institute. They wanted to humiliate it.

The Barnes and Thornburgh analysts who studied the racial climate at VMI noted that many people attend VMI because they want a military experience.  Men and women who enroll at the academy are a lot like cadets or midshipmen at West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy, the Citadel and Norwich.

Military schools, and military men and women, honor leaders who showed courage, determination and excellence in battle. Military schools are normally proud of the great generals and admirals they produced. Continue reading

The Enrollment Gap Colleges Don’t Like to Talk About

by James A. Bacon

While college administrators across Virginia and the United States fixate on the racial/ethnic makeup of their institutions, there’s a large and growing gender gap. Young women dominate enrollment at most higher-ed institutions these days. Fewer young men are applying, and even when they do, they’re dropping out more frequently. Administrators don’t like male-female imbalances because students don’t like it — colleges are mating markets as much as they’re centers of learning — but no one seems to be doing much about it.

There is no simple explanation for the large and growing mismatch. There is likely the same kind of “pipeline” problem we see with minorities — fewer males are applying for college because fewer are graduating from high school with college-ready skills. Additionally, males also may be more prone to substance abuse and mental illness, syndromes that are highly disruptive to academic performance.

There’s another possible reason, one that appeals to conservatives who see higher-ed institutions as dens of ideological inequity. In a higher-ed world dominated by the ideology of interesectionality — heterosexual white males are the O- of human society, universal oppressors — young men, especially young white men, experience college as a hostile environment. There may be some merit to this view, but it is only part of a larger story. Continue reading

Another Sick Idea: Vaccine Passports for Domestic Travel

by Kerry Dougherty

Oh look. Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia car dealer who served eight years as Virginia’s lieutenant governor and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1997 against Jim Gilmore, is in the news. The congressman who represents the second-most Democratic district in the commonwealth — the 8th — has joined the Biden administration in trying to completely balkanize America into the vaxxed and unvaxxed.

As if Biden’s likely illegal mandates to force federal workers — excluding postal workers or members of congress — to be vaccinated wasn’t a strong enough start on a medical apartheid system in the U.S., Beyer wants to go full Fauci on the unvaxxed.

To that end, Beyer has introduced a bill that he’s dubbed “Safe Travel Act,” which would ban the unvaccinated from commercial flights and Amtrak unless they can produce a negative COVID test not more than 72 hours old.

This bill may be masquerading as a safety measure, but it is purely punitive. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Wind, Rain and Sun Edition

What happens when the wind doesn’t blow? The North Sea, locale of the world’s largest cluster of wind farms, normally delivers strong, consistent wind flows that keeps the turbines spinning. But every once in a while, weather happens and the winds diminish. That’s what’s occurring now. Blame it on global warming, if you will — that seems to be the explanation for every inconvenient fluctuation in rainfall, temperature and extreme weather.

Whatever the cause, according to the Wall Street Journal, the falloff in wind is wreaking havoc in the United Kingdom, where wind supplies 25% of the nation’s electric power. Due to the wind “shortage,” marginal electricity prices have shot up to the equivalent of $395 per megawatt/hour (or $0.395 per kilowatt hour). That compares to the statewide average of $0.11 per kilowatt hour in Virginia. To make up the deficit, UK utilities have been burning more… coal. Coal will provide a backstop until 2024, when all coal-fired plants will be shuttered. Is anyone in Virginia paying attention?

Speaking of coal… Southwest Virginians are still casting around for ideas of what to do when the coal plants close. There is no lack of creative thinking. I just don’t know how practical it is. Here is the latest: growing artisanal grains. Once upon a time, Virginia’s coal counties grew grain to supply alcohol feedstock for a booming coal-town bars and saloons. The economics shifted in favor of massive Midwest farms, which enjoyed economies of scale, and local grain farming nearly ceased. But, according to The Virginia Mercury, local economic-development groups want to play on the local-food movement to make Southwest Virginia a primary source of specialty grains for Virginia’s growing craft beverage industry. Virginia imports 400,000 bushels of grain into the state. Snagging  a piece of that action could support a lot of farms.

With climate change, who knows how that will work out. Let’s hope the rain keeps falling. Continue reading