Author Archives: James A. Bacon

The Future of Agriculture — in a Danville Industrial Park

by James A. Bacon

Newark, N.J.-based AeroFarms will invest $42 million to build its largest, most sophisticated indoor vertical farm to date in a joint Danville-Pittsylvania County industrial park. The project will create 92 new jobs.

Virginia competed with North Carolina for the project. Subsidies include a $200,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund, a $200,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, $190,000 from the Tobacco Regional Opportunity Fund, and an unquantified tax benefit from locating in a Virginia Enterprise Zone.

Aerofarm’s business model is incredibly cool. The company uses proprietary aeroponic growing technology to “produce highly flavorful leafy greens at at rate 390 times more productive than field-grown plants,” states a press release from the Governor’s Office. The farming techniques use a fraction of the water and fertilizer of traditional agriculture. Continue reading

Northam Proposes Another $145 Million Giveaway

by James A, Bacon

The spending avalanche keeps building. Governor Ralph Northam now is proposing to spend $145 million in the next two-year budget to make tuition-free community college available to “low- and middle-income” students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields.

The Governor’s “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) program would cover tuition, fees and books.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to get a good education and a good job, no matter who you are or how much money you have,” Northam said in a statement. “This is an investment in equity and our economy — by helping Virginians get the skills they need, we’re building a world-class workforce while ensuring all Virginians can support themselves, their families, and their communities.”

There is so much sloppy thinking in this proposal that it’s hard to know where to begin. But I’ll try…. Continue reading

The Gas Boom Is Over

Natural gas storage tanks in the Marcellus shale fields. Photo credit: New York Times

By Peter Galuszka

The boom in shale natural gas is over, reports The New York Times.

The trend raises more questions about billions of dollars worth of gas-related projects in Virginia, including Dominion’s plans to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and other firms’ efforts to place two big generating stations near Charles City.

The boom in shale gas began a decade ago when hydraulic fracking methods went into wide use in fields such as Marcellus in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Eagle Ford and Permian in Texas and Williston in North Dakota.

The results were profound as gas displaced coal as a major generator of electricity. A bump in exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) loomed, as Dominion converted its Cove Point LNG facility to handle exports.

Independent firms such as Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma led the way. Big energy firms such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron bought up smaller firms and invested billions in shale gas operations. Numerous pipeline projects were announced, including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley projects in Virginia.

The result? Too much gas and resulting price drops.

Continue reading

Watch Out, Here Comes the Transportation and Climate Initiative

Virginia voter priorities. Source: Click to enlarge.

by James A. Bacon

A new poll from a “nonpartisan nonprofit think tank,” MassInc., has found that 60% of Virginians surveyed support the Transportation and Climate Initiative Framework while only 29% oppose it and 11% are unsure of their feelings, reports The Virginia Mercury.

We know right off the bat that the findings are nonsense. The fact is, most Virginians have never heard of the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Those who answered MassInc.’s questions were responding to a description of TCI provided by MassInc.’s pollsters:

Under the plan, companies that sell and distribute gasoline and diesel fuel to gas stations in the region would have to pay for the pollution created by the fuels sold and used there. Each state in the program would get a share of the money collected from those companies, based on how much fuel is used in their state. States could use this money to make transportation in their state better, cleaner, and more resilient to the effects of climate change. They could also use it to help residents with any higher costs the companies try to pass on to them.

That poll is about as loaded as you can get. Continue reading

The Mo’ Money Mountain Grows Ever Bigger

In his latest budgetary proposal, Governor Ralph Northam has proposed returning $733 million to Virginia taxpayers… Oh, wait a minute. I guess I misread the announcement. It seems he’s proposing $733 million in new spending to protect the environment and fight climate change.

That’s on top of advocating Virginia’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, expected to cost ratepayers multiple billions of dollars over the next decade; mo’ money for a preschool initiative; mo’ money for K-12 education; mo’ money to reduce maternal mortality; mo’ money for Medicaid; and mo’ money for the Virginia Retirement System. Meanwhile, his Secretary of Transportation is pushing for mo’ money for transportation funding, and he has yet to declare his position on the higher education lobby’s clamor for mo’ money.

There’s money for every Democratic Party constituency imaginable. That’s what you get with growing tax revenue and a statehouse controlled by Democrats. The one constituency getting muscled away from the feeding trough is the taxpayer. Elections have consequences.

And what are the middle- and working-class saps who pay the taxes doing about it? They’re mobilizing in defense of gun rights, getting rural and suburban localities to declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries.

What????? People, in the grand scheme of things, what is a bigger threat to your way of life? Restrictions on your right to purchase semi-automatic weapons… or higher income taxes, higher electric bills, higher gas taxes, runaway cost of college attendance, and out-of-control increases in the cost of health care? A few more years of going in the direction we’re going, and you won’t be able to afford to buy a semi-automatic rifle!

— JAB

Northam Proposes Reorganization of Tech Programs

The Center for Innovative Technology’s iconic soon-to-be-former headquarters.

by James A. Bacon

I’m so old that I remember when the Center for Innovative Technology, created to catalyze high-tech development in Virginia, was in charge of allocating state funds for university-based R&D. After commanding center stage in Virginia’s conversations about technology development during the 1990s and 2000s, CIT underwent successive downsizings to the point where it is a mere shell of its former self. Responsibility for overseeing state funding for R&D shifted to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), where it still resides.

The politics driving CIT’s dismemberment are long since forgotten. Now Governor Ralph Northam proposes to combine CIT with SCHEV’s Virginia Research Investment Committee, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative under the mantle of the Virginia Innovation Partnership Authority, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“What we have right now are multiple initiatives, all with good intent,” Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball said in an interview. “What we’re trying to do is pull all these together in one authority so we can allocate resources in the most efficient possible way.” Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Adventures in Transportation Policy

How “complete streets” helped revive a small town. Hopewell, best known for its kepone spill in the James River, is nobody’s idea of a progressive community. But perhaps it should be. The city of 22,000 is leading the way in designing bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly “complete streets,” writes Greater Greater Washington‘s Virginia correspondent. Three years after City Council committed to boost the health of its population by encouraging walking, outdoor recreation and nutritious food, its streetscape improvements have won a designation as a Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) platinum standard community. The shift to walkability has coincided with the creation of 25 new businesses downtown and 70 new jobs. Said Evan Kaufman, executive director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership: “Hopewell is one of those cities in which 10 years ago not many people had much hope for the future, but following Main Street and complete streets principles have changed the city in a way few people thought possible.”

Richmond’s fare skipper problem. By one measure, Richmond’s transit system is doing great: Ridership is up 15% since the launch of the Pulse Bus Rapid Transit system in June 2018. But lax enforcement on the transit line has lost revenue for the cash-strapped system, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The transit system, GRTC, cannot even quantify how prevalent fare skippers are. “Without an accurate fare evasion rate, GRTC may be unable to assess the severity of fare evasion and its financial impact,” states a new report from the Richmond city auditor. GRTC estimates that riders who evade the $1.50 fare account for 12% to 14% of the Pulse’s 5,400 average daily ridership. On paper, then, fare skippers account for some $360,000 a year in lost revenue. But who knows… if forced to pay their fares, how many would bother to take the Pulse in the first place?

Metro, Union strike contract deal. The Washington Metro has agreed to a four-year labor contract with its largest union. The transit agency will give up its strategy of privatizing some operations in exchange for… what… well, that’s not exactly clear, According to the Washington Post, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld moved to privatize several Metro operations in order to contain expenses and stay within a 3% cap on the annual growth in subsidies negotiated as a condition for a boost in financial support from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. ATU Union Local 689, with about 800 members, has been on strike, shutting down or reduce Metrobus routes used by about 8,500 riders daily. Continue reading

Northam Wants $95 Million More for Preschools

First Lady Pam Northam at a preschool in Warrenton. Photo credit: Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

Add another initiative to the ever-spawning list of new spending proposals facing the General Assembly in 2020: Governor Ralph Northam wants to spend $94.8 million on expanding early childhood education for poor Virginia children.

The primary justification offered for spending more on public pre-school is that other states spend more. If these articles in the Washington Post and Richmond Times-Dispatch are any indication, Northam provided no evidence — beyond his intuition — that the added spending would do anything lasting to advanced his stated goal of leveling “the playing field.”

“Where we end up in life has a lot to do with where we start,” Northam said in a statement. “Every child should have an equal opportunity to build a strong foundation, and early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make in our children’s health, well-being, and future success.”

First Lady Pam Northam, who has made early childhood education her cause, added this: “Ralph and I with our backgrounds — pediatric neurologist, pediatric occupational therapist originally and then as an educator — saw firsthand every day in our practices how little brains grow exponentially in those first years and how critical that window of time is.” Continue reading

VEDP Chief Urges More Funds for Site Readiness

by James A. Bacon

The paucity of developable sites and buildings resulted in Virginia communities being eliminated from consideration for at least 65 projects totaling 19,000 jobs and $5 billion in capital investment over the past three years, according to Virginia Economic Development Partnership President Stephen Moret.

Of the 466 large suites available for development as factories, distribution centers, call centers and other job-producing businesses, only 30 are classified as Tier 4 or Tier 5, meaning they are ready to compete for big economic development projects, Moret told the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board Monday. Only two sites — one in Hampton Roads and one in the Roanoke/New River Valley region — qualified for the highest level of readiness.

In Moret’s analysis, site development is one of the four drivers behind site location decisions, along with workforce characteristics, supportive business climate, and quality of life. Virginia has historically under-invested in site preparation compared to states with whom it competes for manufacturing and distribution/logistics investment. 

Continue reading

Watch Out! Here Comes a Gas Tax Hike!

Shannon Valentine

by James A. Bacon

Bacon’s Rebellion predicted that the change of political power in the General Assembly from red to blue would bring a raft of proposals for tax increases and revenue enhancements.

Because the General Fund is expected to see healthy revenue growth in the next biennial budget, I speculated that the Northam administration and its legislative allies would be restrained in their quest for new money, most likely pushing for sources that were either too opaque to understand (such as changes to tax deductions in response to the federal tax law) or too fragmented and obscure for anyone to notice. But it looks like I was wrong (hardly for the first time). According to WTOP, Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine suggested yesterday that the state could raise gas taxes next year.

Without a change to increase the gas tax or some other transportation funding source, the administration projects a decline in funding for road construction and other projects. In a development that takes absolutely no one by surprise, it turns out that fuel-efficiency improvements in Virginia’s automobile fleet are cutting into gasoline tax revenues. Continue reading

Virginia Health Rank Improves to 15th Best

Source: America’s Health Rankings

by James A. Bacon

Virginia has improved from 20th place last year to 15th place this year among the 50 states in America’s Health Rankings compiled by the United Health Foundation. The report cited the Commonwealth as one of three states that “made the largest improvements in the rankings since 2018.” (See the Virginia health profile here.)

Virginia strengths: a low crime rate, a low percentage of children in poverty, and high immunization coverage among children. Since 2012, smoking has decreased from 20.9% of adults to 14.9%. Air pollution has decreased, and so has infant mortality.

Virginia challenges: a low rate of mental health providers, low per capita public health funding, low meningococcal immunization among adolescents. Drug deaths are up, frequent mental distress has increased, and so has the rate of chlamydia.

Overall, the story is a positive one. To what does the Commonwealth owe this improvement? Continue reading

In Failure, the GOP Has an Opportunity to Reinvent Itself

Todd Gilbert, House Majority Leader and soon-to-be House Minority Leader: GOP must learn to appeal to suburban voters.

by James A. Bacon

So, the Republicans have wrapped up their annual “Advance” — a retreat at the Omni Homestead resort in Bath County. And if reports of the two newspapers that covered the event are to be believed — one from the Washington Post and one from the Roanoke Times — GOP leaders have absolutely no clue how to become competitive statewide.

Attendees do agree that they got shellacked in the November election, and they share a vague sense that they need to increase their appeal in the suburbs. But their only hope at this point resides in the conviction that Democrats will over-reach with Trump Derangement Syndrome in Washington and enact California-style legislation in Richmond. If voters get buyer’s remorse, they might start voting for Republicans again.

But you can’t defeat something with nothing, and there is no indication in either news account that Republicans gave much thought to what they stood for, other than not being insane. Continue reading

House of Delegates Election Tally: $66.4 Million

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

The final money tally is in, and it looks like more money was spent on House of Delegates elections in 2019 than any election in Virginia history. That was a nearly 42% increase over 2017, which itself was a record, according to data published by the Virginia Public Access Project. Democrats raised $38.2 million in the current election cycle, and Republicans raised $28.6.

Clearly, more money is better than less money when you’re running an election campaign. But having more money is no guarantee of victory. Del. Tim Hugo, D-Centreville, led the pack with $2.1 million, but he lost the election in a blue tide that swept over Northern Virginia.

Judging from anecdotal evidence, I suspect that a lot of the money was wasted. There is only so much spending that a media market can productively absorb. In my senatorial district, a showdown between Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, and Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, In the final days, we were deluged with direct mail pieces. I read the first few, but after a while, the mailers went straight into the trash.

A logical question to ask: Is campaign spending out of control? Should we restrict campaign donations? Continue reading

“Room Clears” Coming Soon to a School Near You?


by James A. Bacon

Virginia schools soon could have a new set of regulations governing the use of seclusion and restraint of students. The regs are awaiting approval by Governor Ralph Northam, an official with Virginia’s department of special education and student services told lawmakers Wednesday, as reported by VPM news.

The state needs standards for the use of these disciplinary methods, elaborated retiring Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, because there are no standards now. Bell, a retired high school special education teacher, championed the legislation requiring the Virginia Board of Education to restrict methods deemed “unsafe.” The board voted in July to ban the use of prone, or face-down, restraint in July.

No one wants teachers and staff using disciplinary methods that are unnecessarily harsh or potentially harmful — even to quell students acting violently. However, someone needs to think through the implications of these regulations in a school environment were emotionally unstable children are being mainstreamed. Virginia’s dominant media outlets don’t talk about this issue. Thankfully, we have Bacon’s Rebellion, and Bacon’s Rebellion has the Internet.

For a peak at the likely unintended consequences, look to Oregon…

Continue reading

Despite Five Years of Programs, Campus “Rapes” Surged at UVa in 2018

by James A. Bacon

Five years ago, Rolling Stone magazine plunged the University of Virginia into turmoil with its infamous article, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” Though totally discredited, the story prompted intensive soul-searching by a campus administration primed to believe in the existence of a “rape culture” at the university. As documented in the latest edition of Cville magazine, the university dedicated considerable resources to address the problem of sexual assault.

The university adopted a Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence, instituted outreach and training programs, developed a system for reporting and tracking sexual assaults, hired a full-time Title IX coordinator, and beefed up its Equal opportunity and Civil Rights office staff. Counseling & Psychological Services nearly doubled its staff. The Women’s Center received more funding, hired trauma counselors and set up counseling hotlines.

But a curious thing happened. The incidence of sexual assault isn’t improving. Indeed, in 2018 the number of reported “rapes” leaped to 28 from 16 the year before. Continue reading