Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Bacon Bits: From Feel-Good to Feel-Bad

Feel-good story of the day. Musical superstar Pharrell Williams, a Virginia Beach native, is collaborating with the city’s Convention & Visitors Bureau to create two 60-second commercials, featuring his soon-to-be-released song “Virginia,” promoting Virginia Beach as a city open to tourists. Pharrell contacted city officials after the mass-shooting last year, asking how he could help his home town. One of the commercials, reports the Virginian-Pilot, will show the work that takes place in early-morning hours to prepare for visitors: a man cleaning kayaks to rent, a chef chopping vegetables, city workers grooming sand on the beach, hotel staff fluffing pillows. Williams composed the hit song, “Happy,” which went wildly viral as hundreds of groups shot videos of themselves lip syncing to the song.

Good news from Petersburg. After digging itself out of the worst fiscal meltown in modern Virginia history, the City of Petersburg is reporting its first positive fund balance in four years. The city’s “unassigned fund balance,” not earmarked for a specific portion of the General Fund, came in at $2.8 million in Fiscal 2018, reports the Progress-Index. The city has set a goal of increasing the unassigned balance to $7.6 million. Petersburg was no more reckless than any number of other cities across the United States, but Virginia is less forgiving of fiscal incompetence. As a consequence, the poor, largely African-American municipality was forced to make hard choices and enact brutal spending cuts. Now it is emerging more financially disciplined than before. If Petersburg can straighten itself out, so can other deadbeat states and municipalities. If Virginians demanded that Petersburg make sacrifices, we should expect the same of others, too. Puerto Rico, I’m talking to you! Chicago, I’m talking to you!

When “multicultural” means “nonwhite-cultural”… Last week video surfaced of a black female student delivering a “public service announcement” at UVa’s new “Multicultural Student Center.” Apparently, the “multi” part did not include white culture. There were “just too many white people,” the young woman informed the unwelcome visitors. The center, she said, was “a space for people of color.” To its credit, the University administration issued a statement affirming that the center is “open to all members of the University community.” But it appears that a lot of students (including many white students) agree with the young woman. In interviews published on The College Fix, many students agreed with the proposition that minorities need a “safe space” free from whites.

Richmond’s Pulse Stimulates Mid-Rise Development

Artist’s rendering of proposed Broad Street tower

by James A. Bacon

Sometimes it seems like the City of Richmond can’t do anything right. City Council just nixed a $1.5 billion redevelopment plan for the Navy Hill district in downtown. And no one can figure out where, or how, to build a new minor league baseball stadium. But the city has hit a couple of home runs. It’s preserving the James River as a magnificent park running through the center of the city. And, overcoming considerable controversy, the city managed to build a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system along the Broad Street corridor.

Not only did Richmond find $65 million to cover the Pulse’s capital costs, it created the appropriate zoning along Broad Street to encourage the re-development of fraying urban and suburban land along the route. The fast-bus service was designed to support the kind of mid-density, mixed-use “walkable urbanism” that many Richmond residents are looking for. It took a while, but it now appears that the city’s foresight is paying off.

Minneapolis-based The Opus Group has filed for a special use permit to erect a 12-story residential tower on the corner of Broad and Lombardy streets near the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. The 168-unit apartment would replace a Sunoco gas station and convenience store. The top floor would sport an outdoor terrace with commanding views, while the ground floor would provide 3,400 square feet of retail space. Continue reading

Bon Secours — a Blessing Indeed

by James C. Sherlock

Bon Secours/Mercy Health has acquired hospitals currently owned by Community Health Systems (CHS) in Petersburg, Franklin and Emporia.  It is welcome news that brings great credit to this Catholic charity and honors its historic mission.

CHS, headquartered in Tennessee, has been in poor financial shape for a long time.[1] CHS hospitals in Petersburg, Emporia and Franklin reported enormous debt loads and collectively reported a combined operating margin of negative 5.6%[2] in 2018, the latest year for which we have published state records. Not coincidentally, they served some of the poorest and sickest people in Virginia in a region whose population is declining. That region also hosts the most heavily African=American population in Virginia. Government payers make up a disproportionately high share of the payer mix. Bon Secours’ tax-exempt status, Medicaid expansion and the associated rate increase will move the needle, but financial constraints will remain.

Recruiting and retaining medical professionals to live and work near those hospitals has proven very difficult. In June of last year, I used the latest available hospital staff requirements and inpatient-days-per-year data from the state[3] and subtracted real-time online hospital recruiting data (staff shortages) to estimate roughly the workloads on existing staff at hospitals across the state.

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A More Urgent Question than Ever: Who Will Cover the News?

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam and the 2020 General Assembly has engineered one of the greatest assaults on the middle class in Virginia history. You would never imagine that from reading the coverage by Virginia’s news outlets, whose reporters and editorial writers are so in sync with the new Democratic majority that the only controversies worth noting are intramural skirmishes within the liberal/progressive movement. (Well, the media did get around eventually to taking note of the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement, but only after it had spread to all corners of the state.)

The current generation of journalists literally cannot imagine any other way of looking at the issues. The topics highlighted here on Bacon’s Rebellion — the tax hikes and clawbacks, the heaping of new costs onto electricity ratepayers, the institutionalization of identity politics in schools and government — barely make it into the news articles, much less the headlines. Virginians may have elected a Democratic majority, but they did not vote for a revolution in governance. They have no idea what is about to hit them. And they likely won’t know it until it actually does hit them, because they won’t read or hear about it in the dominant media outlets.

Against this backdrop, we learn that the Virginian-Pilot, once the strongest voice in Virginia journalism, is consolidating offices with the Daily News. The shriveled Pilot news staff now will cover news for the 1.1 million inhabitants of Hampton Roads south of the James River from the Daily Press office north of the river. (See Kerry Dougherty’s column today for details.) This development follows the relentless decimation of newsrooms in other newspapers across Virginia. Their ultimate demise seems inevitable. Continue reading

Non-Union Construction Workers Need Not Apply

Photo credit: Joint Base Langley-Eustis

by Ben Brubeck

Democratic leadership in control of the General Assembly for the first time since 1993 is close to sending legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk that would raise the cost of construction and maintenance of schools, affordable housing, roads, transportation and other infrastructure projects critical to keeping Virginia economically competitive. Taxpayers should take note of the financial impact of these measures on infrastructure and development in their communities—and its anti-competitive effect on opportunity for Virginia’s construction industry.

Bills sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (SB 182) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (HB 358) has already been passed by their respective chambers following last week’s General Assembly crossover deadline. These bills would rescind a 2012 statute requiring state agencies to use a fair and open competitive bidding process to procure contracts for the construction of public works projects. The existing statute will be replaced with a controversial policy permitting government-mandated project labor agreements, or PLAs, on state and local construction projects. Continue reading

Norfolk Needs a Newspaper, So Does Virginia Beach

The Virginian-Pilot building in downtown Norfolk

by Kerry Dougherty

Come spring Norfolk will no longer have a daily newspaper. Neither will the commonwealth’s largest city, Virginia Beach. Or its second-largest city, Chesapeake.

No matter how The Tribune company tries to spin its boneheaded decision to drag the remnants of the once-sprawling Virginian-Pilot staff to The Daily Press building in Newport News — 26.3 miles away — this will no longer be a paper that’s produced in Norfolk.

Sad.

You don’t move a newspaper out of its coverage area. Not if you care about covering the news, that is. Continue reading

Collective Bargaining in Schools: a Prescription for Problems

Joseph Ocol — booted from teacher’s union

by Chris Braunlich

Joseph Ocol is the kind of teacher most parents would fight to have teach their daughter.

His Englewood, Chicago, girls’ chess team won the national championship in 2016 against 60 other schools, an achievement noted in the Congressional Record, by news media and by the mayor and city council. And the girls have gone back since then, placing 4th last year.

But back in 2016, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on a one-day strike and Ocol made the decision that, if they were to have a chance at winning, his chess team couldn’t afford to take a day off from training. So Ocol skipped the strike to coach his kids.

For his efforts, the teachers’ union threw Ocol out. CTU simply put union needs above the needs of children from a community in which 45% are below the poverty line. Those who strayed from the party line were to be punished. Continue reading

Move to Virginia, Live Longer

Source: “In Place-Based Drivers of Mortality: Evidence from Migration,” National Bureau of Economic Research.

Virginia doesn’t have a reputation as being one of the healthiest states to live in — too many obese people. But a study on place-based drivers of mortality finds that a 65-year-old person with average health moving from one “commuting zone” in the country to most “commuting zones” in the Old Dominion will add between 0.26 to 1.26 years to their life expectancy. Continue reading

If Mo’ Money Fails Maryland Schools, Why Will It Be Any Different in Virginia?

by James A. Bacon

Members of a Maryland education commission have painted a bleak picture of the state’s education system, reports the Washington Post. Students are failing, and teachers are fleeing. Without drastic reforms, the commission warns, Maryland’s economy will face dire consequences.

“The current system is not working,” says Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County. “Maryland students are struggling to compete among their peers internationally. Achievement gaps based on income race and disability aren’t closing. We’re losing good teachers to better-paying industries. And the majority of our high school graduates aren’t college- and career-ready.”

The proposed solution? The same as it is everywhere: Mo’ Money! Lawmakers’ proposed legislation would cost Marylanders nearly $4 billion a year in state and local revenue.

Why should Virginians care about Maryland’s travails? Because Virginia is heading where Maryland is now. Continue reading

Does Solar Power in Virginia Still Need the M&T Tax Break?

by James A. Bacon

Solar energy is the cheapest source of electricity now available, solar advocates tell us, and that’s a big reason we should build more of it in Virginia. At the same time, says the solar lobby, the industry needs local-government tax breaks, in particular a state-mandated 80% exemption from local machine-and-tool taxes.

“If that tax incentive was not in place, you could not have the had the kind of development that was necessary,” David Murray, executive director of the Maryland-DC-Delaware-Virginia Energy Industry Association, tells the Register & Bee website at GoDanRiver.com.

So, which is it? Is solar the cheapest electricity source available, or the cheapest just when poor rural local governments are compelled by the state to grant massive tax breaks?

Pittsylvania County, the county adjacent to the City of Danville, has one solar farm in operation and has granted permitting for eight others. The county expects to benefit from two revenue streams: property taxes and machine & tool taxes. Under legislation in effect since 2016, small solar projects (less than 20 megawatts capacity) are entirely exempt from the M&T tax, while larger projects are 80% exempt. Moreover, under the State Corporation Commission depreciation schedule, utility-scale solar is taxed at 90% of value in the first five years but only 10% of value by year 25. Continue reading

Virginia Dems Shoot Down Assault Weapons Bill

I am pleased to announce an affiliation with KerryDougherty.com published by former Virginian-Pilot columnist Kerry Dougherty. Kerry writes on a wide range of topics pertaining to politics and popular culture from a conservative perspective, and she has given us permission to re-post her commentary regarding the follies and foibles of Virginia here on Bacon’s Rebellion. — JAB

by Kerry Dougherty

After I wrote a piece last week revealing where Rep. Elaine Luria hid during the State of the Union address, one reader – we’ll call her Joan – left a comment on my Facebook page.

“Why don’t you ever write anything positive about Democrats?” she lamented.

“Like what, Joan?” I replied.

Crickets.

Well, Joan, this one’s for you. Turns out there are some anti-gun measures that even Virginia Democrats can’t stomach. As a result, I have something very positive to say about Creigh Deeds, John Edwards, Chap Petersen and Scott Surovell, the four Senate Democrats who boldly broke ranks with the anti-gun zealots running their party to vote against the so-called “assault weapons” bill. Continue reading

Virginia’s Remarkably Profitable Nonprofit Hospitals

by James C. Sherlock

Moody’s Investor Service, which follows hospital finances and bond issues, has reported[1] that the nationwide nonprofit hospital median operating margin reached 1.7% in FY 2018. The same report defined sustainability operating margins at 2.5% and stated:

Revenue growth remained a major hurdle as hospitals faced ongoing reimbursement challenges and weak inpatient volume growth relative to outpatient visits. … Reimbursement difficulties were underscored by a reported decline in commercial revenue as a percent of gross revenue, while reliance on less lucrative Medicare increased.

Sounds dire and is, but not here. Virginia hospitals never had it as good as they did in 2018. Compared to the rest of the country, Virginia’s nonprofit hospitals constituted  an enormous statistical outlier, something north of four standard deviations from the mean. Continue reading

Racial Preferences in Energy Bill Are Unconstitutional

Energy construction projects soon subject to racial hiring preferences

by Hans Bader

Virginia’s new Democratic legislature is passing an energy law that contains racial preferences. But to try to get around constitutional restrictions on racial discrimination, it is primarily targeting such preferences to “predominantly-minority areas,” rather than to minority individuals. This doesn’t immunize this legislation against a constitutional challenge, but it does complicate things for challengers.

Both houses of the Virginia legislature have passed passed the “Virginia Clean Economy Act” (VCEA). It will increase residents’ utility bills a lot in the years to come. It also provides jobs and job training reserved for areas that are predominantly minority or predominantly lower income (HB 1526 and SB 851).

The VCEA requires a utility, in constructing an offshore wind generation facility, to “give priority to the hiring of local workers, including workers” from “a community in which a majority of the population are people of color.” Such facilities are likely to cost billions to construct, paid for by higher utility bills.

The VCEA also requires that 50% of deficiency payment revenue from the RPS (Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Program) be directed to “job training programs” and 30% of revenue be directed to “renewable energy programs” in “historically economically disadvantaged communities,” which include low-income communities or any “community in which a majority of the population are people of color.” This is expected to be a lot of revenue, because it is what utilities will pay if they fail to hit their renewable energy targets, and few expect them to meet their targets. Continue reading

The Language of the New Racism: “People of Color”

Who has more skin pigmentation, this Korean-American “person of color” or…

by James A. Bacon

So far Steve Haner is the only journalist in the state of Virginia to have remarked upon the most significant attribute of the the most consequential legislation to pass both the state Senate and House of Delegates this session — a provision in the Omnibus Energy bill that would bequeath special treatment upon that most amorphous but oh-so-politically-correct racial category, “People of Color.” (See “Energy Omnibus III: Race, Poverty and Justice.”)

The omnibus bill, as Steve has explained in his three-post series, would radically overhaul Virginia’s electricity infrastructure, making it greener and more expensive. In tacit acknowledgment that restructuring the electric grid will cost rate payers billions of dollars, legislators would insulate low-income Virginians from rate increases and also would engage in racially preferential hiring for utility construction contracts in “historically economically disadvantaged communities.”

How is such a community defined?

Historically economically disadvantaged community” means a community that is (i) a community in which a majority of the population are people of color or (ii) a low-income geographic area.

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Is Carbon Capture Technology Scalable?

by Jane Twitmyer

When talking about the future of Dominion Energy in a recent TV interview, Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell mentioned carbon sequestration as an approach for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the company moves toward a “zero net” carbon energy mix.  In the past, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) seemed to be going nowhere. But Farrell’s comments prompted me to wonder what the current status of CCS technology was. 

Today, according to the Global CCS Institute, there are 19 large-scale commercial carbon capture and sequestration facilities operating around the world, ten of which are in the United States. All of them are pulling carbon dioxide from the emissions of an associated factory or power plant. Trouble is … the carbon has nowhere to go, so both removing and sequestering the carbon adds major costs to electricity generation.

Once you’ve captured the large amounts of carbon dioxide emitted from the electricity plants, there’s the small matter of where you store it. Under everyday conditions carbon dioxide is a gas, so it takes up a huge amount of space, and we’re producing it in vast quantities. An option with its own set of complications is to turn the carbon dioxide into a liquid (so it takes up a tiny fraction as much volume) and then pump it deep underground where it hopefully will remain. The thought of storing it deep in the ocean has been discarded because the ocean has already acted as a CO2 sink and appears to be reaching its limit absorbing CO2 without creating great damage.

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