Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

A Capital Idea

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

As a diversion from the coronavirus story, as well as an effort to give you a little more variety, the following is my previously promised summary of the General Assembly’s changes to the capital budget.  (It was only a little over two weeks ago that the legislature adjourned, but it seems much longer.)

The actions of the General Assembly were both surprising and not surprising. The surprise was that, for the first time in many years, maybe ever, the legislature ended up authorizing fewer capital projects and less debt than the Governor had recommended. The non-surprise was the winners and losers. Continue reading

Help for the State Budget

In answer to some calls on this blog for immediate adjustments to the state budget, my response was: Don’t panic.  There is a process already in place to deal with such a situation. Now, there is even less reason to panic. It is reported that the Commonwealth will receive at least $1.5 billion from the federal rescue package that will soon be enacted.

Just as the Obama stimulus package (along with shortchanging the state pension system) helped Bob McDonnell balance the budget in the middle of the financial crisis without a tax increase, this new rescue or stimulus package should help Governor Northam weather the economic storm caused by the coronavirus. Continue reading

Hospitals in Quandary

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Washington Post has reported that hospitals are struggling with their cash flow due to the coronoavirus crisis. As a result, they are asking Congress for emergency aid. The American Hospital Association is calling for $100 billion and the Federation of American Hospitals, the trade group for for-profit hospitals asked for $225 billion.

At the urging of national and health officials, hospitals are cancelling elective procedures. Those services bring in the revenue to cover a large portion of their overall operating costs. As a result, they are running low on cash.  Some are projecting they will be able to meet their payrolls only for a few weeks.

To add to these problems, vendors are requiring payment upon delivery for supplies and equipment. Some are saying they do not have the immediate cash on hand to buy the additional beds that political leaders, such as Governor Cuomo, are directing them to do. That could also be a problem in purchasing the additional ventilators that many predict will be needed.

In Virginia, the reaction of hospitals has been mixed. VCU Health, UVa Health and Bon Secours have cancelled or postponed elective procedures.  HCA Healthcare and Sentara have not changed their surgical schedules. Based on its latest COVID-19 advisory, it appears that INOVA in Northern Virginia has not changed its elective procedures schedule. Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington was one of those hospitals mentioned in a national article criticizing some hospitals for continuing to provide elective procedures. Virginia Healthcare Emergency Management Program, a partnership between the Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, issued a statement complaining about the lack of clear national definitions and opposing “a sweeping policy” applicable to all hospitals.

COPN Counterpoint

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

James Sherlock has been a welcome addition to this blog.  He has brought new insights into the area of health care policy.  I appreciate his obviously thorough research and arguments.

I am a person that likes to look at issues from different perspectives. I think doing so sharpens one’s understanding. Unfortunately, there have not been any countervailing arguments in the COPN discussion. Therefore, I have elected to step into the breach and play devil’s advocate, primarily for the sake of generating some more discussion.

As the result of some internet research, I ran across a paper that seems to do a nice job of summarizing the positions of both the opponents and proponents of COPN. The author is Megan Italiano, whose paper was an award-winner in the William and Mary Law School student publication series. Another source I used was an article in the Virginia Mercury last year. The links are at the end of this post. Continue reading

And This is How They Will Spend the Money

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Although the General Assembly, as usual, left most of the Governor’s budget bill untouched, it did leave its mark on it. Its top priority clearly was increasing compensation for state employees and teachers. It also toned down some of the Governor’s initiatives.

The revised budget bill for the 2020-2022 biennium reflects an additional $330.6 million in total revenue over the Governor’s introduced bill.  This increase is made up of $187.6 million in additional nongeneral fund (NGF) revenue and an additional $142.9 million for the general fund (GF). The bulk of the additional NGF comes from increases in transportation revenue provided for in the Governor’s omnibus transportation bill and from additional federal Medicaid matching funds.

This report will focus on the changes in GF appropriations agreed on by the legislature. The revision in the revenue projections accounts for most of the additional GF, with the remaining resulting from policy actions enacted by the G.A. Continue reading

Drugs in Prison

Buckingham Correctional Center

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) finds itself in a classic dammed-if-you-do, damned –if-you-don’t situation. On the one hand, it is facing a surge in illegal drugs coming into its prisons, enabled by drugs that are increasingly difficult to detect. On the other hand, it is facing popular and legislative outrage at some of the steps it has taken to stanch the contraband coming into prisons.

Tampons. There is a history of prison visitors bringing in contraband, including illegal drugs, concealed in their body cavities. DOC has body scanners in many prisons, but these devices cannot distinguish between a tampon and a cache of drugs inside a body cavity.

To enable it to reduce the volume of drugs coming into its prisons without having to strip search every female visitor for which a scanner showed a mass, DOC instituted a policy in the fall of 2018 prohibiting any visitor from using a tampon or menstrual cup inside a prison. The department said that it would provide a feminine hygiene pad for use during visits. Continue reading

GA Moves on Two Major Issues

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

While Steve Haner is doing his civic duty as a poll worker today, I will step in to provide important updates on two issues that have been discussed on this blog:  energy regulation and redistricting.

First, energy regulation: Dominion has won again. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee late yesterday killed HB 1132, which would have reinstated the traditional review of Dominion’s rate base by the State Corporation Commission. The SCC would have been authorized to require Dominion to refund any profits above the allowed amount. The vote to kill the bill was 8-7, distributed in the following manner:

Yes (Kill): Saslaw (D), Norment (R), Obenshain (R), Lucas (D), Spruill (D), Barker (D), Marsden (D), Lewis (D)

No: Newman (R ), Edwards (D), Deeds (D), Ebbin (D), Surovell (D), Mason (D), Bell (D) Continue reading

Finally Catching Up With Bacon’s Rebellion

It has taken a while, but the Washington Post has finally begin to catch on to what Steve Haner and others have been saying about the omnibus energy bill making its way through the General Assembly:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-democrats-push-environmental-change–but-still-in-concert-with-dominion/2020/03/01/ed0c634e-5a40-11ea-9b35-def5a027d470_story.html

More Angst over SOQ

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Although I am not happy about it, I am going to join, at least temporarily, this blog’s critics of newspapers.  Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch has an article that is significantly slanted and ignores an important aspect of the subject being covered.

The article deals with the funding proposals in the General Assembly for K-12 education. In the print version, the sub-headline reads: “Budgets from each chamber will not fully finance new state standards for schools.” Throughout the article, there are references to the “revised Standards of Quality prescribed by the Board of Education” as well as to the state constitution’s requirement that the legislature “find the money to pay for the SOQ.” After reading this article, one has the distinct impression that the General Assembly is violating its constitutional duty by not providing the funds needed to pay for the revised SOQ (approximately $1 billion annually) that the board adopted last fall. (For a detailed description of these changes, see my earlier post here.) Continue reading

Three Bad Bills

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Each session there are bills that are introduced probably with the best of intentions and approved for those reasons, but are basically bad policy and are likely to have unintended consequences. They are not “big” bills and do not generate headlines, but skate under the radar. I want to highlight three that have come to my attention and are in an area with which I am familiar.

Inmate medical copay. (HB 281—Hope.) This legislation would repeal the authority of the Department of Corrections to charge inmates a co-pay for medical services. Inmates now are subject to a $5 co-pay for offender-initiated  medical visits. No inmate is denied medical services due to a lack of funds in his account. The revenue generated by the co-pay is used to support the agency’s telemedicine program. The House amendments to the budget bill include $405,000 from the general fund each to replace the revenue lost. Continue reading

Higher Ed Bonds, Fees, and Donations

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Almost totally overlooked or ignored among capital projects in the budget bill are those higher ed projects financed with revenue bonds.  They are probably ignored because their passage does not affect the state’s debt capacity and tax revenues are not needed for debt service.  Nevertheless, they do have an impact on Virginia citizens.

For most higher ed institutions, these bonds are issued by the Virginia College Building Authority (VCBA).  The debt service is covered by revenue from a variety of non-tax sources, such as room and board fees,  parking fees, donors, and general student fees.  The issuance of these bonds has to be approved by the General Assembly. Continue reading

Let’s Build Some More!

Source: Debt Capacity Advisory Committee, 2019 Report

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

This report on the capital budget section of the budget bill is later than I had planned. There is so much going on with the General Assembly this year.  I was familiar with the term “like trying to drink from a fire hose.” Now, I know the experience.

Debt

Because the vast majority of capital projects are funded with tax-supported bond proceeds, any discussion of the capital budget proposals needs to start with the Commonwealth’s debt picture. (The source of the data on the debt is the latest annual report of the Debt Capacity Advisory Committee (DCAC). Anyone wanting a clearly written explanation and discussion of the Commonwealth’s debt status can find the report here.)

Outstanding tax-supported debt of the Commonwealth more than doubled over the last ten years, from $10.6 billion (FY 2010) to $21.7 billion (FY 2019). This total is comprised of debt issued for general construction and for transportation facilities, as well as pension and other post-employment benefits liabilities. Continue reading

Earmarks are Back

The capital projects section of the budget bill is often overlooked by the media. That has been especially the case this year, with all the major initiatives brought forth by the Democrats.

I am working on one or more submissions dealing with capital development, but, in the meantime, there is one item that deserves a post of its own. Deep in the back of budget bill (HB 30), in Item C-72, there lurks a proposal of dubious constitutionality involving a lot of money.

The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) is a well-regarded, private nonprofit, free-standing children’s hospital in Norfolk. The budget bill directs that $33.4 million in tax-supported bond proceeds be provided for the construction of a 60-bed mental health hospital at CHKD. Continue reading

Democrats Slow Down on Criminal Justice Reform

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

As Steve Haner remarked in an earlier post, the changes being enacted by Democrats in this year’s session are on many fronts and more extensive than many observers had anticipated. It is hard to keep up.

The same is true in the criminal justice area, but, perhaps to a lesser extent. A lot of changes in the law are being made, but, as for major systemic change, the Democrats have decided to slow down and look at the issues a little bit harder.

Sen. John Edwards, (D-Roanoke, submitted a bill reinstating parole (SB 91) would undoubtedly have been the one to make the most change in the system. Even after it was amended to prevent violent offenders from being eligible for parole, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee decided to carry it over until next year, pending study. (It is not clear who or what will study it. When parole was abolished, there was a major legislative study. Efforts to look at parole since then have also involved some sort of committee or task force.)

Another area in which the leadership has elected to go slow is that of criminal record expungement. According to the Daily Press, nearly 30 bills related to expungement of convictions for marijuana possession, larceny, and prostitution offenses were introduced. The chairmen of the House and Senate Courts of Justice Committees agreed to carry those over and request the Virginia State Crime Commission to study the issue. Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, chairman of the House committee, said, “This is something I believe in. I just want to do this right.” Continue reading

All Aboard!

Governor Northam has proposed a major long-range expansion of passenger rail service in the Commonwealth. The broad outline was released last December and the means to implement it are included in the administration’s omnibus transportation bill (HB 1414 and SB 890).

The Plan

The details of the plan are too extensive to set out in this post. They can be found here on the website of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation and in a press release from the Governor’s office. Also, both the Washington Post and the Richmond Times-Dispatch have run major stories on the plan.

The plan is the result of an agreement between Virginia and CSX. In summary, the state would build a new rail bridge across the Potomac River, acquire more than 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 miles of track, and make 37 miles of new track improvements. Continue reading