Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Transparency? Hah!

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Maybe it was the weirdness of amending the biennial budget after Year 2 of the biennium had started.  Maybe all the money they had to spend made them dizzy. Maybe they were in a hurry because many of them were in the middle of re-election campaigns. Whatever the reason, the General Assembly decided in its special session to adopt the budget to sacrifice transparency in favor of efficiency.

A quick review of the normal procedure will serve to clarify how different this year was. Normally, after both houses have considered the budget bill and rejected each other’s version, the bill is sent to a conference committee comprised of members from both houses. In a largely shrouded process, the conference committee eventually produces a report consisting of all the changes to the introduced budget bill that its members have agreed upon. (Comparisons to the Vatican College of Cardinals electing a new Pope are apt.) Continue reading

How They Spent That Money

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Steve Haner and I unofficially tag-team on the state budget. Fittingly, he covers the revenues (taxes) and I cover the spending.

Regarding the revenues available for spending, it is notable what was missing from the presentations by the Governor and Secretary of Finance in their appearances before the money committees last month. There was no mention of the $5.1 billion balance tirelessly touted by the Governor in his public calls for more tax reductions.

In the presentations and charts presented, it was difficult to discern what that unencumbered balance actually was. Using the data in the staff presentation to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, one is able to tease out the $5.1 billion being touted by the Governor. First, there was $2.1 billion. This is hard to follow, but basically it was a balance designated in 2022 for “Additional Taxpayer Relief” and subsequently rolled into the unrestricted general fund balance. However, both the administration and the money committees were carrying it on their spreadsheets as an amount reserved for taxpayer relief and that is how the Comptroller identified it in her annual report to the Governor.  To that $2.1 billion the Governor added the additional $3.0 billion in general fund revenue projected over the official estimate.

That was a valid projection of the general fund balance at the end of FY 2023. However, as both Steve and I have pointed out several times on this blog, that was a gross amount. After deducting for the required deposits to the Rainy Day Fund and the Water Quality Improvement Fund, the appropriation in the “skinny” budget bill enacted last spring, and the amount required to fund the Pass Through Equity Tax previously enacted, the net general fund balance available at the end of FY 2023 was approximately $2.4 billion. Continue reading

Another List of Best Colleges

Washington and Lee University.

Inspired by the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of colleges, everyone is getting into the game, each with its own criteria.

The Wall Street Journal has just released its list of “Best 400 Colleges in America.” Its rankings are based on student experiences, social mobility, and salary impact. Its greatest emphasis was on the following questions:

  1. How much will the college improve its students’ chances of graduating on time?
  2. How much will it improve the salaries they earn after receiving their diplomas?

The top school in the ranking was Princeton, followed by M.I.T, Yale, Stanford, and Columbia. Nine Virginia schools were ranked among the top 400, with four landing in the top 100. They were:

44—Washington and Lee
76—Virginia Tech
95—George Mason
152—James Madison
243—Old Dominion
326–Christopher Newport

“School’s Closed Today! It’s the Law”

Photo credit: Your Teen Magazine

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Now that two of my grandchildren are in public school, rather than being home-schooled, I am more attuned to what is going on in public school.

Last Friday, I was in Northern Virginia visiting them because they were off from school. Although I was happy to get the extra time with them, I was ranting about the absurdity of a school holiday only two weeks after school had opened and in face of the impending Labor Day holiday. My grandson informed me it was the law. I protested that it couldn’t be, but he showed me that it was. Continue reading

“Let Me Talk to My Sales Manager to See What We Can Do”

Wren Building, College of William and Mary. Photo credit: Williamsburg Yorktown Daily

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

George Will had a fascinating column recently whose thesis is counter to the dominant opinion on Bacon’s Rebellion about the cost of higher education. Will cites recent research that concludes, “Students are paying less for college than they did 15 years ago.”

What is going on, although he does not use this analogy, is a lot like buying a car—hardly anyone pays the sticker price. Relying on a prevailing belief of Americans that higher cost signifies higher quality, institutions of higher education in the 1980s and 1990s began relying on higher tuitions as a marketing tool. For those applicants it wished to enroll, they offered discounts, otherwise known as merit scholarships.

I got a glimpse of this process a couple of years ago when my grandson was considering which college to attend. When I complimented him on the merit scholarships that were being offered, he and his mother dismissed the compliment, saying they were pretty much automatic for anyone being offered admission.

The large amount of student loan debt that has accumulated in recent years results from higher education minimizing its discounts by steering parents “toward having government provide the discount with subsidized student loans.” Lots of parents and students, believing the sticker cost is real, “sign the loan forms.”

This is certainly an interesting wrinkle in the ongoing discussion of the costs of higher education.

All Hat, No Cattle

Governor Glenn Youngkin. Photo Credit: Associated Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In Texas, the phrase, “all hat, no cattle” refers to someone who is all talk with little substance. Governor Glenn Youngkin is in the running for one of those hats.

The latest “Team Youngkin” fund-raising scare e-mail deals with fentanyl.

It starts off by recounting the number of fatal overdoses in Virginia attributable to fentanyl. That is why, the Governor says, “I didn’t hesitate when Governor Greg Abbott asked for additional resources to assist in critical border security efforts in Texas. I deployed the Virginia National Guard, and 100 brave Virginians answered the call to serve and protect our Commonwealth by going to Texas and joining the mission to stop fentanyl from flowing unabated into America.”

It is closer to home that Youngkin emphasizes the real problem. “Unfortunately, our efforts to punish the criminals who sell deadly fentanyl in our neighborhoods have been blocked by the far-left in control of the Virginia Senate.” He is referring to the Senate killing his legislation (SB 1490) that would have made anyone distributing a substance containing more than two milligrams of fentanyl, without the person obtaining the substance knowing that it contained fentanyl, guilty of attempted first-degree murder. If someone died from using that substance, the distributor would be guilty of first-degree murder. Continue reading

Be Careful of What You Wish For

Supreme Court of Virginia

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

For those on this blog who advocate the election of judges in Virginia, The Washington Post today has an article that should give you second thoughts.  Courts cannot be isolated completely from partisanship, but it should be distressing for anyone, regardless of one’s partisan leanings, that a state supreme court, such as the one in Wisconsin described in the article, should be so politicized.  (Of course, the politicization has been there a long time.  The recent election and Democratic takeover just emphasizes it.)  Virginians should be grateful to have a judicial system that is shielded to a great extent from overt partisanship.

Psst, the War’s Over

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I saw this motorcycle in Lexington a few days ago.  Apparently, the owner missed the news that the war is over and his side lost.

If he goes downtown, they should be able to bring him up to date.  (It is hard to see in this picture, but Main Street was lined with American flags.)

Deja Vu, All Over Again

Cluster development in western Loudoun Co. Photo credit: Washington Post

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Today’s Washington Post has an article about efforts to preserve farmland in Loudoun County.

That headline instantly took me back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when there was a flurry of activity regarding the need to preserve farmland and provide landowners incentives to keep their farmland from being developed.

Loudoun County was in the center of that activity. At that time, the population of the county was about 57,000. Development in the area near Dulles Airport and the Rt. 7 corridor was in the early stages. A large part of the county was open land, consisting of large estates, as well as medium and small farms. The tools for preserving that land that were being discussed, sometimes heatedly, were conservation easements and transfer of development rights. A sample report of some of those studies is here. Continue reading

More Ruminations on Higher Education in Virginia

Radford University

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

James Sherlock has done a great service for this blog by starting a conversation on the future of higher education in the Commonwealth.  There are several paths that could be followed.

One of his contributions was identifying the schools that have been losing enrollment. I was not surprised that Longwood, Radford, and Mary Washington led the list. They are essentially going after the same students. I was aware that VCU enrollment was down. It may be the victim of its over-optimistic projections. However, its enrollment decline may have been temporary. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports today that one the largest freshman classes in the school’s history arrived on campus this past weekend. I was surprised that the enrollment at Old Dominion has declined. Being the only major four-year institution in South Hampton Roads, one of the state’s growth leaders, and having a natural constituency with all the military installations in the area, one would have thought it was prepared for healthy growth. Alas, with the Virginian-Pilot being only a shadow of its former self, there are no media reports on the size of its incoming class this fall. Continue reading

JLARC Report: More Than Just “Mo’ Money”

Photo credit: Va. Dept of Education

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) released a major report last month on the Commonwealth’s K-12 funding formula. The responses were predictable.

On Bacon’s Rebellion, Jim Bacon dismissed the report as a cry for “mo’ money.” Democrats in the General Assembly seized upon the report and its findings as more ammunition in their fight against Governor Youngkin’s effort to cut taxes further.

It is true that the report concludes that the state needs to provide more funding for K-12. However, the report is much more than that. In the report, JLARC documents serious deficiencies in the formula that is used to calculate funding for K-12. It then proposes some significant changes that could be made that would improve the funding system. The report deserves a deeper look on this blog than it has received. Continue reading

The Democrats Are Coming For Your Children!

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Do parents have a RIGHT to be in charge of their children’s education?

Should parents be at the head of the table when it comes to what their kids are learning at school?

Governor Youngkin’s PAC, Spirit of Virginia recently sent out a fundraising letter headed by these questions. It declared that Governor Youngkin believes the answer to all of these questions is YES.”

I realize that subjecting campaign literature to logical analysis is a fool’s errand.  Nevertheless, let’s look at these questions a little bit closer. Continue reading

Lost Kids of Southwest Virginia

Kingsolver, Barbara. Demon Copperhead.  Harper, 2022

 A review by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Barbara Kingsolver is an award-winning author who lives on a farm in Washington County, Virginia. Her latest novel, Demon Copperhead, is what she calls her “great Appalachian novel.” It was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year.

Kingsolver grew up in Appalachia, in eastern Kentucky. After graduating from college in Indiana, she spent several years backpacking around Europe. Upon returning to the United States, she wanted to see the West, and ended up in Tucson. She says that she did not go to Arizona with the idea of settling there, but life happens. During her two decades there, she published several well-received novels. She began to feel the pull of Appalachia and, thus, several years ago, she and her family moved to a farm in Washington County. Continue reading

Another Skirmish in the Book Wars

Botetourt County resident demonstrates her opposition to proposed restricted access to library by juveniles. Photo credit: Cardinal News

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

After hearing from residents in two meetings demanding that LGBTQ+ material be removed from the county library, the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors has come up with a suggestion that, indeed, would put parents in charge, but would create great inconvenience for everybody involved.

As reported by Cardinal News, the Board of Supervisors has recommended that the local library board adopt a policy requiring that all persons under 18 be accompanied by a parent or guardian while visiting a library branch. There would be an exception for 16- and 17-year olds who had written permission from their parents on file with the library.

The result would be a great inconvenience for parents of kids younger than 16 who are not worried about the materials in the library. Likely, those kids would end up reading less.

A better solution would be for those parents who do not want their children exposed to LGBTQ+ material to take on some responsibility themselves. Prohibit their children from going to the library or, as an alternative, accompany them to the library.

Fortunately, the Board of Supervisors has little authority over the library. As the county attorney noted, public libraries are overseen by the Library of Virginia. It seems that the Board of Supervisors may have been doing a little posturing.

Guns for Felons?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Virginia law prohibits a convicted felon from possessing or transporting a firearm. Is that unconstitutional under the provisions of last year’s Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v Bruen  (597 U.S. ___; 142 S. Ct. 2111)?


Before trying to answer that question, it is helpful to review the Supreme Court’s opinion in Bruen. New York law required anyone wanting to carry a concealed handgun outside the home to show “proper cause” for the license. New York courts had interpreted that phrase to require applicants to show more than a general desire to protect themselves or their property. The Supreme Court struck down that law as a violation of a person’s right under the Second Amendment to carry a firearm for self-defense. Continue reading