Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Hands Off My Donations!

Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) Photo credit: Virginia Mercury

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Virginia Senators wasted little time killing off an attempt to limit campaign contributions. On its first day of meetings, the Privileges and Elections Committee took up Senator Chap Petersen’s bill to place a $2o,000 cap on campaign contributions (SB 44). Voting to report the bill were five Democrats: Deeds (Bath), Ebbin (Alexandria), Mason (Williamsburg), McClellan (Richmond), and Boysko (Fairfax). The ten Senators voting to kill the bill included all seven Republicans on the committee: Vogel (Fauquier), Reeves (Spotsylvania), Ruff (Mecklenburg), Peake (Lynchburg), McDougle (Hanover), Bell (Loudoun), and Hackworth (Tazewell). Joining them were three Democrats: Howell (Fairfax), Spruill (Chesapeake), and Surovell (Fairfax).

This does not bode well for Petersen’s headliner campaign bill that would ban campaign contributions from public utilities (SB 45). The legislation is obviously aimed at Dominion Energy. Petersen has called on the Governor to support the bill. It will be instructive to see if (1) Youngkin comes out publicly in support of the bill and (2) if he does, whether that will be enough to sway enough senators, Democrats and Republicans, to vote for the bill.

The Speaker’s Committee Assignments, With a Surprise

Todd Gilbert, Speaker of the House of Delegates

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Probably the single most important factor contributing to the power of the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates is the authority, under the Rules of the House, to assign members to committees. The committees to which a member is assigned can often determine the degree of influence he wields in the House. Also, from a public policy perspective, the composition of a committee often determines the fate of legislation.

There are a lot of factors at play in doling out committee assignments. They include (not necessarily in this order of importance): party distribution, regional balance, members’ preferences, members’ backgrounds and expertise, seniority, and personal factors (whether the member impressed or crossed the Speaker, for example). Continue reading

Day One

Photo Credit: WTVR

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Comments and ruminations on “Day One” actions:

Executive Order 1—”Inherently divisive” concepts. The headlines will have gotten this one wrong. The Governor has not prohibited the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, not that anyone was actually doing that. He has directed the Superintendent of Public Instruction to purge the Dept. of Education’s policies, directives, guidelines, etc. of any items that advance “inherently divisive” concepts or practices. As long as they stick to the fairly narrow definition of “inherently divisive” concepts laid out in the Executive Order, I don’t have any problem with this. Those definitions do not conflict with the traditional definition of critical race theory, anyway. If the administration goes after teachers who may be pointing out Virginia’s segregationist and racist past and the lasting effects of those past policies and practices, that would be going too far.

DOE overdid it with its Diversity, Inclusiveness and Equity campaign. It was just a little too much of beating people over the head. However, that message and approach has resonated and probably sunk in with a lot of areas and institutions and, much to the consternation of some commenters on this blog, likely will be difficult to turn back. Continue reading

Early Fireworks

Todd Gilbert, Speaker of the House of Delegates

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The 2022 General Assembly has gotten off to an inauspicious start.

It started off quietly enough. On Wednesday, the first day, Delegate Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, was elected Speaker on vote of 97-0. It is not usual for the person selected by the majority party caucus to be Speaker to be formally elected by unanimous vote.

On Wednesday night, Governor Northam addressed the Joint Session in the annual State of the Commonwealth speech. Speaker Gilbert, sitting in the Speaker’s chair behind and above the Governor standing at the podium, either got bored or irked, or both, because he started Tweeting during the speech. As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, this was one message:

Ralph Northam is leaving office as his own lost cause, condescendingly lecturing us all from some assumed moral high ground because he read the book ‘Roots’ and then went on a non-stop reconciliation tour. Saturday can’t come fast enough.

Needless to say, Democrats were outraged. Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, the former Speaker, was on her feet in a speech on the House floor on Thursday morning calling the current Speaker’s conduct “reprehensible” and that his oath of office was to be the Speaker for the whole House, not just the majority party.

Anyone who has watched Gilbert over the years should not be surprised at his remarks and their tone. He has seldom minced words in expressing his disdain for Democrats. It was evident two years ago when Filler-Corn became Speaker that there was bad blood between them.

Unless Gilbert tones down his partisan rhetoric, it could be a rocky session.

A Peek Behind the Veil

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Background

During my research for the articles on state financial assistance for public education, I ran across a curious provision and, subsequently, tracked the history of that provision. That history provides a small peek at the budget development and legislative processes that illustrate:

  1. Why I find them so fascinating, and
  2. Why many people find them exasperating, if not downright outrageous.

For those readers who did not read the first post on the SOQ financing, and for those who did, but need a reminder, you need to understand the importance of “cost-of-competing” adjustments (CCA). A major component of the costs of implementing the Standards of Quality (SOQ) is the “prevailing” salary for teachers, administrators, and other support activities. The Appropriation Act has long provided that the prevailing salaries are to be increased by “cost-of-competing” adjustments for school divisions in Northern Virginia.

In the introduced budget bill, the language related to the CCA includes Accomack and Northampton counties. These two jurisdictions are not included in that language in the current Appropriation Act. I pointed out this anomaly in my article. One commenter, Don Rippert, picked up on this new provision and raised questions about it, for which I had no answer. (I was not surprised that he was the one to focus on it.) I now have the answer. Continue reading

Financing Public Education–2–Non-SOQ Programs

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Note: This is the second installment of an overview and discussion of state financing of K-12 education in localities. Part 1 of this series was an overview of financing related to the Standards of Quality.

The Standards of Quality is the major category through which the Commonwealth provides financial assistance for public education, but there are other important sources as well. These are:  incentive programs, categorical programs, and lottery-funded programs. Together, the introduced budget bill would provide $2.3 billion in FY 2023 and $2.0 billion in the second year in these categories for local school divisions.

Two aspects need to be noted. First, the total amounts to be distributed are estimates. The actual amount of lottery profits is likely to change and, therefore, the amount of funding available for distribution to school divisions will change accordingly. Second, participation in these programs by school divisions is optional. A school division does not have to participate in the Virginia Preschool Initiative or the Early Reading Intervention programs, for example. But, if it does choose to participate and receive the funding available, it must provide the local matching funds, if required, and abide by all the other conditions set out in the Appropriation Act and Department of Education (DOE) guidelines. Continue reading

Financing Public Education–Part I, Standards of Quality

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The 2022-2024 budget proposed by Governor Northam includes $8.6 billion in general fund appropriations in the first year and $8.3 billion in the second year for state assistance to local K-12 programs. These amounts are a little more than a quarter of the entire general fund budget. Compared to the appropriation for the current fiscal year, these proposed amounts are an increase of $1.3 billion (18.2 %) in the first year and $1.0 billion (14.3%) in the second year. It is easily the largest budget proposed for public education in the state’s history.

The details of state funding for public education can be mind-numbing; they take up more than 40 pages of closely-spaced type in the proposed budget bill. Those details are known and understood by only a relative handful of individuals in and around state and local governments. Continue reading

Help Wanted

Photo Credit: Daily Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I had heard about the problem with restaurant staffing, but had not experienced it. During the pandemic, my wife and I have relied on two local Italian restaurants for both takeout and eating out. Both restaurants reopened as soon as they could, and both retained the same staff they have had for several years.

While running errands today, I decided to get some lunch at a restaurant that I had gone to in past years, but not recently. It is a small, locally-owned Mexican restaurant that was open in Northside when we moved here over thirty years ago. It was closed. A sign on the door said that it would be closed “today” because of staff shortages. The sign looked as if it had been in place for some time.

Next was a somewhat trendy barbecue place (it advertises that it was named 4th Best Barbecue restaurant in the nation). A man at the front entrance informed me that only take-out or pickup was available. The dining room was closed due to staff shortages.

Going down the street a bit, I came upon a locally-owned, long-established Greek-Italian place whose gyro I really like. Place dark; door locked; no sign on the door.

I finally found some lunch at a Mexican restaurant that is a franchise. I like its chile verde, but I decided to try something different.  Its burrito was mediocre, at best. Continue reading

Bureaucrats Are Not Running Amok

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In a couple of recent posts, much has been made of Governor-elect Youngkin’s comments about reviewing regulations. After thinking about this promise and remembering similar promises by former governors, I decided to undertake one of my favorite exercises: poking around in the Code of Virginia a little bit. I found two items directly relevant to this discussion: one I was vaguely aware of and one I was not aware of.

First, the one that I was unaware of. This promise of Youngkin is no big deal because he will merely be following the law. Sec. 2.2-4017 requires:

Each Governor shall mandate through executive order a procedure for periodic review during that Governor’s administration of regulations of agencies within the executive branch of state government. The procedure shall include (i) a review by the Attorney General to ensure statutory authority for regulations and (ii) a determination by the Governor whether the regulations are (a) necessary for the protection of public health, safety and welfare and (b) clearly written and easily understandable.

I was vaguely aware of the General Assembly having some power to review new regulations. Indeed Sec. 2.2-4014 authorizes a standing committee of either house of the General Assembly to file an objection to any regulation proposed in its field of jurisdiction. Furthermore, the statute goes on to establish a procedure whereby the General Assembly may suspend the effective date of a final regulation and, subsequently, nullify all or a portion of the regulation. Continue reading

Redistricting Now Final

Final Congressional District Map
Source: Virginia Supreme Court

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The redistricting for General Assembly seats and those in the U.S. House of Representatives is complete. The Virginia Supreme Court issued its final order and approved maps on December 28, 2021.

There are some significant changes from the earlier proposed maps. For a discussion of the first maps released by the Supreme Court’s special masters, see my earlier post here.

The report of the special masters is a good example of civic education. They explain, in plain language, why “redistricting is a complex task, one that requires the balancing of multiple competing factors.” It is not a simple matter of dividing the state into X number of evenly populated pieces. One example of this balancing act can be seen in their treatment of the Shenandoah Valley. They made a policy decision at the beginning to treat the Valley as “an important community of interest worth preserving.” Thus, they avoided drawing districts that crossed the mountains. However, they point out “that comes at the expense of drawing compact districts, particularly at the congressional level.” Succinctly  put, “Tradeoffs are simply inevitable.” Continue reading

Embarrassing Managerial Incompetence

M. Norman Oliver M.D., Virginia Health Commissioner

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Northam administration has just had an embarrassing case of managerial incompetence exposed.

A series of articles by the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Patrick Wilson (here, here, and here) sets out the story of the Department of Health laying off 14 state employees who monitor drinking water systems across the state, including six field directors with a combined 180 years of experience, due to “budget error.” This office monitors water quality across the state, enforces state and federal drinking water standards, handles inspections and permits, and assists with lab testing.

The sad tale has its beginning in 2019, when the Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water, being advised by agency administrators that it had the funding to do so, provided salary increases to 55 employees in the office and opened a field office in Richmond with four people. It turned out that advice was wrong, with a resulting shortfall projected to be $1.4 million this fiscal year. So, now, almost halfway through fiscal year 2022, the agency, facing a budget shortfall in that budget line item, tells these 14 people they are going to be laid off, effective January 9. Continue reading

Remembering

Woodrow W. “Buddy” Dowdy. Photo credit: Bob Brown, Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Jeff Shapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch has a nice column today remembering people in Virginia politics and government whose deaths in 2021 may have gone largely unnoticed. For those interested in recent political history, you may want to check it out. During my time around Capitol Square, I knew and have fond memories of Frank Hargrove, the Hanover County Republican delegate who annually put in a bill to abolish the death penalty, and Buddy Dowdy, the Capitol Police officer who died of COVID-19.

We Have Your Files. To Get Them Back, Send Money

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Tried to get into the Legislative Information System lately? If you did, you were likely greeted by the following message:

We’re experiencing a service outage with some of our servers. The Budget Portal, Law Portal, Reports to the General Assembly, and some other data may not be accessible. Our team is currently working to restore the service. We apologize for any inconvenience.

This is not a case of servers acting up. As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the legislature has been hit by a ransomware attack. The malware has shut down systems used by the legislative branch; most problematically, the system used by the Division of Legislative Services to draft and submit bills.  This is their busy season. For some reason, only some features of the Legislative Information System have been affected. The bill-status system is working.

The attack has not affected agencies in the executive branch. The two branches have separate IT systems. However, the Dept. of State Police and VITA (the executive branch’s IT agency) are providing assistance to the Division of Legislative Automated Systems (DLAS).   Continue reading

It’s Silly Season

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that Governor Northam will include $27.4 million in his budget bill for a new Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention in the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). What a dumb proposal!

Setting aside the obvious politics  surrounding the subject matter, as a budget analyst, I would ask, “What in the world are they going to spend $27.4 million on?” In his remarks, the Governor talked about collecting data on gun violence and analyzing it. OK.  I am always in support of gathering data. So, add two or three well-trained analysts and statisticians to DCJS’s existing research center. Now we are down to about $27 million. What is that to be used for? There was some vague reference to providing resources to localities and community-based organizations, but no explanation as to what that means.

And why do you need a “Center”? That is just more bureaucracy. Continue reading

Finally, There Are Redistricting Maps Up for Final Consideration

Congressional district map proposed by Va. Supreme Court special masters (The bubbles represent comments made by members of the public on Supreme Court interactive map)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The two special masters appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court to assist in redistricting have accomplished in about a month what the Virginia Redistricting Commission (“the Commission”) was unable to do in about nine months:  produce single draft maps for the Congressional districts, the Senate districts, and the House of Delegates districts.

The draft maps and a long memo from the special masters explaining the process they used and the reasons for their recommendations can be found here.

An objective examination of the maps will lead to the conclusion that they are significantly more logical and sensible than the current maps or ones considered by the Commission.  The districts are compact to the extent practicable and follow lines that make sense from a communities-of-interest perspective. There are no odd-shaped districts that really stand out. Any bulges or sudden incursions into adjoining districts are the result of the population equality requirement. Splitting of counties and cities is kept to a minimum. Continue reading