Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Inmates Need Costly Medical Care, Too

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In the most recently completed fiscal year, the general fund cost to provide medical care to Virginia prison inmates was $221.6 million.

That is a lot of money by any measure; it exceeds the entire budget of all but a few state agencies. However, despite its size, it does not get much public attention.

Like the state budget, medical costs threaten to consume the DOC budget.  The FY 2019 expenditures constituted more than 18% of the agency’s general fund budget. Each year, the budget request for additional funding for medical services is at the top of DOC’s list. Its FY 2019 appropriation for medical services exceeded its FY 2017 appropriation by $34.8 million. For the upcoming biennium, the agency has requested an additional $21.8 million in the first year and $28.3 million in the second year. Continue reading

A Budget Cut that Should be Made

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Just to show that I am not the “tax and spend” liberal that some people may think I am, I am proposing a significant budget cut for the Governor’s office to consider in its effort to satisfy all the demands it is getting for the upcoming biennial budget. That budget item can be summed up with one numeric phrase: 599.

Long-term observers and participants in Virginia government and politics, such as Jim and Steve, know immediately what I am talking about. The 599 program provides financial aid to local governments with police departments. The program’s appropriation for the current fiscal year is $191.7 million. Its name refers to its enacting legislation: HB 599, passed by the 1979 General Assembly.

The HB 599 program should be repealed and its funding used for more pressing needs of the Commonwealth. There are several reasons for this conclusion: The rationale for the program was flawed from the beginning; the underlying distribution formula is unknowable; and the funding cannot be tied to its original, ostensible purpose, the support of law enforcement. The remainder of this post will be used to substantiate these claims. Continue reading

The Game of Budgets

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There is lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on in this blog and by the administration over the upcoming budget. Although there are some big-ticket budget items, that is nothing new; there always are. Even if the Democrats gain a majority in both houses, I don’t think there will be a tax increase. The doom-and-gloom scenarios don’t take into account a couple of issues related to revenue. First, the legislature last Session extended the sales tax to internet sales. Second, the legislature opted to conform the state’s tax code to the changes in the federal tax laws recently enacted by Congress.

Those changes, plus the good economy, are bringing in the revenue. The Secretary of Finance has reported that total revenues in September were $367 million more than the previous year’s September. On a fiscal year basis, general fund revenues to date are 8.2% higher than the previous fiscal year; the forecast was for an increase of 1.2%.  This additional revenue will not be available to the Governor and General Assembly for the crafting of the next biennial budget, but they portend a healthy increase in the revenue forecast for the next biennium, which can be used in budget development. Continue reading

Prison Sunshine

Solar panels at Haynesville Correctional Center                                                             Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Corrections

The Virginia Department of Corrections is getting further into solar energy.

The department has recently completed the construction of a five-acre solar farm at Haynesville Correctional Center.  The correctional facility is a medium- security prison in Richmond County, near the town of Warsaw, in the Northern Neck region of the state.

According to a DOC press release, the solar farm is a 852.72 kW photovoltaic system consisting of 2,508 photovoltaic modules.  DOC estimates that it will produce 16% of the prison’s electrical needs, resulting in an annual savings of $120,000. Continue reading

Why Can’t I Have My Cake And Eat It Too?

Sometimes the tensions and contradictions in our public discourse are summed up with stunning simplicity.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has been running a series setting out the answers of candidates for local office to a set of standard questions.  Today the spotlight was on Hanover County.

The answers of a long-time incumbent on the Board of Supervisors struck me. First, he asserted, “I’ve never voted for a tax rate increase because I think we should only spend within our means.” OK, fair enough. I will let that one go. But, in answer to the question of what issues appear to be the most important to his constituents, he replied, “In my district, people don’t want more housing. It would mean having to pay for more schools and public services. People are also concerned about the lack of broadband and internet service.”

Don’t he and his constituents realize that they don’t have broadband and internet service because there are not enough houses in rural areas to make it worthwhile for cable companies to provide that service? If they don’t want any more houses, then how do they think they are going to get broadband? Should the county subsidize expanding broadband to those areas? Oh, that’s right. They don’t want to raise their tax rate.

— Dick Hall-Sizemore

More SOQ Money

The other shoe has dropped on the budget requests for K-12.  The Department of Education has told the Senate Finance Committee that it will cost approximately $300 million per year over the next biennium to “rebenchmark” the Standards of Quality.

This amount would be in addition to the $950 million needed annually to finance the proposed changes in the SOQ proposed earlier by the Board of Education.  (I summarized the policy changes in the SOQ being proposed by the Board of Education in an earlier post.)

The rebenchmarking process is a technical one in the sense that it involves no new policy changes in the SOQ.   The rebenchmarking  uses updated data for numerous inputs into the SOQ calculation.  The most important ones are prevailing non-personal costs and support positions, salaries, and student enrollment.  If you are feeling especially wonky, the 45-page PowerPoint presentation, with detailed graphs can be found here.

SOQ Examination

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has been a lot of commentary in recent posts over the state Board of Education’s proposed changes in the Standards of Quality, with a $950 million price tag. Rather than focusing on the total price tag and one component of the proposal (equity fund), it seems to me a more productive approach would be to look at each component and evaluate it separately. (The detailed descriptions of the items can be found here, the first item under “Action/Discussion Items.)

Before delving into the details, there are several considerations to keep in mind:

  1. The Board of Education can only propose changes to the Standards of Quality. The General  Assembly has the last word.
  2. Any new funding associated with any changes in the SOQ will be in addition to the amount needed for “rebasing.” This is the biennial exercise in which the SOQ funding is adjusted for changes in student enrollment and general increased costs.
  3. Educational funding is not my field of expertise. I am endeavoring to summarize what is proposed, based on the BOE document, and add my two cents’ worth for certain issues.

Continue reading

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Dick Hall-Sizemore

As a life-long resident of Virginia for seven decades (there, I have said it), I have seen many changes.  Occasionally, reminders of these changes are especially striking. One of those stark reminders occurred about 10 years ago. I was sitting in on a General Assembly committee meeting in which the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court gives sort of an annual report to the legislature. The Chief Justice at the time was Leroy Hassell, the first black chief justice. It suddenly hit me: Wow! The Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, an imposing black man! Virginia has really come a long way over the last 30-40 years.

I just finished a remarkable book that brought more reminders. The book is We Face the Dawn: Oliver Hill, Spotswood Robinson, and the Legal Team That Dismantled Jim Crow by Margaret Edds. The author combines the best of two worlds: thorough and detailed scholarly research and the writing of a journalist. Continue reading

Disregard that Law

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Well, Virginia made the national headlines again last week and over the weekend.  This time it was over the requirement that couples applying for a marriage license list their race on the application. And Attorney General Mark Herring was the hero, saying that, despite what the law said, the couples did not have to do that.  (NYT, WP, RTD, as well as all the networks).

On the face of it, the state could make a case that gathering information about the race of people getting married serves a legitimate purpose by providing data for state demographers and sociologists. But, because “race” can be a vague concept and applicants self-identify their race, any data collected has become meaningless. Apparently, each county can compile its own list of categories from which applicants choose.  According to newspaper reports, Rockbridge County had a list of  approximately 200 “races”, including American, Aryan, Hebrew, Islamic, Mestizo, Nordic, Teutonic, Moor, and White American. Continue reading

A Cautionary Note to the Drive to Legalize Pot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In response to some of the comments to my recent post on crime and drug data, as well as to a running theme on this blog, I want to share a thought-provoking article that I recently encountered.

I have long felt that the use of marijuana should not be a criminal offense.  However, a recent New Yorker article caused me to have second thoughts.  The author does not take a stand on whether pot should be legal or not.  He is questioning one of the basic premises behind the drive to legalize it: that it is safe.  He points out that we really don’t know how safe it is because relatively little research had been done in this field.

The point that stood out for me is that there is some evidence linking the heavy use of pot to mental illness, particularly schizophrenia.  Also, some researchers have shown links between the use of pot and increases in violence.

All of this research is preliminary and much more needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be reached.  In any event, it is important to keep in mind that THC is a potent chemical and that the human brain chemistry is a delicate balance that can be affected, in good and bad ways, by the introductionof “foreign” substances.

Good News, Bad News on Crime Trends

Getty Images

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Each year the state produces six-year forecasts of state and local criminal offender populations. These forecasts are ultimately adopted by an interagency, inter-disciplinary committee, chaired by the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

The process of producing the forecasts is fairly complicated and stretches over several months, involving numerous meetings. I will provide a more detailed description later when the final forecasts are agreed upon and released, which will be in October.

In the meantime, one of the main benefits of the process, aside from the forecasts themselves, is a comprehensive look at criminal justice trends in Virginia. This information was gathered from the research of analysts in several agencies and presented to the Offender Population Forecast Policy Committee in late August. The presentation went into a great detail and consisted of over 70 Power Point slides. Needless to say, I will limit this report to a few of the most salient charts.  Continue reading

What?! Us Train Our People?!

Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the lament of the Associated General Contractors of Virginia that its members are having a hard time finding qualified workers in the building trades, such as plumber, welders, and HVAC technicians. Almost half of the members said “one reason is that the employment pipeline in their communities for training skilled workers is poor.”

Their recommended solution: “increased funding for career and technical education for community and career college students to qualify for federal Pell grants.” Wow! These guys sound like the caricatures of Democrats often seen on Bacon’s Rebellion—more government spending.

What happened to the concept that companies did their own training with apprenticeship programs? Unions offer training and apprenticeship programs, but, of course, we don’t like unions in Virginia.

These contractors could learn a lot from the director of the Capital Construction Unit of the Department of Corrections. That unit consists of inmates who complete numerous construction projects within the prison system, such as roof repair and replacement, masonry work, and basic carpentry framing and dry wall installation. Their work results in significant savings for the Commonwealth.  The director of the unit told me that, in the past, he could usually get inmates with some experience in construction trades, but that is not the case now. Now, most of the inmates he selects have no background or training in construction to the point that some have probably never held a hammer in their hands. Therefore, he trains them.

In the same vein, I was astounded a few years ago when I learned that Southside Virginia Community College offered a course in utility pole climbing and line installation. C’mon Dominion, you can’t afford to train your line workers?

Oh, by the way, another recommendation of the AGC: Allow more immigrants to enter the country.

An Alternative College Ranking

Coinciding with our discussions here on Bacon’s Rebellion about higher education, I just received the annual Washington Monthly issue with its college rankings.

The Monthly takes a significantly different approach to ranking colleges and universities than does the U.S. News and World Report. It identifies the aspects it feels are important in making a college or university “good.” After establishing those qualities, it uses quantitative measures to rank each school.

The three basic qualities, or functions, if you will, are: Social Mobility, Research, and Service. In its methodology, these qualities are weighted equally. To come up with its overall rankings, the magazine uses the following quantitative measures: Continue reading

Exercising Your Second Amendment Right

Interesting scenario:  You are doing some shopping in Walmart. Alarmed by the recent nationwide shootings, you are carrying your recently legally authorized concealed handgun. A man walks in, carrying an assault-style rifle and a handgun strapped to his side, along with several magazines of ammunition. This also is legal in Virginia. What do you do?

  1. Say hello to your fellow gun-carrying customer
  2. Ignore him
  3. Pull out your handgun and confront him
  4. Shoot him because he is obviously a threat

Here are the laws governing this situation, which you may or may not know as you are trying to decide what to do: Continue reading

Recidivism Revisited

Sussex I State Prison

As has been noted in previous posts on this blog (here and here), the latest three-year recidivism rate of offenders released from the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) was the lowest in the nation. In fact, DOC had the lowest rate in the nation for the last three reporting periods.  DOC can justly be proud of this record.

Nevertheless, a closer look at the data reveals some troubling trends.  Before delving into this data, in order to understand the data and ensuing discussion, there are some terms that need defining and clarifying: Continue reading