Author Archives: Steve Haner

At Least Some Legislators Dream of Tax Fairness

By Steve Haner

The new chair of the House Finance Committee has introduced a major long-term tax reform proposal that will help most Virginia families, and the former chair of the same committee has offered a significant improvement to it. Both are good bills and combined they are great tax policy.

Delegate Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, has proposed House Bill 735 to apply an annual inflation adjustment to Virginia’s income tax brackets, credits and the standard deduction. The federal tax code does that, recognizing that without that simple adjustment a progressive tax system becomes more and more regressive over time. Without indexing inflation provides the government with an annual unearned raise and families with a sneaky annual tax hike.

Delegate Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, dropped in House Bill 1717 right on the deadline Friday, to increase the standard deduction used by most Virginia taxpayers from the current $9,000 per married couple to $12,000. That was the standard deduction level recommended in several bills during 2019, and the Assembly did raise the amount – just not that high. It remains a goal of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Neither bill has been “scored” by the Department of Taxation, and once their fiscal impact is estimated the outcries from the spending crowd will begin. Were they to pass, there would be a large tax cut in the early years, followed by a general downward bend in Virginia’s future revenue growth. Tax policy should be considered without respect to the appetite for spending, if only because it will never keep up.  Continue reading

Legislative Staffer Files Retirement Mid-Meeting

By Steve Haner

I am no longer with the Division of Legislative Services. If you need assistance, please contact…”

That is the message you get back if you send an email today to one of the key players in all the energy debates down at the General Assembly, perhaps the key player during the actual session.  That would be former senior staff attorney Frank Munyan, who calmly stood up and walked out of a House of Delegates committee meeting, went upstairs and filed his retirement papers.

As the staff person for both the House and Senate committees and the author or editor of most energy-related bills, Munyan has been considered an honest craftsman and adviser by all the various contestants for years.  As far as I know, everybody trusted him. He certainly kept all the legislators’ various secrets well, but if I asked him “do this bill do what I think it do?” he would answer.  He was also helpful with amendments.

He is a shining example of the uncounted cheerful professionals around that building in various jobs who keep the rest of us looking a bit less dumb.  If he comes back, many will cheer. Perhaps his Vontae Davis moment was enough and some apologies will come his way.  Continue reading

Electoral College Vote, Carbon Tax, Labor’s Wants

By Steve Haner

The End of the Electoral College Looms

The legislature’s new ruling Democrats, having celebrated their adoption of the national Equal Rights Amendment, may continue their Constitutional aspirations next week and try to kill the federal Electoral College. Some believe the will of Virginia voters in choosing presidential electors should be overridden by the popular vote total in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia combined.

This idea is known at the National Popular Vote. Objections to the Electoral College process have a long history but were reignited when former Senator Hillary Clinton became the fifth presidential candidate who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College. As predicted by Bacon’s Rebellion, the proposal to grant Virginia’s votes to the national front runner is back in three bills, with far longer lists of patrons and co-patrons. The two House bills are here and here, and the Senate version here. All now rest with firmly Democratic Privileges and Elections committees.  Continue reading

No $220 Rebate Checks for Military Families?

By Steve Haner

More than 400,000 Virginians failed to receive their $110 “Windfall Income Tax Rebate” in 2019 because, for perfectly valid and acceptable reasons, they didn’t file their returns by July 1.  That allowed the Commonwealth of Virginia to hold onto $46 million more of the un-legislated state tax increase created by conforming to new federal tax rules.

Some undetermined number of those were military families with a Virginia “tax home” who routinely get extra time to file. It could include servicemen and women deployed in combat zones.

Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, had his House Bill 607 all teed up to fix that today in the House Finance Committee. It would have allowed those late filers to get the rebate this year, instead. But the bill was not up for quick action today in order to pass, but in order to die. The Northam Administration was prepared to oppose the bill and seek its defeat, given it blows a hole in the revenue estimates for the new budget. Continue reading

Virtue Signal With Somebody Else’s Morning

Yesterday it was nice. This morning brings a downpour. Being in this line today will be less fun. Making everybody with legislative staff, state employee or registered lobbyist badges get screened and scanned before entering the Pocahontas Building to do (or watch) the people’s business will get us all soaked. (Even U.S. Senator Tim Kaine got caught in it …for a while.)

Hey I get it, being “tough on guns” is vital, a virtue, and what good is virtue if you do not signal it? In 36 years of almost daily attendance to General Assembly sessions, the occasions when something stupid was done with a gun inside the General Assembly buildings usually involved legislators themselves. No legislator stood in this line yesterday — they sailed past us.  Continue reading

Rate Case Bill Offers Repentence to Legislators

By Steve Haner

Sinners! The hour of redemption is at hand! For years now some of you have deprived your fellow Virginians of a fair hearing in front of the judges set above them. To deny justice is among the worst of abominations, but a chance for salvation has appeared.

Yes, I am talking to the many Virginia legislators who helped protect the profits of the state’s dominant electric utility from proper review and adjustment. You have corrupted the law with “this is in the public interest” and “refunds shall not be ordered unless” and “rates may not be reduced until” and “this shall be deemed reasonable and prudent.”  The judges you have fettered with these phrases sit on the State Corporation Commission

Some of you fell from grace in this way in 2013, 2014, 2015 and then again in 2018. One correct vote in 2020 can wipe the slate clean, returning your political souls to purity.

With passage and implementation of House Bill 969, all will be forgiven. Even this author of countless energy Jeremiads will praise your return to the fold. But woe unto you who fail to heed this final trumpet and abandon the people again. The day of decision is here.  Continue reading

2020 Assembly May Not Vote on Carbon Car Tax

By Steve Haner

It now seems unlikely the 2020 General Assembly will act directly on Virginia’s membership in the proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative, an interstate compact to cap, tax and then start to ration fossil fuels that add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Virginia would be the southernmost member.

While six pieces of pending legislation (so far) mention the similar Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which caps, taxes and rations CO2 from power plants, the silence continues on TCI. It has been conspicuously absent from gubernatorial pronouncements on these issues. A Virginia Mercury story this week on various environmental proposals cited a December statement from him that “no decisions have been made,” although it wasn’t clear on what.

When organizers of the TCI compact released their draft memorandum of understanding last month, they clearly were pointing to action in the various states in the near future. But the MOU itself is only an outline, with many blanks to fill in. An argument that the issue is not ripe for the legislature could be valid. What is the actual goal or schedule for forced supply reductions?

An argument that it doesn’t need legislative blessing at all, however, would not be valid. Virginians should not be subjected to this tax, cap and ration regime without a recorded vote by their elected representatives.

What people can do now, if they care, is register an opinion with the TCI organizers on their public input portal. Their last round of comments included many who dislike this idea, so they are asking again now that more details are out.

Continue reading

The 20% Growth Claim Is Not Misleading

HB 30 Appropriations Total As Introduced
Year Grand Total ($Billions) % Over Previous % Over 2010
2010 77
2012 86 12 12
2014 97 13 26
2016 109 12 42
2018 116 7 51
2020 139 20 81

By Steve Haner

As I noted earlier, defenders of state spending growth have a number of tools and tactics handy to confuse voters, but facts are stubborn things.  So, I’m going to explain a bit further how this proposed budget grew 20% over its predecessor in just one two-year cycle, with some context. The table above should help.

Virginia sets its state budget for two years at a time, with a new two-year spending plan introduced in December of every odd-number year and considered in the session that follows in the even numbered year. 2020 is a budget year. For convenience, the bills are always House Bill 30 and Senate Bill 30. In December, Governor Ralph Northam did as his predecessors have done for decades and published his budget.

In the opening summary, known as the enacting clause, there are tables that always end with a grand total for all proposed spending from any and all categories. The number I’m using is right at the end of that. Note, I am not using the higher revenue estimate – just the proposed appropriations.

The introduced budget is just that, and the General Assembly will change it. It will add new spending based on higher revenue estimates (or cut, if the estimates collapse in the February recalculation.) It may create new revenues by changing tax laws or creating other revenue streams, as happened with the Medicaid expansion funded by new assessments on hospital revenues. Continue reading

John, Alternatives to the VEA Do Exist!

by Steve Haner

Dear “John Randolph of Roanoke,” you very much have a choice if you are tired of paying dues to the Virginia Education Association. I saw your lament in the comment string on Jim Bacon’s report today about pending legislation to force non-union employees to pay union dues.

“Can’t drop out though. These guys are the only ones that will go to bat for me if I am falsely accused of something at school. We are so wide open and vulnerable these days. I guess I have the wolf by the ears.”

Here is information on three alternatives you might consider, with up to $2 million of professional liability coverage offered for far less cost than VEA dues.   You can choose from:

Continue reading

A 20% Budget Explosion That May Keep Growing

The new spending over the next two years by major category. This is for the smaller $48 billion general fund. No such pie chart was published by the Department of Planning and Budget for the combined $139 billion full budget.

By Steve Haner

The interesting thing is not how Virginia’s overall budget has grown 20% in just two years (seen that number reported anywhere else?) What’s interesting is how many interest groups are openly pushing to make it even larger. The $23 billion increase is not enough!

Just two years ago, in December 2017, Governor Terry McAuliffe dropped in his proposed budget for the budget cycle we are still in, Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020.  Before the 2019 General Assembly worked its magic, the baseline two-year total for spending he proposed was $116 billion.

Comparing an apple to an apple (which the political class discourages) the equivalent figure for the budget Governor Ralph Northam published last month is $139 billion, growth of $23 billion or 20%. That is the general fund and the non-general fund combined. It becomes more and more obvious that the non-general fund is the cart pulling this horse. At $90 billion over the next two years, it is almost double the proposed $48 billion general fund. Soon it will be more than double.  Continue reading

The Wildest Energy Whirlwind Ever is Underway

by Steve Haner

If Bacon’s Rebellion at times has been “Dominion Pravda,” providing a window into that corporate giant’s C suite, our friends at the Virginia Mercury sometimes take the opposite role of “Environmental People’s Daily.”

Its story today is a good example, for what it includes and what it does not. The long, detailed and worthwhile summary of energy and environment issues coming to the 2020 General Assembly has a glaring omission. It makes no reference to the Transportation and Climate Initiative. If anybody could get a straight answer out of the Northam Administration, you’d think it would be Virginia Mercury. The silence is deafening and perhaps significant.

At some point soon somebody has to say something, wouldn’t you think? In others states in the proposed interstate compact, governors are being pinned down, actual TCI bills are pending, legislators are taking positions, coalitions are forming. This will have to happen in Virginia soon if the organizers of TCI want their proposed memorandum of understanding signed by enough states to actually impose the carbon caps and taxes by 2022.  Continue reading

After Santa Comes Carbon Tax Sugar Daddy

by Steve Haner

The Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources will be the sugar daddy for the carbon tax dollars raised from electricity customers, according to pending legislation to fully enroll Virginia in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) next year.

House Bill 20, sponsored by Norfolk Democrat Joe Lindsey, is similar (with some changes) to 2019 legislation which died on a partisan vote when Republicans controlled the General Assembly. Now that power has shifted the bill’s chances of passage are excellent. It has several unusual provisions and may hint at how the related Transportation and Climate Initiative will be implemented in Virginia. Continue reading

The Good News Few Will Report or Admit

Click for larger view.

I ran across the illustration above on my favorite contrarian website, Wattsupwiththat.com, and decided to share. The media feed us a constant diet of gloom and doom and disaster, and only those with a sense of history understand this is a bit of a Golden Age (75 years ago the American and British armies were locked in the greatest land battle on World War II’s western front during a terrible winter).

Many of you will reject it merely because it comes from the Global Warming Policy Forum, which contains no Chicken Littles and sees no falling sky. But check the footnotes for the sources of the measured progress. The ten-year periods covered do not exactly match up, and course the decade really ends with 2020, not 2019. Perhaps the most important is the major drop in the percentage living in desperate poverty (thank energy supplies) and the incredible reduction (over a longer period of time) of deaths from natural disasters.  Continue reading

The Carbon Car Tax Nobody Is Discussing

By Steve Haner

So far there appear to be about six schemes before the 2020 General Assembly to save the Earth and its inhabitants from the fiery holocaust of climate catastrophe. The one that is going to cost you the most money in the shortest period of time is still missing in action. Finally we have details, but not from anybody in Richmond.

The organizers of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) met and held a streamed webinar in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, releasing their long-anticipated draft memorandum of understanding and quite a bit more information about the impact of this new carbon car tax. See the slides here. Does a starting bid of 17 cents per gallon on gasoline get your attention? Do not confuse this with the separate proposal from Governor Ralph Northam to add 12 cents onto the existing state excise tax.  Continue reading

Video

Yes! A Statue for Virginia’s Black Union Troops

Detail from a statute to the famed 54th Massachusetts Regiment, U.S.C.T. and its commander, Robert Gould Shaw.

Yes! Where can I donate? Richmond Councilwoman Kim Grey’s proposal in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch for a statute honoring the Civil War’s black Union troops from Virginia needs to be acted on promptly.  It should replace the one statue that does need to disappear off Monument Avenue, the one to Jefferson Davis.

In particular the proposal focuses on 14 Medal of Honor winners, seven Virginians, from a September 1864 battle near New Market Heights, part of Grant’s slow strangulation by siege of the Rebel capital.

If the purpose of the existing statues to the Secesh generals is history, then the full history need be told, the victor’s history. Tens of thousands of Virginians white and black remained loyal to the Union, passively or even actively opposing the Confederate government. A good example was Elizabeth Van Lew, a Church Hill matron whose exploits are reconstructed in “Southern Lady, Yankee Spy,”  by Elizabeth Varon.   The description of postwar Richmond politics is just as interesting. Continue reading