The benches along this sidewalk are still missing, having been removed for the gun rights rally. Can we have them back for next week’s February Thaw? Please.
By Steve Haner
Catching up on several issues previously discussed, with links to the original posts:
Virginia’s 2020 Electoral Votes Still Ours to Award. Pending legislation to enact the National Popular Vote regime has now failed in both House and Senate committees, although nothing is really dead in this process until final adjournment in March. The House bill died in House Privileges and Elections Friday, with three Democrats joining nine Republicans to reject. The Senate version was stricken at the request of the patron a few days earlier. The National Popular Vote is an interstate compact of states agreeing to grant their electoral votes to the presidential candidate with the highest national total vote, but it only kicks in once enough states to control the outcome have joined. Perhaps the idea of Virginia’s electoral votes going to Donald J. Trump, without regard to Virginia’s vote, finally occurred to some Democrats. But complaints about the Electoral College persist and so will this idea.
Secretary of Natural Resources on Transportation and Climate Initiative. Twice last week Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler faced questions from Republican legislators about the state’s plans with regard to the proposed interstate compact on fossil fuels used in cars and trucks. Continue reading
Delegate Mark Keam, D-Vienna. He voted against a bill eliminating SCC oversight on an $8 billion wind investment, then abstained to save the bill. Watch it here.
By Steve Haner
Dominion Energy Virginia’s massive $7.8 billion offshore wind project received a tepid 5-4 endorsement late Thursday night in a House subcommittee, after legislators were told it would add $13 per month to typical residential bills starting in 2027. In stark contrast to a similar hearing in the Senate Wednesday, both the State Corporation Commission and Office of the Attorney General staff spoke forcefully.
That 5-4 vote to report the bill came on a second try, as the first roll call was scrambled by legislators changing their votes before the chairman closed the roll. At times on the first roll call the proposal was failing by 6-3 or on a 5-5 tied vote, but that roll call was discarded. The final vote was 5-4, with Delegate Mark Keam, D-Vienna, abstaining. He had voted “nay” before but can be heard on the video tape saying he didn’t want his vote to kill it.
The basis for his abstention, normally used when a legislator has a conflict of interest, was not stated.
The bill in question is Chesapeake Democrat Del. Cliff Hayes’ House Bill 1664 but pay no attention to the introduced bill. There was a substitute. It was a dream bill for Dominion’s plans, once again dictating to the SCC that “all costs” of the project would be “deemed to be reasonably and prudently incurred.” Those are the magic words one opponent labeled “a blank check.” Continue reading
By Steve Haner
Smart lawyers, and the General Assembly is full of them, don’t ask questions unless they know the answer already and want the information included in the debate. Nobody down at the General Assembly is asking what it will cost Virginians on their monthly bills to build massive offshore wind facilities to generate electricity.
Case in point, a meeting of a Senate subcommittee still underway as this is being written. The Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee has endorsed two Senate bills that will dictate to the State Corporation Commission that it must allow Dominion Energy Virginia to build its proposed 2,600-megawatt turbine farm and pass the costs to ratepayers.
Senate Bill 860 actually dictates that up to 5,200 megawatts shall be found “in the public interest,” including projects built off the shores of neighboring states, and covers power purchase agreements. Senate Bill 998 is tightly focused on the Dominion-built project off Virginia Beach, but goes beyond the “public interest” declaration. It tells the SCC to accept the full cost as “reasonable and prudent” and pass those costs on to ratepayers. Probably over 30 years. With an enhanced double-digit all-but-guaranteed rate of return. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
Twenty thousand working families forced to pull $450 per year out of their tight family budgets may not think it “fair” that they are forced to “share” their earnings with a union they chose not to join.
The debate over repealing Virginia’s Right to Work statute, or the more likely step of forcing non-union members to pay partial dues, has largely been academic. Some defenders of Virginia’s Right to Work status have now produced some new data on the dollar impact on real people.
According to the most recent reports Virginia’s unions must file, there are about 118,000 Virginians actively working in private companies covered by a union contract, with about 98,000 in the unions and another 19,400 union-eligible employees who have exercised their “right to work” without belonging. This is 2018 data. Continue reading
Richmond’s Tommie during the five-day effort to save him from horrible burns a year ago. The man who burned him said he tried to put the dog in a shelter but was refused. Photo: The News and Advance.
By Steve Haner
Another attempt to impose the “no-kill” philosophy on Virginia’s animal shelters is pending in the Virginia Senate, sponsored by a rural Republican who is the great champion of that (so-far) failed cause. After a long subcommittee hearing Thursday, his bill was put back in the shelter pen to await its fate for another week.
If you think gun control is the most contentious issue facing legislators year in and year out, sit in sometime on a meeting of any subcommittee dealing with animal bills. Read the emails generated by the passionate advocates, which can be among the nastiest in inboxes. Legislators dread these issues.
For five years I was in the middle of the Animal Wars as the lobbyist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Its world headquarters is in Norfolk and as part of that it runs a regional animal care operation that includes a private shelter with a wide-open admission policy. That means PETA’s licensed shelter has a high euthanasia rate, making it a national and even international hate target for the no-kill movement. Continue reading
Richmond region business, government and transportation leaders line up at a dawn subcommittee meeting today to support $179 million in new regional taxes for transportation. More details at the end of the post.
By Steve Haner
The change in leadership in Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol has left one bad trend intact: The House Finance Committee still worries first and foremost about whether any tax policy change – no matter how meritorious — would interfere with state spending. It was the same under Republicans, unfortunately.
New House Finance Chair Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, who waited patiently through the entire Republican majority era for her turn with this gavel, used a subcommittee meeting this morning to kill one of her own bills, the best tax policy proposal in the hopper for 2020. Her House Bill 735 would have required several elements of the state tax system to be adjusted annually for the effects of inflation.
The subcommittee — which meets at dawn on Fridays — also delayed for an entire year action on Del. Watt’s proposal to reinstate a Virginia estate tax and provided the first positive vote on a major transportation tax increase for the Richmond region, modeled on similar regional taxes elsewhere in Virginia. More on those later in this story.
The Watts bill to adjust tax brackets for inflation had been endorsed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute and the group often at odds with us, the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis. Both of us at the podium singing Kumbaya (one chorus at least) would have been a nice Instagram moment. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Legislation to increase the size of the State Corporation Commission from three to five judges, giving majority Democrats a chance to pack the panel with their appointees, may provide the first real test of how much things have changed in New Blue Virginia.
Freshman Delegate Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, introduced House Bill 1297, which is on the docket for the full meeting of the House Labor and Commerce meeting Thursday afternoon. One of the three existing SCC judges, Patricia West, could be re-elected this session and is not expected to be, giving the new majority one seat to fill by March. As introduced, Helmer’s bill creates two more seats to be filled at some future special or regular session.
Energy issues, and the SCC’s perceived hesitance to charge forward and save the planet from climate catastrophe, are front of mind with many of the new (and some of the old) legislators. But a reconstituted SCC could also change direction on insurance, banking, corporate governance, pipelines and other areas of regulation under its purview. Its key role on those is often overlooked.
Once the full committee rises, in a meeting of the newly constituted energy subcommittee of House Labor and Commerce, more than twenty energy bills will face their first hearing. The meeting will probably start late and run long, but Friday’s dawn may mark a new green energy age, at least in the House of Delegates. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
It is illegal in Virginia for a petroleum wholesaler to arbitrarily reduce the amount of product it provides to retailers. The General Assembly has intervened in that marketplace, probably for the reasonable public purpose of preventing price gouging. Regulating the sale of fuel for some other purpose should also require action by the General Assembly.
The “other purpose” under scrutiny at this time would be reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. David Schnare of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy was researching whether the governor could impose the Transportation and Climate Initiative on Virginia without General Assembly action. He found and cites the existing state law against rationing gasoline and other legislative oversight of that market in an analysis published today.
Schnare holds both environmental and law doctorates and served 34 years with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. His conclusion is the Governor lacks the authority to act arbitrarily through an executive order or agency decision. t was the same conclusion reached recently by the Supreme Court in Washington state in reviewing and rejecting a cap-and-trade effort from that state’s governor, Jay Inslee.
Here’s the take on that from the Wall Street Journal editorial board:
Good news: The political panic over climate change doesn’t justify one-man rule. That’s the message the Washington Supreme Court delivered this week to Governor Jay Inslee, who tried to impose his command-and-control agenda by fiat.
Perhaps you heard Mr. Inslee for a millisecond in the presidential race last year declaring that climate change is “the most urgent challenge of our time.” He failed to galvanize the masses, much as he failed to persuade the Washington Legislature in 2015 when it rejected his cap-and-trade proposal.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.