Bill to Expand (Pack?) SCC a First Test of Change

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.   

How will we know? Watch House Bill 1607, for one, among the worst introduced by anybody on any energy issue. It is yet another attack on the role of the SCC in protecting energy consumers from unreasonable and imprudent generation projects. It basically orders the SCC to accept Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposal for a massive offshore wind project and to pass the cost of it, whatever it turns out to be, on to us. Even customers who have escaped Dominion and found alternative suppliers would have to pay their share of this $8 (or $9 or perhaps $10) billion investment, plus that much or more in financing costs and profits.

There is a companion bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 998. Both were introduced January 17, right on the bill deadline, a standard play for the utility in the days when the General Assembly was friendly territory. Because the offshore wind proposal is a high priority for current Governor Ralph Northam, and the Hampton Road maritime industry is salivating for piece of the action, the “new” General Assembly may behave just like the “old” General Assembly and sacrifice consumers on the altar of climate alarmism and economic development boodle.

Other, broader pieces of “clean energy” legislation also put heavy thumbs on the scale in favor of the offshore project, which has replaced the proposed North Anna Three as Dominion’s largest capital dream. Even if those targeted offshore wind bills fail, odds are the Assembly will do something to tip the balance in the utility’s favor and against consumers.

There are also bills in the subcommittee which are nightmares for the utility. Delegates Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) and Mark Keam (D-Vienna) have bills creating full customer retail choice for electricity, and Ware is back with a failed 2019 effort to protect consumers from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline costs.

House Bill 167 would give the SCC several tests to use in determining whether it is fair to charge ratepayers for the construction cost of the stalled natural gas pipeline. A similar bill passed the House in 2019 only to fail in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Dominion Energy, so eager to strip the SCC’s consumer protection powers over offshore wind, will likely stand up to argue (once again) that the SCC has all the authority it needs over pipelines. Its lobbyists will do so with straight faces.

Missing from the subcommittee docket is Del. Ware’s excellent bill on the coming 2021 review of Dominion’s rates and earnings, House Bill 969. The eventual fate of that will also be a key test of whether anything has really changed in favor of consumers. Presumably the subcommittee will meet at least once more on House bills.

So far, this discussion has focused on the House, and the signs of change in the Senate are harder to find. As in, there aren’t any. Earlier this week, as reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and elsewhere, Dominion crushed a Senate bill to prohibit the massive flow of campaign contributions it has used to reinforce its lobbying efforts. The same panel went on to vote against limiting donations from all sources to $20,000 per election cycle.

Dominion’s legislative protector Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, is back as majority leader and is chairing Senate Commerce and Labor again, and the subcommittee he appointed for energy bills includes plenty of legislators who have backed the utility’s bills in prior years. Dominion’s now 28-member lobby team is bolstered this year with former senator and C&L chairman John Watkins, who was briefly a candidate for the SCC seat that went to West.

The other key addition to that full regimental combat team of lobbyists is one Charles Jackson, who also represents the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and was deep in Democratic campaign activities in recent years.  What was the House Commerce and Labor Committee is now (drum roll) the Labor and Commerce Committee.  The change means something.

There is a lot of focus on former legislators cashing in as lobbyists, but as this former campaign hatchet man can testify, that’s not a bad path into a lobbying career either. Bets against Dominion in the 2020 session will remain against the odds, especially in the Senate.

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24 responses to “Bill to Expand (Pack?) SCC a First Test of Change

  1. Excellent summary and analysis! BR has never had it so good!

    Looks like Dominion is still in control. Haven’t seen anything adverse to them so far. Perhaps a insidious guerrilla underground will pop up with something and get a vote before Dominion knows what hit them?

    Has that ever happened to you or Dick? i.e. some stealth legislative gymnastics that went a totally different way that you thought?

    • Uh, yeah, sure – but then I never had 27 other people on my lobbying team! (And not everybody they have is officially registered….) The Borg theme was intentional, as in Dominion will certainly be adapting to the new environment, but I also expect to see Species 2020 assimilated, just as Species 2018 largely was…..

  2. Go for it!

  3. Never realized that the SCC was political… and if we think the Dems will pack it , must be because that’s what the GOP did when they were in control. But if the GOP gutted the SCC it makes no sense. very confusing.

    • The General Assembly has been giving the SCC more specific directions instead of allowing it to weigh information and make decisions. I’m not convinced anything will change since the Senate has Saslaw looking out for Dominion. Too many believe they must play with Dominion to succeed politically. Speaking of increased cost, imagine what two new SCC judges and staff and offices will cost!

  4. Is there a way to know in the Virginia Budget, what funding comes from sources other than Virginia taxes?

    Like, Federal pass through money – for both Medicaid and Transportation and I suspect other

    Fees – like for DMV , hunting licenses, and other similar non-tax revenue streams?

    Is there a budget revenue number that is only what Virginia gets in tax revenues?

    Are we able to compare that number from year to year?

    How about taxes that are earmarked and cannot be spent on anything other than what they are earmarked for?

    I’ve been to the budget online on and off for years but I’ve never really been able to figure it out on questions like this.

    Is there, in fact, a simpler, easier-to-understand budget online somewhere?

    • Each budget program is set out in a budget Item. For each budget program, there are shown line items for appropriations for each subprogram (subject area in budget speak). Following the appropriations, there is a breakdown of the fund sources of the appropriations for that program. At the end of the budget section for the agency, there is a summary of the appropriations and fund sources for the agency as a whole.

      For example, in HB 30 (https://budget.lis.virginia.gov/get/budget/3997/), on page 240, Item 253, there is set out the appropriations for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ program 14500, “Museum and Cultural Services”. The fund sources are:
      General–these are general tax revenues (mostly income and sales)
      Special–this could be a collection of revenue from several non-tax sources; you would have to dig a little more.
      Enterprise–this is usually revenue from selling stuff
      Dedicated Special Revenue–from sources that specifically what the revenue is to be used for. It could be taxes or fees; in the case of museums, it is probably donations.
      Federal Trust–self explanatory

      As for the revenue numbers, look on page 1 of HB 30. Lines 19-26 show the general fund revenue for the biennium; lines 28-36 show the nongeneral fund revenues. On page 2, there is a breakdown of appropriations by general and nongeneral fund.

      On page 478, there is a breakdown of the total operating appropriations by fund source. For a explanatory description of each fund source, go to: https://www.doa.virginia.gov/reference/CAPP/CAPP_Topics_Cardinal/60104.pdf

      In summary, the information you ask about is available, but you have to look for it.

    • Fascinating how you are focused on this, and not how this is a big step in our transition into California East.

  5. This is good Dick… at the drill-down level.

    How about at the top level?

    Is there a page with revenues – and broken down as to their source?

    In other words, how do we know how much of the budget is funded from taxes , fees, and Federal pass through, maybe other sources like cigarette or asbestos?

    like this:

    1 – total revenue from taxes (broken down by tax).
    2. – total revenue from fees (broken down by fee)
    3. – total pass through from Federal (broken down by fund source)
    4. – other revenues – broken down by source

    I think something like this, the average schmuck could understand and be informed in discussions about what actually did increase or not.

    Without this information, any old fool can (and do ) make wild and unsubstantiated statements about “tax increases” and an honest discussion on the merits is elusive.

    • Try these sources:

      For the proposed budget: https://dpb.virginia.gov/budget/buddoc20/parta/RevenueForecast.pdf

      For the current and prior fiscal years: https://www.finance.virginia.gov/key-documents/master-reports-list/

      • In addition, the Auditor of Public Accounts has a tool that lets you get down in the details: https://www.datapoint.apa.virginia.gov/

        • I had forgotten about DataPoint and it’s gotten better but there is a huge discrepancy between their numbers and the Virginia Budget.

          Virginia Budget is somewhere around 68 billion.

          DataPoint says that we have 14 billion in revenues… 66 billion in expenditures.

          why is this so hard?

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            I could not duplicate your numbers. Using DataPoint for Fy 2020, the current fiscal year, I got
            Budget $70 billion
            Revenues–$14.2 billion
            Expenditures–$15.8 million

            The revenue and expenditure data differ from the budget number because they reflect year to date (the website is not clear what portion of the fiscal year is represented by this data). The expenditures exceeding revenue may seem strange, but there some plausible reasons. First, many agencies have nongeneral fund cash balances at the end of the year, which they can spend during the ensuing year, without having any revenue come in. Also, the expenditures include capital expenditures, which are mostly bond proceeds. The Treasury Dept. only sells bonds when it needs the cash. At the end of each year, it typically has a large amount of bond proceeds in the bank, which it uses to pay for capital expenses until it needs to issue more bonds.

  6. First, of all, Steve, you have your work cut out for you just in trying to follow all these bills. And, there is no one person or group that is able to match the army that Dominion has deployed. (I am sad to see Jack Rust and John Watkins in the ranks of Dominion. Both were very capable and conscientious legislators.) And Laura Fornash? She was Tech’s lobbyist and ultimately Secretary of Education. What does she know about utility and energy regulation? She has come a long way!

    Specifically, it would seem the Democrats would be better off restoring the authority of the SCC than trying to stack it. If they don’t restore its authority, stacking it won’t do any good.

    • Dick has it exactly right: ” If they [Dems] don’t restore its authority, stacking it won’t do any good.”

      I’m really shocked that the Dems are apparently okay with what was done to the SCC AND apparently STILL in bed with Dominion.

      Bacon and Haner can call Virginia New Jersey and California all they want but when it comes to Utilities, we are more like a Southern Boss Hawg.

  7. I had forgotten about DataPoint and it’s gotten better but there is a huge discrepancy between their numbers and the Virginia Budget.

    Virginia Budget is somewhere around 68 billion.

    DataPoint says that we have 14 billion in revenues… 66 billion in expenditures.

    Here’s the simple question. How much of Virgina’s revenues come from the income tax?

    why is this so hard?

  8. I could not duplicate your numbers. Using DataPoint for Fy 2020, the current fiscal year, I got
    Budget $70 billion
    Revenues–$14.2 billion
    Expenditures–$15.8 million

    I guess I would have thought that he total budget would be equal to revenues and expenditures.

    How can the budget be a big number and the revenues/expenditures much smaller?

    part of my quest is to find out – out of the total revenues – how much is income tax – i.e. the “tax increase” that is being cited…

    Did income taxes really go up 20% ?

  9. For a given budget ;

    I would expect to see total revenues and total expenditures to be roughly the same as the budget.

    I realize there are general and non-general fund revenues and expenditures and I would expect them to be broken down into their respective subcategories:

    non-general fund revenues + general fund revenues = total budget revenues

    non-general fund expenditures + general fund expenditures = total budget expenditures

    total budget = total revenues = total expenditures

    so I know that’s NOT how they are doing it but I’m missing some context ….

    so the things I’m truing to understand better is just how much of the total budget revenues are from income tax only. (general fund, right?)

    and what does that fund – primarily

    and what are the major categories of non-general fund revenues –

    Federal Pass-through
    earmarked taxes
    fees

    and what do they primarily fund

    Medicaid
    transportation
    what else?

  10. Pingback: Offshore Wind Mandate Advances, Cost Ignored | Bacon's Rebellion

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