Category Archives: Economic development

Housing Grants Just a COVID Relief Rounding Error

By Steve Haner

Will $50 million be enough? Will that get all the Virginians who have fallen behind due to COVID-19 square on their rent or mortgage payments? Or is that amount, in a relief program now fleshed out by the Northam Administration, merely a start?

There is a hint on the program’s web page, now available. “Financial assistance is a one-time payment with opportunity for renewal based on availability of funding and the household’s need for additional assistance and continued eligibility.” A Senate committee was told last week that Governor Ralph Northam is considering spending hundreds of millions more for the same purpose.

This first $50 million is just the latest way that the billions of federal dollars flowing into Virginia as COVID-19 relief will be used. Within that operation, it is a  rounding error. On June 23, primary day, the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee met virtually to be briefed, among other things, on how the four waves of federal assistance have been or will be spent.

The usual suspects of the Capitol Hill press corps may not have been there (or to be exact, may not have been monitoring the Zoom conference.) The primary results and the Phase 3 announcement held their attention. A week later the unreported reports are still worth reviewing and links to them follow below.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne, in his presentation, estimated that Virginia has received more than $28 billion in direct aid – $6.5 billion direct to the state and local governments, $14.4 billion to state businesses in the Payroll Protection Program and $7.3 billion pledged to municipal liquidity facility loans to cover revenue losses.  Continue reading

The ACP Wins One But The War Drags On

By Peter Galuszka

The $8.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline has won a significant legal victory but the war is far from over.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ruled in favor of project operated by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy saying that its 42-inch pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.

The Court ruled that the pipeline can pass 600 feet underneath the trail and that the U.S. Forest Service has the right to allow a right of way. The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the Forest Service had no such authority.

Dissenting, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Minerals Leasing Act does give the federal government the right to regulate federal land, including trails. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority ruling, said that plans to bury the pipeline under the Appalachian Trail represent an easement which is not the same as “land.”

The project still faces eight other permitting issues involving the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Continue reading

Our Gutsy Governor

By Peter Galuszka

On June 24, 2015, Nikki Haley, a Republican who was South Carolina’s first non-white governor, called for the removal of a Confederate flag that had been flying over the state’s capitol grounds for years.

“This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” she said. Her action came a few days after an avowed white supremacist walked into an African-American church and opened fire, killing church members attending a service.

I was watching the news on TV when she made her gutsy move. I was deeply impressed.

And now, Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is governor of Virginia, has taken a similarly gutsy move. He has ordered that the state-owned statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee be removed from its stand on Monument Avenue in Richmond. It has been there for about 130 years, erected by white supremacists with deep sentiment for their romantic myths of Southern history.

“I believe in a Virginia that learns lessons from our past and we all know that our country needs that example right now,” Northam said. Continue reading

The Real Danger with ANTIFA

By Peter Galuszka

Get ready. The names of all kinds of leftist organizations are going to be kicked around as the masterminds behind violent, cop-beating looters, especially the so-called ANTIFA movement in Virginia and across the country..

But what is reality? I don’t have clear answers but I have some ideas to share since I have been dealing with activist groups since I was in high school in the late 1960s. I hope they help this blog’s discussion.

First, there’s plenty of research available about ANTIFA and there are already plenty of reports about it. It is not a single group but a very loose collection of autonomous activist groups, most of which do not advocate violence. For reference, see yesterday’s Daily Beast piece with the blunt headline, “Trump’s ‘ANTIFA Threat Is Total Bullshit – And Totally Dangerous.”

That article and plenty of others note that ANTIFA, or whatever it is, has no clear chain of command and uses ultra-fast social media to alert other activists about rallies and protests but has no control over them. If you are thinking about the tightly-controlled and secretive Communist cells of the past century, you are not getting it. Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

Strategies for Growing the Rural Population

Source: “Rural Population Loss and Strategies for Recovery,” Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

In a recent article, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond highlighted strategies for bolstering the population of rural counties in the Fifth Federal Reserve District. Some ideas will prove familiar to readers of Bacon’s Rebellion, such as identifying amenities that will attract retirees and second-home buyers. But the article makes some suggestions we haven’t heard before.

Population growth, or at least population stability, is critical for the economic health of Virginia’s rural counties. A shrinking workforce makes it more difficult to attract outside employers, a shriveling population makes it harder to support health services and retail amenities, and a declining tax base undermines the ability to pay for government functions. Population stagnation and/or decline is a problem across the five states of the 5th district, and Virginia is no exception. (Virginia’s rural counties actually saw a small net in-migration, but that was more than offset by “natural” decrease of deaths exceeding births.)

To my mind, the most fascinating strategy is focusing on people’s personal ties to family, friends and communities. One study used 300 interviews in 21 towns at rural high school reunions to learn why some attended decided to return to the rural community where they grew up. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screwing Workers On Safety and Liability

A GRTC bus driver in better times

By Peter Galuszka

At 4:30 a.m. on April 27, about 100 workers of the Greater Richmond Transit Company — half of the total – failed to show up for work.

Worried about the health of its membership, Local 1220 of the International Amalgamated Transit Union demanded additional safety measures such as full personal protection equipment, time and a half hazardous pay, limits on the numbers of passenger and testing.

GRTC management threatened to fire workers who stayed away from work but agreed to talk. A resolution may come at a May 19 board meeting.

Indeed, stories are showing up throughout Virginia and across the country as workers most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 often have the least protection and no guarantees their employers will provide testing, hospitalization and sick pay.

In Timberville near Harrisonburg, workers at a Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant worry that they are required to work at less than six feet –- considered safe distancing –- from each other. In Norfolk, non-union workers at a General Dynamics ship facility were required to do electrical work until they refused, citing exposure threats and a death. Continue reading

Notes from the Right Wing Echo Chamber

By Peter Galuszka

On Wednesday, I was standing next to the Capitol grounds in Richmond watching brightly decorated cars and pickups drive on 9th Street, their horns blaring.

I was attending the drive by protest rally on assignment for Style Weekly and happened to speak to Jason Roberge, a Spotsylvania County resident who is one of several Republicans hoping to oust U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former covert CIA officer who represents the 7th Congressional district.

Roberge was there to protest what he says is Gov. Ralph Northam’s “terrible job” in temporarily shutting down businesses to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus. The rally was part of a series of protests across the country that are being set up on cue from right-wing activists.

Roberge told me: ”I hear he’s (Northam’s) down on North Carolina beach while this is going on.” As he spoke the House of Delegates was holding a special session under an outdoor tent nearby while the Senate presided at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Northam at the beach? It turns out that the conservative echo chamber has been peddling a story, firmly denied by Northam’s office, that he was at his house in Manteo, N.C. not far from the beaches at Nags Head during the special General Assembly session. Continue reading

Upper Big Branch: Ten Years After

By Peter Galuszka

This week is the tenth anniversary of one of the worst coal mine disasters in recent U.S. history. The massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch at Montcoal, W.Va. on the afternoon of April 5, 2010 killed 29 miners, the largest number in 40 years.

The disaster meant the undoing of Massey Energy, a Richmond-based company that had been widely called out for its safety violations and mountain-top removal mining practices.

I wrote a book about the firm and Central Appalachian coal that was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2012. West Virginia University Press bought paperback rights to the book and we published an expanded and updated version in 2016.

Today, I have a remembrance in today’s Washington Post. It will be in print this Sunday on the Local Opinions page in the Metro section.

For many years, Massey Energy and its predecessor firm, A.T. Massey, operated a headquarters in a chunky building in downtown Richmond. The Massey family has been generous with its local donations and has helped such institutions as the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The Massey family was notorious for breaking labor unions but during the two years it took to research the book, I learned that miners felt the firm listened to them and tried to take care of them.

Then a stocky man with a moustache, Don Blankenship, took over. He became notorious for skimping on safety and micro-managing. He served a year in federal prison for ignoring safety at UBB. Continue reading

Right Wing Uses Virus To Stifle Needed Reforms

Statue of Gov. Harry F. Byrd on the state capitol grounds.

By Peter Galuszka

Right-wingers in Virginia have been apoplectic for months that Democrats finally captured the General Assembly after years of Republican control.

They also were enraged that the legislature this winter passed a number of reforms that would draw Virginia into the 21st Century such raising the minimum wage, boosting collective bargaining, tightening rules on carbon pollution and raising taxes for cigarettes, a deadly product.

Now such conservatives are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to throttle or delay such needed reforms. They have banded into groups such as the Coalition fort a Strong Virginia Economy. They have used the Virginia Municipal League’s complaints against the reforms, claiming they cost too much, as a way to derail new measures.

According to the left-leaning blog site Blue Virginia, one of the more extreme advocates for scrambling changes is Dave LaRock, a far-right Republican delegate from Loudoun County. A pronounced gay-basher, LaRock wants to squelch all of the reforms made by the more progressive General Assembly. Continue reading

Thank God for Medicaid Expansion

By Peter Galuszka

For years after the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” made millions of federal dollars available for states to expand Medicaid health coverage, Virginia Republicans steadfastly blocked Virginia from using the money.

Led by former House Speaker Bill Howell and Sen. Tommy Norment, the GOP claimed that expanding Medicaid to nearly 400,000 people would be too expensive and would blow out state funding.

This skinflint approach was finally put to rest after Democrat Ralph Northam became governor in 2018, foreshadowing a Democratic sweep of the General Assembly in elections last year.

Thank God the Democrats prevailed.

Virginia’s formerly robust economy has been shattered by the COVID 19 pandemic. Last week, some 110,000 Virginians filed for unemployment support. It was 46,277 the week before.

Who covers them is an open question but many would qualify for Medicaid. Expansion has boosted lower-income Virginians so that they may be able to better ride out the pandemic. Continue reading

“We Are All Keynesians Now”

John Maynard Keynes

By Peter Galuszka

John Maynard Keynes, the British economist, advocated government spending and monetary intervention as suitable for modern economies.

When I was a student at a liberal college in New England in the early 1970s, we were taught that Keynes very much had the right idea. As evidence, we had the Great Society programs of Lyndon B. Johnson and, strangely, the Vietnam War. They all relied on vast amounts of deficit public spending.

Since then, free-market types came into favorable light and it all became the magic of the market, little regulation and other panaceas.

According to whom you read, pro-capitalism economist Milton Friedman admitted the necessity of Keynes’ thinking by stating, “We’re all Keynesians now.” President Richard Nixon, a Republican, is also credited with the quote when he took the U.S. off the gold standard.

The phrase is taking on increasing relevance with the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia is no exception. Continue reading

Photo Project Spotlights Pipeline Impact


By Peter Galuszka

Veteran photographer Karen Kasmauski, who grew up in Norfolk, has a brilliant online project that shows the human and environmental impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

She is a senior fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, a non-profit group that funded her project that centers mostly in rural Nelson and Buckingham Counties that would be dissected by the natural gas pipeline.

She combines spectacular aerial photos with deep close ups of people.

One of her subjects is Ella Rose, a retiree who lives in a small house in Union Hill. She was living a quiet happy life in her natural setting until she got a letter from Dominion Energy stating that they would be routing the ACP about 150-feet from her house.

Union Hill is a touchpoint for pipeline controversy since it is largely African-American community that ACP officials have selected for a compressor station. It is one of similar localities that seem to be targeted with other loud and disruptive equipment along the pipeline route. Continue reading

Is It the Death Knell For Dominion’s Pipeline?

By Peter Galuszka

For more than a decade, hydraulic fracturing drilling for natural gas and oil has transformed the American energy picture, leading to big revivals in such energy fields such as Marcellus in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and the Bakken field in the Dakotas.

It has prompted Dominion Energy and its utility partners to push forward with an $8 billion or so Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will take Marcellus gas through Virginia all the way to South Carolina. The project, tied up in court fights, has been enormously divisive as property owners have protested the utilities’ strong arm methods of securing rights of way.

But now there’s clear evidence that the fracking boom is over, and that has huge implications for the ACL project. The reason? Oil and gas prices have dropped thanks to a perfect storm of issues. There’s the coronavirus pandemic tanking the U.S. economy, bitter energy wars between Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the fact that fracking gas and oil rigs are enormously expensive and wells can produce for only a short period.

The Hill reported last week: “Oil sank to $23 (a barrel) from a high of $53 in mid-February, far below the break even point that producers need to drill new wells to maintain supply, and with volumes rapidly diminishing at existing wells.”

The newspaper points out that a fracking well can cost more than $10 million while a traditional well is only $2 million. As price pressure mounts, the number of wells nationally has plummeted from 790 to 772 in one week.  At the Bakken field, reports The Washington Post, producers are cutting costs.

The situation has clear implications for the ACL project which was conceived at the height of the Marcellus boom. Dominion claimed that the gas would be badly needed in coming years while others claimed there isn’t enough demand. Continue reading