Category Archives: Efficiency in government

How Governor Youngkin Can Become the Most Popular Governor in History

Memo

To: Governor Glenn Youngkin

From: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is a sure fire way to become the most popular Governor of Virginia in history. It is two-pronged:

  1. Order all state agencies to eliminate the use of automated phone trees. The citizens of Virginia deserve to be able to talk to a real person when they have a question or need assistance;
  2. Ensure that all agencies have sufficient funding to hire enough people to answer the phones and assist people who call within a reasonable time.

I just tried to call a state agency for an answer to a simple question. I first had to negotiate a phone tree to get a central operator. That person referred me to a division within that agency. Upon calling that division, I had to listen for a minute or so while the automated voice tried to persuade me to deal with the agency on-line. I was then told by that automated voice to stay on the line if none of the on-line options were good for me.  hen another automated voice assured me that my call was very important, but all their agents were busy and I needed to stay on the phone line. The voice said the wait would be about 25 minutes.

25 minutes!!! How is that possible in the middle of a Thursday afternoon in early June?

By the way, it was not DMV or the Virginia Employment Commission.

How are Virginians Preparing for the Coming Food Price Shocks?

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians have only begun to experience price inflation at the grocery store.

Price increases are in the food pipeline that will be a much bigger problem starting this summer.

Farmers and ranchers invest up front. They borrow money to do it. They are incredibly efficient at what they do, but are at the mercy of input prices. They must wait until their crops and animals are sold to recoup their investments.

Everything farmers and ranchers do with their farm machinery requires diesel. So do the trucks that move crops to those who prepare them for our use and then to market. Diesel prices are expected to reach more than $6 per gallon this summer, a 35% increase from current prices. Inventories are low.

Most fertilizer is an oil derivative and has skyrocketed up to 300% since early 2021. On average, fertilizer in March of this year was 35% more expensive than it was in the fall of 2021, with Roundup up nearly 90%. In six months.

Of course, the feed ranchers buy for their animals comes from the produce of America’s farmers.

Producer prices that reflect what they have paid for diesel and fertilizer and the trucking costs of moving those crops are predicted to reach grocery stores in the summer and fall. That hardly suggests that the 9% inflation recently seen in retail food prices is the end of it.

It is important to ask what our governments and our best charities are doing to prepare. Continue reading

A Seat at the Table — State and Local Advisory Boards in Virginia Need Ideological Balance

Willow Woycke, president of the Transgender Education Association

by James C. Sherlock

One of the opportunities offered by investigative journalism that is denied to the average citizen is to observe appointed government advisory boards in action.

It has been enlightening, but almost always disappointing. The way the members of appointed boards are generally selected in Virginia is an artifact of a political spoils system.

Take education. Action boards such as the state Board of Education and local school boards have tended to appoint one-sided advisory panels and, unsurprisingly, get one-sided advice as a single option for public policy.

Minority ideas seldom make their way into the draft policies that advisory boards prepare. That in turn results in bad public policy. We need as a matter of some urgency to do better.

I urge the Youngkin administration to take the lead and change this tradition in state government. Continue reading

Fix the Virginia Department of Health

Credit: PBS Healthcare Management

by James C. Sherlock

Governor Youngkin and his new administration have an opportunity to fix crucial problems in the Department of Health that have been festering for decades.

The issues:

  • How can Virginia regulate effectively its state-created healthcare monopolies?
  • In a directly related matter, how can we fix the failures, famously demonstrated during COVID, of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in its other missions ?

The power of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) to control the business of healthcare in Virginia was the original sin.  Giving that power to the Department of Health made it worse.

From that point VDH was the agent of its own corruption. Never charged by the General Assembly to create regional monopolies in its administration of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law, VDH did so anyway.

Actions have consequences.

Now those regional healthcare monopolies are each the largest private business in their regions, have achieved political dominance in Richmond, and effectively control VDH. Continue reading

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics in the Virginia Department of Education – Average Teacher Salaries Edition

by James C. Sherlock

I was in the early stages of researching a column on school salaries in Virginia when I came upon yet another bad report.

In 2021 Special Session I, the General Assembly directed the Superintendent of Public Instruction to provide a report on the status of staff salaries, by local school division, to the Governor and the Chairmen of the Senate Finance and Appropriations and House Appropriations Committees.

The appropriations committees wanted to know how much teachers and others were getting paid so they could raise the state contribution. It would seem to be a report that VDOE would like to get correct.

As with many other reports I have documented, the January salary report on its face cannot possibly be correct. VDOE and thus the Governor and General Assembly have no idea how much teachers and other instructional staff are paid in Virginia.

This report was a parting gift from the Northam administration.

The question itself — average salaries — may prove not to provide information useful for legislation and appropriations however accurately it is answered. Continue reading

What Virginia Can Do to Temper Inflation


by James A. Bacon

Governor Glenn Youngkin has proposed using $437 million in unanticipated transportation revenues, much of it generated by the wholesale tax on gasoline, to give Virginians a three-month break on the 26-cent retail gasoline tax.

During his campaign, Youngkin ran on a platform of addressing Virginia’s high cost of living and reversing the erosion of middle-class living standards. A vacation on the gasoline tax is certainly consistent with that theme. And with inflation running at nearly 8% over the past 12 months, Virginians need help wherever they can find it. They will find no succor from Democrats, whose list of unmet societal “needs” is endless. They are delighted to spend every dime in tax revenue on one of their favored causes — which, alas, rarely includes helping financially strapped middle-class taxpayers.

While Youngkin has identified a winning issue, he needs to think bigger and more systematically. It’s fine to dial back the gasoline tax for a time, remove the sales tax on groceries, and try to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon tax, but there is so much more that he can do.

Forty-one percent of the cost of living, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is housing, 17% transportation, 7% medical care, and almost 7% education. Each of these categories is, to some degree, influenced by state-level budgetary and regulatory policy. Continue reading

Infrastructure Bill, Meet Richmond’s United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Richmond, Va.

by James C. Sherlock

The President and members of Congress have celebrated the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act into law.

In Virginia and the other states (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia) of the federal Fourth Circuit, good luck with that.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit just published two related decisions on January 29th and February 4th, 2022 decided by the same three-judge panel, all appointees of Democratic presidents.

Both decisions remanded to federal agencies for reconsideration years of federal assessments that have supported the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Those agencies are now run by Biden appointees. They won’t be back.

The court is populated with a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents. There is a vacancy awaiting a Biden appointment. The Chief Judge faces mandatory retirement next year.

So no relief in sight except the Supreme Court.

The decisions clearly demonstrate what will happen to Virginia public infrastructure projects that are opposed by the greens and/or protected classes or both, which will be nearly all of them.

Roads, bridges, pipelines, large solar panel projects, airport expansions, new rail lines, you name it. Flood control? Forget it. They are headed into the federal and state bureaucracies and then to court and then back again.

For years. Continue reading

Oops! That’s Not Your Tax Form

by Kerry Dougherty

Not good enough, Virginia Department of Taxation. Not even close.

It’s not enough to apologize and tell the roughly 15,000 Virginia Beach taxpayers whose personal tax information on their 1099G forms was sent to the wrong address to simply hold tight until the correct document finds its way to them.

Those forms contain names and addresses, the last four digits of the taxpayers’s Social Security number plus the amount of his or her tax refund or overpayment last year.

News flash: Many of us are scrupulous about deterring identity theft. We shred invitations to open credit cards, insurance policies and bank accounts. We destroy bills with our names and account numbers on them. Heck, I black out personal details on plastic prescription bottles before tossing the empty container in the recycling. Continue reading

Bureaucrats Are Not Running Amok

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In a couple of recent posts, much has been made of Governor-elect Youngkin’s comments about reviewing regulations. After thinking about this promise and remembering similar promises by former governors, I decided to undertake one of my favorite exercises: poking around in the Code of Virginia a little bit. I found two items directly relevant to this discussion: one I was vaguely aware of and one I was not aware of.

First, the one that I was unaware of. This promise of Youngkin is no big deal because he will merely be following the law. Sec. 2.2-4017 requires:

Each Governor shall mandate through executive order a procedure for periodic review during that Governor’s administration of regulations of agencies within the executive branch of state government. The procedure shall include (i) a review by the Attorney General to ensure statutory authority for regulations and (ii) a determination by the Governor whether the regulations are (a) necessary for the protection of public health, safety and welfare and (b) clearly written and easily understandable.

I was vaguely aware of the General Assembly having some power to review new regulations. Indeed Sec. 2.2-4014 authorizes a standing committee of either house of the General Assembly to file an objection to any regulation proposed in its field of jurisdiction. Furthermore, the statute goes on to establish a procedure whereby the General Assembly may suspend the effective date of a final regulation and, subsequently, nullify all or a portion of the regulation. Continue reading

Medical Facility State Inspector Shortfalls An Urgent Matter for the Governor and General Assembly

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians are blessed to have a person running the Department of Health Office of Licensure and Inspection (OLC) who may be the best public servant in the Commonwealth. She desperately needs help to do the work she is assigned in order to protect us.

Kim Beazley, the Director of that Office, has been quoted at length by me before. On November 30th, 2020 I published Ms. Beazley’s response to a series of FOIA requests to get an update on a 2017 Office of the State Inspector General report that found major shortfalls in the staffing levels of the OLC.

Ms. Beazley’s answers showed that nothing had changed in three years.

The shortfalls were based upon laws and budgets that purposely reduced the authorized staff significantly below that sufficient to meet its statutory inspection requirements. Continue reading

This Could Be Interesting… Virginia to Get a “Chief Transformation Officer”

Eric Moeller. Photo credit: McKinsey & Company

by James A. Bacon

This evening Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin announced several new key appointments, including his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff. But it is the appointment of Eric Moeller, a partner at McKinsey & Company, as “Chief Transformation Officer” that I find most intriguing.

I don’t believe that the Governor’s Office has ever included anyone by that title before. The  press release from Team Youngkin does not specify what Moeller will be doing, but it doesn’t take much imagination to speculate that appointing a partner of McKinsey, one of the world’s largest consulting firms, is for the purpose of taking a close look at the organizational structure and business processes of state government.

Chopping regulations is one of those old saws like eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” that Republicans say they want but is easier said than done. This is pure speculation, but perhaps Moeller will lead such an effort. Continue reading

Virginia State and Local Agencies Must Spend Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds by December 31

by James C. Sherlock

State and local governments are awash in billions of dollars of federal funding with various federal expiration dates if not spent.

The General Assembly set its own deadline.

Recipients have to spend federal money allocated by the General Assembly by Dec. 31 or lose it back to the Governor for repurposing. That is not as easy as it sounds. It represents in many cases far more money that any of them have ever handled.

The budget bill from 2021 gave the outgoing Governor two weeks before the end of his term to shift unspent federal funds from the purpose for which they were allocated by the General Assembly to “other qualifying expenses.”

Thus, a Democratic majority General Assembly ensured that a Democratic governor could make the political decisions of re-allocation. Fair enough. Hard to blame them. They had already seen Terry McAuliffe. Risky bet.

We don’t know how much of the billions of dollars from multiple federal relief acts will be unspent by Jan. 1.

But we can be reasonably assured there is a scramble going on to get it spent before it has to be turned over for reclassification by the Governor. Continue reading

In Praise of Two Great Public Servants

Stephen Moret

by James A. Bacon

Virginia has been blessed to have had many superb public servants over the years. They may not be remembered in the history books, which have a bias toward elected politicians, but we are reminded of the indispensable contributions of at least two of them in today’s news clippings. One is leaving to pursue his passion in workforce development. Another already left, but is returning part-time to help Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin bone up on fiscal and transportation issues.

Stephen Moret, president of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, made his most visible marks by spearheading the recruitment of the Amazon  HQ2 project to Arlington and restoring Virginia to the top of CNBC’s “Top States for Business” rankings. But he also has done yeoman’s work reinvigorating the once-moribund VEDP and building bridges between economic developers and educators. Central to Moret’s approach has been integrating economic development with workforce development.

He will leave Virginia to become CEO of Strada Education Network, a nonprofit with a mission of promoting upward mobility through education. The focus is on helping individuals, according to Strada’s website, “who face the most barriers to postsecondary education and training.” Growing up as the son of a single mother in Mississippi, he can relate to the challenges of people facing economic insecurity, he tells the Richmond Times Dispatch’s Michael Martz. Read Martz’ profile here. Continue reading

Nursing Home Ads Pose As Official State Advice

by James C. Sherlock

The Virginia state government has a Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. 

Who wouldn’t want one of those?  

But in the case of recommending nursing homes, it would be better if it would either stop or fix its broken system. Which it pays a nonprofit, VirginiaNavigator, to run.

It is offering nothing more than free, self-written advertisements for good and bad nursing homes alike under the guise of a state recommendation to seniors. Continue reading

Virginia’s Self-Inflicted Nursing Home Crisis — Part 2, the Business

by James C. Sherlock

Nursing homes are businesses.

Seventy percent of those in Virginia are for profit. They are run not by doctors but registered nurses with physicians on call. 

Nursing facilities very widely in size in Virginia, from the 300-bed Mulberry Creek Nursing and Rehab center in Martinsville to facilities of less than 30 beds, especially the long-term care units of a few mostly rural hospitals.

They include facilities designated as skilled nursing facilities (SNF), often post-op care and rehabilitation, and others designated as long-term-care nursing facilities (NF). Most nursing homes in Virginia have facilities and certified beds for each.

Insurer mix and staffing costs are keys to profitability.

Many of these businesses are worth what they get paid, but many are not. Continue reading