Category Archives: Finance (government)

Public Featherbedding at the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority?

The Young Terrace public housing community is along St. Paul’s Boulevard, just north of downtown. (Bill Tiernan) Credit Virginian Pilot

by James C. Sherlock

Daniel Berti published an excellent investigative report this morning in The Virginian-Pilot.

“Norfolk’s housing authority is in ‘dire’ financial condition, bloated after years of failing to downsize” details what may prove to be waste and abuse at that agency to preserve jobs as the administrative requirements and funding of the mission have diminished.

In other words, the report details what some may construe as government agency featherbedding. If it is true, it has been a big mistake, because federal dollars are involved.

I congratulate both the author and the paper on this exclusive. Please read it.

The article, as revealing as it is, does not mention the annual independent audits the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) is required by federal regulation to undergo.

It has been my experience over the years that local agencies spending federal funds often get into financial trouble that is traceable to audits.

Most often to good audits that are ignored. Continue reading

The Crisis of Reducing Costs and Maintaining Standards at Virginia’s State Colleges and Universities

Courtesy Virginia Tech

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s state-funded colleges and universities are too expensive.

Tuitions are the headline numbers.

But student fees and food and housing costs are as important to the budgets of families and individual students as tuition.

Costs within the college system have gone up because of a general lack of management systems and data to support oversight. They are going up further because of inflation in the economy.

Demand is going to plummet starting in 2025 as the “demographic cliff” of a 15 % drop in freshman prospects approaches due to the decline in birth rate in the 2008 recession that lasted for years thereafter.

The missing babies from 2008 would have begun entering college in 2025. Not a rosy scenario for the colleges. They all talk about it a great deal internally.

Some will have to get smaller to maintain student quality admissions standards or, alternately, lower those standards along with those of the programs of instruction.

Maintaining the same staff with smaller numbers of students will not work without massive price increases that they will not be able effectively to pass on without exacerbating the demand crisis.

Action is demanded, or parts of the Virginia higher education system, generally the smaller ones, are going to price themselves out of existence. The ones that do not act will be in a continuing crisis of their own making.

In the realm of enterprise disruptions, declining demand and increased costs are the big leagues. Continue reading

The Governor’s Tuition Freeze Request and the Board at UVa – It’s Complicated

Signatures from the first meeting recorded in the Minute Book of the UVa board of visitors, May 5, 1817 – ALBERT AND SHIRLEY SMALL SPECIAL COLLECTIONS LIBRARY, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

by James C. Sherlock

Much has been made of a recent request by Governor Glenn Youngkin to eliminate a tuition increase at the University of Virginia and the Board’s decision not to honor it.

The tensions between means and ends that have to be resolved in producing a budget at any large and complex university are enormous.

UVa has implemented a Responsibility Center Management (RCM) budget model.

An RCM budget model decentralizes decision-making, provides incentives for innovation, and improves overall financial results and stewardship. It couples distributed program responsibility with meaningful authority over resources.

A central RCM budget product is thus fragile, in that changes have far reaching effects unpredictable at the board level. The later the changes, the bigger the disruptions.

The Governor’s request, while appropriate to his goal to help parents deal with inflation, arrived just before the start of the fiscal year. The board judged it to be too late to be accommodated.

This is the story of the budgeting process that drove that decision and why the endowment could not be used to fund the difference.  I think elements of this may prove be informative to all who send their kids off to college. Continue reading

Continuity in the State Finance Agencies

Stephen Cummings, Secretary of Finance

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The lead story in Tuesday’s  Richmond Times-Dispatch was a curious one. Its headline promised great drama, which was not delivered, and it missed the real story.

The headline, “Retirements Transform State Finance Agencies,” promises great drama. The primary agencies in the Finance Secretariat are the Department of Accounts (DOA), Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Taxation (Tax), and Department of Planning and Budget (DPB). Since January, the directors of three of those agencies (DPB, DOA, and Treasury) have retired. At Tax, the long-time assistant commissioner for tax policy and the chief economist and director of revenue forecasting have retired.

One could speculate over the recent announcement of Manju Ganeriwala (Treasury), after 13 years as agency head and the earlier retirement of David Von Moll (DOA), since they had both been reappointed to their jobs by Youngkin. Why would one retire from a good position after being reappointed? On another level, Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch hinted that John Layman, the revenue forecaster at Tax, had been forced, or at least nudged, into retirement. Continue reading

Details on Real Estate Assessments and the Property Tax

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I am following up on James Sherlock’s article on local property taxes.

In Article X, sections 1 and 2, the state constitution requires that all property be taxed at fair market value. There are exceptions, but those are not relevant to this discussion. So, there you have it. Unless the constitution is amended, localities must tax property at fair market value.

State law recognizes the impracticality of assessments keeping up with fair market value on a continual basis.

One of the main reasons that assessments lag behind market value on a statewide basis is the varying frequency of reassessments by localities. State law requires cities to reassess every two years, except that cities with a population less than 30,000 can use a four-year reassessment cycle. For counties, the law allows them to go four years between reassessments, except for counties with a population under 50,000 , and the counties of Augusta and Bedford, which are allowed a five-year or six-year cycle. Continue reading

Home Price Volatility and Virginia Property Taxes

Case-Schiller Home Price Index – National

by James C. Sherlock

Housing prices have more than doubled since 2012, reflecting shortages of supply and the resulting speculation. The increasing slope of those curves above is not comforting.

Prices have soared over 20% in a year. Mortgage rates are up. What could possibly happen next? Most can figure that out.

But this article is about the effects on local government property taxes of what most predict will be extreme volatility in the housing market going forward.

How are Virginia real property taxes adjusted to mitigate the effects on both property owner tax bills and government receipts in this boom and very likely bust cycle?

We’ll look at the law. Continue reading

Fix One Thing — School Physical and Electronic Security

by James C. Sherlock

I offer an apolitical suggestion. We know how to begin to fix school security.

Do it.

Step 1. Every school division has a security instruction. How many of them monitor whether that guidance is being followed? I will let them answer that.

Step 2. The more complete solution is deployment of integrated combinations of physical and electronic security systems. System integrators who specialize in school security can help with requirements definition for any facility and tailor expandable solutions to budgets. That is their business and they are good at it.

As an example of what is possible, see ADT’s integrated intrusion security and fire detection and alarm system offerings for K-12 schools.

When people say “do something”, this is the kind of solution on which all of us can agree. Do it. Continue reading

Personnel Shortages that Plague Virginia’s Health Facilities Inspection Staff in the Hands of Budget Negotiators

UVa Hospital

by James C. Sherlock

One of the most important responsibilities of Virginia state government is to inspect medical facilities and home care providers to ensure we are safe when we enter their care.

It continues to fail in that responsibility thanks to years of Virginia budgets that have consciously ignored the need for increased inspector staff and increased salaries with which to competitively hire that staff.

I have reported for a long time that the staffing of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Office of Licensing and Certification (OLC) is scandalously deficient. Based upon an update today from OLC, it remains so.

That organization has only half of the inspectors it needs to carry out its defined responsibilities.

Those highly skilled and very dedicated people, largely registered nurses, are asked to do every day for Virginians what we cannot do for ourselves and what our elected representatives have refused for decades to properly fund them to do.

Think of that next time you use the facilities and home providers they are required for your safety to inspect.

We hope the current General Assembly budget negotiators keep it in mind for themselves and their families.

Or the Governor sends the budget back until they do. Continue reading

Inflation and the Budget

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In addition to conventional budget requests, the Youngkin administration is likely to receive requests from agencies in the fall budget development exercise for additional funding to enable them to cover additional costs resulting from higher inflation. (Yes, I realize that the 2022-2024 biennial budget has not even been agreed upon yet, but, once one round is out of the way, budget folks are always getting ready for the next round.)

With some exceptions, inflation is not normally built into budget bills. Budget development for a biennial budget starts with a base budget, which is the appropriation for the second year of the most recent biennium. Adjustments are made to the base, but rarely are those adjustments for inflation. As for the mid-biennium budget, agencies normally are not provided additional appropriations to cover inflationary costs. 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

Richmond’s Reaganesque Time for Choosing

Chris Braunlich

by Chris Braunlich

Richmond, like Washington, has always been a place where an “insider’s game” is played – not in a pejorative sense, but simply as the way things are done.

Relationships are paramount, people speak in the arcane language of lawmaking, agendas are confusing for outsiders, and the activities of a subcommittee for an obscure commission are followed in detail because those in the know understand that what happens there will end up as a new regulation. Continue reading

Richmond, Its Unions and Taxes

by James C. Sherlock

Richmond residents should note that:

The number of employees at City of Richmond in year 2020 was 4,140.

Average annual salary was $56,410 and median salary was $50,001. City of Richmond average salary is 20 percent higher than USA average and median salary is 15 percent higher than USA median.

Median per capita income in Richmond in 2020 dollars was $35,862. Median household income was $51,421. Approximately 21% of Richmond citizens live below the poverty level.

The City of Richmond’s FY 2023 total General Fund budget is estimated to be $836,015,828, an 8.18% increase when compared to the FY 2022.

The increases in spending represent a projected balanced budget based on estimated increases in revenues. Those in turn are driven by a projected increase in General Property Taxes – notably a 13.13% increase in real estate tax collections; increases in Sales Tax (9.27%); and increases in Prepared Meals Taxes (15.95%).

Those increases in tax collections are largely from Richmond taxpayers. How many got double-digit increases in income in 2022? Just asking.

Now the Richmond City Council is about to approve negotiations with its unions on pay and benefits. The RPS, of course has gone much further than the City Council in putting everything on the table.

Those costs are not in the budget. Continue reading

Richmond Parents and Taxpayers, Welcome to Chicago Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

The gulf between what the City of Richmond School Board (RSB) and the Richmond City Council (RCC) on what will be negotiated with their public unions is actually an ocean.

The RSB has authorized the negotiation of virtually everything about how the schools are run. It leaves nothing off the table except the right to strike and the right to negotiate a closed shop (Virginia is still a right to work state), both of which state law still prohibits. But the unions can negotiate what are essentially the work rules of a closed shop.

In contrast, the City Council is poised to pass an ordinance on May 5th from two candidate drafts, one from Mayor Stoney and the other from three Council members. The Mayor’s version states what will be negotiated — pay and benefits. The other states what will not be negotiated with an eleven-point description of the City’s Rights and Authorities.

The City Council drafts, especially the Mayor’s, have it right. They note the City Council’s duties under the laws of Virginia and to the citizens of their city.

Not so the school board. The RSB resolution acknowledges only one stakeholder: its unions.

Unmentioned in the RSB resolution is exactly who is going to represent the city in its negotiations with its unions. Ideally it will be a team composed of City Council (finance) and School Board subject-matter experts. If so the city reps will be operating under two sets of negotiating rules in direct opposition to one another.

I’d buy a ticket, but maybe under the sunshine laws negotiations will be on TV. Continue reading

How Do We Pay to Fix the Schools?

Virginia Middle School in Bristol — built in 1906.

by James A. Bacon

It has long been recognized that some of Virginia’s public schools are in scandalously poor condition — leaky roofs, mold, asbestos, outdated HVAC systems, clogged toilets, and so on. More than half of all school buildings in the state are greater than 50 years old. In mid-2021, school districts across Virginia had identified $9.8 billion of projects in their Capital Improvement Plans. Replacing all buildings 50 years or older would cost $24.8 billion, according to a Virginia Department of Education needs assessment.

As Radio IQ points out in an article today, Virginia engaged in a wave of public school construction in the 1950s and 1960s, and those buildings are aging out. No one knows where such funds will come from. Some counties are affluent enough that they can raise property taxes to cover the cost of issuing and paying off bonds. Some counties aren’t. The General Assembly is debating how to help, whether by providing half a billion dollars in grants or up to $2 billion in loans, reports Radio IQ.

Here’s what makes any discussion of state bail-outs tricky: some localities have been proactive, either raising taxes or setting aside reserves, while others have kicked the fiscal can down the road. There is a danger that a massive, statewide infusion of state funds into local school districts will subsidize the improvident and leave the prudent short-changed. Continue reading

Causes of the School Funding “Crisis”

Courtesy Wise County Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

Read the story, “House and Senate lay out dueling visions for education funding in Virginia,” in the Virginia Mercury this morning by the reliably thorough Kate Masters.

If you follow it, you, like everyone else in Virginia, can pick a side or pick provisions from both houses that you prefer.

What you won’t find in either budget version is an attempt to tackle the massive amounts of money that are wasted in plain sight. Much of the waste is attributable to faulty or non-existent assessments of need and misplaced local priorities.

The rest is traceable to the self-serving inputs of the schools of education, which have owned and operated the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) for years. Continue reading