Category Archives: General Assembly

New Virginia Battleground in War on Gas

The northern part of the Header Improvement Project. Source: VNG Application at SCC. You can see the full project map here.

By Steve Haner

First published this morning in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

To the modern environmental movement, natural gas is the Devil’s own breath. It must be opposed in every form on every front.

This explains the existential battle being fought over what would otherwise be considered fairly minor capital enhancements to an existing gas pipeline connecting Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Virginia Natural Gas is seeking to increase the capacity of that line with a 6-mile extension to connect to the Transco pipeline near Quantico.

Those six miles are the only new section of pipeline in the Header Improvement Project. Elsewhere, the existing pipeline will see three miles of parallel pipe added to increase capacity in Fauquier County and 14 miles more north and east of Richmond. Three compressor stations are also proposed, one each at the northern and southern ends and one in the middle of the route near Ladysmith. The whole project is priced in at about $345 million.

The objections display hypocrisy. Opponents of the proposed multi-billion dollar Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley natural gas pipelines have often pointed to the actual or potential capacity of the state’s existing lines. Those are sufficient for Virginia’s needs, they say. The minor proposed improvements strengthen that argument, and logically should be embraced by those opposed to the mega-projects to the south.

Yet VNG’s proposal is drawing the same level of heated opposition as the major projects, with their hundreds of miles of new construction. Even a six-mile extension of an old pipeline is a path to perdition. Continue reading

Taken Like Hicks At A Carnival

By Steve Haner

Anybody who closely read the so-called Virginia Clean Economy Act and had watched Dominion Energy Virginia’s previous manipulations of Virginia’s General Assembly could see what was coming. Despite its “billing,” that bill was never going to end the use of fossil fuels in Virginia.

As early as February 13, I reported that to readers of Bacon’s Rebellion, in “Energy Omnibus II: It Doesn’t Shut Gas Plants.”  Later bill versions were even less restrictive.  Continue reading

Hidden, Spaced Out, Higher Taxes Coming

The green areas are regional transportation districts where additional fuel taxes are already being collected, 7.6 cents per gallon on gasoline and 7.7 cents per gallon on diesel. Effective July 1 those regional fuel taxes will be imposed in all the other Virginia localities. In combination with the 5 cent per gallon increase in the statewide gasoline tax, the total tax on fuel goes to 28.8 cents on gasoline and 27.9 cents on diesel.

By Steve Haner

First published this morning by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

The 2020 General Assembly, with its new progressive Democratic majority, passed a host of changes in Virginia tax laws that will begin to hit individuals and businesses in a few weeks on July 1.  Because of the COVID-19 economic shutdown, a few amendments were made to the implementation schedule during the reconvened session on April 22, but no tax increase was repealed.

This is a follow up on an earlier report on the sixteen tax bills that passed the regular session. Most are taxes will be buried almost invisibly in various transactions, and their phased imposition will also keep many taxpayers from noticing them.

July 1, 2020

The statewide tax on gasoline increases from 16.2 cents per gallon to 21.2 cents per gallon (a 31% increase) and is no longer tied going forward to the rise or fall of wholesale cost.  Continue reading

Limit the Governor’s Power to Restrict Constitutional Freedoms at His Sole Discretion

by James C. Sherlock
Updated May 9 at 8:15 AM

The U.S. Constitution proceeded from and combined with the Declaration of Independence to form the basis on which we the people agreed to form a government. At its core it limits government so that government cannot limit freedom. The separation of powers within each state government and all laws of each state must conform to its requirements.

Judge Andrew Napolitano sees violations of the U.S. Constitution in the responses of some Governors to COVID-19. We need not agree to see what can be done to limit the power of a single individual to restrict freedoms while preserving state capabilities to act in extremis.

The law change I propose for Virginia is appropriate for every state in the country that gives its Governor the unfettered authority to declare an emergency and then, by virtue of that declaration, govern through executive orders and levy penalties for their violation without approval of the General Assembly.

I am going to take the judge’s findings and offer a layman’s assessment of current law and the constitution of Virginia of what might be done to meet potential U.S. constitutional objections.

The findings here about the shortcomings in Virginia law reflect objective assessment of Virginia law as written and of the U.S. Constitution.

My proposition is that if changes can be made in Virginia law to protect rights without negatively affecting state government response, then they must be made. 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.

State Spending Hike Also Postponed, Not Canceled

By Steve Haner

 Originally published in the May 3 Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star and then distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. 

Just as COVID-19 was starting its destruction of the world’s economy in early March, the Virginia General Assembly took final action on an exuberant two-year state budget within shouting distance of $140 billion. Six weeks later at the Reconvened Session, with the economic damage obvious but not yet measured, the Assembly reaffirmed the same spending plan.

Rather than substantially cut the budget, Governor Ralph Northam and his finance team proposed to delay the vast majority of the newly authorized spending and decide later whether the state can afford it. About $2.3 billion in increased spending will remain in the budget, but frozen until a new revenue forecast is presented later this year. A special session will then be called where legislators either release the freezes or approve other actions.  Continue reading

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

Clean Economy Law Not So Green, Very Expensive

This Would Be You, Virginia

By Steve Haner

Mel Leonor reports in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch that Dominion Energy Virginia and the Green Energy Oligarchs have used the Virginia General Assembly to empty your pockets with a false promise.

According to Dominion’s own information, the highly touted Virginia Clean Energy Act (1) will not result in a total end to fossil fuel generation feeding your homes and businesses and (2) will increase bills by amounts similar to or in excess of the warnings in February from the State Corporation Commission. She writes:

Either way, the company said, customers in Virginia should expect to see their bills rise by as much as 3% a year until 2030, in large part due to infrastructure investments to build solar, offshore wind and battery capacity.

For the average residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month, that could mean an increase of $45.92 to their monthly bills, from the current $116.18 per month to $168.58 per month.

The SCC’s estimate of the new legislation’s rate impact was that it would cost residential customers about $28 a month (1,000 kWh) within five years, so Dominion’s projection over ten years is right in line. The SCCs claims have been validated and the false promises of lower costs from advocates exposed.  Continue reading

Why Northam Is Such An Important Governor

By Peter Galuszka

This is a bit like throwing chum at a school of sharks, but here is my latest in Style Weekly.

I wrote an assessment of Gov. Ralph Northam that is overall, quite positive. My take goes against much of the sentiment of other contributors on this blog.

They are entitled to their views but, to be honest, I find some of the essays shrill and not really fact based. If Northam wants to delay elective surgeries at hospitals for a week or so, some want to empanel a grand jury.

An acute care health facility in Henrico County becomes one of the most notorious hot spots for coronavirus deaths and it is immediately Northam’s fault even though the care center has had serious problems that long predated the governor’s term in office.

He’s a trained physician who served as an Army doctor in combat during the Iraq War yet he is vilified as being incompetent and incapable of understanding the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s like the constant repetition of the “Sins of Hillary” on Breitbart and Fox News about emails and Benghazi.

Like him or not, Northam is bound to be one of the most consequential governors in Virginia history given the gigantic problem of the pandemic. He’s not a showboat salesman like Terry McAuliffe nor a smarmy, small-time crook like Robert F. McDonnell.

Anyway, here’s the piece.

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

COVID Casualty: Unemployment Insurance System

The rise and fall of Virginia’s unemployment insurance tax, per worker, in response to the 2008-2009 recession. The COVID-19 recession, just starting, is likely to set new records for amount of tax and the length of time those elevated taxes are imposed. This chart includes the average (not maximum) base tax, an additional $16 fund builder tax, and a pool tax imposed on everybody who pays to compensate for employers who default. Source: Virginia Employment Commission.

By Steve Haner

This first appeared in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch and has also been distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.  

America’s and Virginia’s unemployment insurance program – born of the Great Depression and the Social Security Act of 1935 – may be another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has mutated unemployment insurance into a form not financially sustainable.

Each state has its own unemployment insurance trust fund, financed by taxes on employers and steadily growing in good times. The last time the Virginia Employment Commission publicly reported on our fund’s status, almost a year ago, it projected a balance of $1.3 billion by the end of 2019.  Continue reading

A Break from COVID — Gambling

Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Governor is in a tug-of-war with his Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly. The objects of their contention are the so-called “skill games” (also sometimes called “gray machines”).

The skill games are video games now found in numerous truck stops and convenience stores that offer a cash prize to the winners. The opponents of such games have denounced them as illegal gambling. One Commonwealth’s attorney has charged the distributor of such games for violating Virginia law. The games’ distributors contend they are games of skill. Continue reading

Stop Gap Budget Amendments

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Not surprisingly, the Governor did not try to re-write the budget in the reconvened session. There is just not enough information available now regarding the extent to which state revenues will be affected by the economic downturn brought on by the novel coronavirus. Using the process set out in the Appropriation Act and implemented several times in recent years, the re-rewrite (with major cuts) will happen next fall.

The Governor used his proposed budget amendments to accomplish several objectives: increase the amount of general fund cash available to address revenue shortfalls; freeze spending on his and on General Assembly initiatives; allow additional spending to proceed in specified, de facto mandated areas; and give himself and agencies administrative flexibility in dealing with COVID-19 situations. Continue reading

The Revolution Has Been Postponed, Not Canceled

by Steve Haner

The revolution has merely been postponed, not cancelled.

Governor Ralph Northam has asked the General Assembly to put off until May 1, 2021, the implementation of several key pro-union changes in Virginia’s labor and employment laws, including a 31% increase in the minimum wage.

Saturday, April 11, was the deadline for Northam’s consideration of the 2020 General Assembly’s output. He had to choose whether to sign, veto or propose amendments to hundreds of successful bills. The amendments he proposed will be put to a vote in the General Assembly reconvened session on April 22.

Will enough legislators of his own Democratic Party join him in disappointing the key constituency of the Democratic Party? Union leaders expressed their fury in the wake of his announcements, so that battle is joined. In the meantime, do not ignore the dozens of other bills which were signed which also damage the business climate in Virginia going forward.

When you see all of the “pro-worker” legislation signed and touted by the Governor in one combined list, it is crystal clear that liberal Democrats (and there appears to be few centrist Democrats left) believe many Virginia employers were refusing to pay, misclassifying, punishing, discriminating against or otherwise abusing workers until the new Democratic majority came along to offer salvation. Continue reading

The Budget Sausage Factory

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I have been going through the individual budget amendments adopted by the General Assembly. I admit it — I am a budget nerd who finds this stuff interesting. Plus, in this instance, my immersion into budget wonkery had the advantage of providing a diversion from the omnipresent discussion of the coronavirus.

Budgets are a great guide to a government’s policies. Governments put their money where their priorities lie. There was a summary recently in this blog of the major amendments to the recently passed budget bill.

In addition to the major policy initiatives such as public employee compensation, education, and health care, it is instructive to examine the smaller amendments.  They provide further insight into the legislative process (another area I find fascinating): Who has influence, what areas or policies are favored, etc.? Continue reading