Category Archives: General Assembly

There Will Never Be Enough

Artist rendering of interior of proposed VCU Arts and Innovation Building

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Those of us at the state Department of Planning and Budget (DPB) who worked closely with the capital budget used to marvel at the submissions from higher ed institutions. It did not matter how much had been approved and funded in the recent past; each year there were more and bigger requests. One of my colleagues summed it up succinctly: “For higher ed, there will never be enough.”

It seems that the upcoming budget year will not be an exception. The four-year institutions of higher learning have submitted budget requests to the Governor for capital projects with an estimated cost of over $3.6 billion.

Not too many years ago, a project costing $100 million or more was unusual. There are 12 projects on the current request list that have estimated costs of more than $100 million. Continue reading

Feds Require Changes to Virginia Health Insurance Law

by James C. Sherlock

There are a couple of new issues between Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance (BOI) and the federal Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS).

The problems were briefed today by a Board of Insurance representative to the Health Insurance Reform Committee.

CMS has told the BOI that the 2020 General Assembly passed a law (possibly without knowing the implications) that violated a federal statute. The Virginia law attempted to protect the state from having to spend money to fund a new health insurance mandate for Qualified Health Plan (QHP) holders. QHPs are small group and individual policies sold on the ACA exchange.

The feds are not amused. Virginia law apparently will need to be changed. Continue reading

TCI is Now Dead. Happy to Have Helped.

by Steve Haner

You’re welcome.

Well, nobody is likely to thank me actually, but why not take a bow. After Connecticut’s governor announced he would give up on imposing the Transportation and Climate Initiative on his citizens, Massachusetts’ governor made a similar announcement yesterday.

Governor Charlie Baker of that state was the driving force behind TCI, one of the few Republican governors pushing it. TCI is dead. It was a bad idea a decade ago, and now is a bad idea that has totally lost relevance. Time and reality have passed it by.

The drumbeat against it in Virginia started softly with this article on Bacon’s Rebellion in March of 2019, and I’ve written about it often here and for the Thomas Jefferson Institute. Those stories, and some polling, legal and economic analysis published by the Jefferson Institute, successfully tagged TCI for what it was: a big fuel tax increase coupled with a government-mandated rationing scheme. Continue reading

Will Election Fallout Extend to Local Union Push?

By F. Vincent Vernuccio

Virginia’s new collective bargaining law is forcing local government officials to deal with a controversial issue fraught with potential errors and legal risks.

If the 2021 election showed anything, it was that Virginia voters felt the Commonwealth was going in the wrong direction. The sweep of Republicans for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the House of Delegates sent a clear message: Voters wanted change.

Local governments should take heed, especially on controversial issues such as public sector collective bargaining. Elected officials should carefully consider not just voter sentiment, but what new executive authority means for interpretation and implementation of recent laws.

One law, passed in 2020 by a Democratic governor, House and Senate, was a radical change to decades-old precedent. The new law gave local elected officials the ability to pass ordinances allowing government unions to have a monopoly and represent all public employees (even those that do not want representation) and to bargain on almost any issue. However, now there may be stricter scrutiny on the interplay between these ordinance and state laws, not to mention the U.S. Constitution. Continue reading

Loudoun Public Schools – Suitable for Economically Secure Asian and White Kids Only

by James C. Sherlock

If your kids are Asian or white and economically advantaged, Loudoun County Public Schools are worth a try.

Otherwise, forget it.

At my age I am seldom surprised. The failures of Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) to educate so many of their children in the wealthiest county in America have easily cleared that bar.

The Constitution of Virginia famously demands:

“The General Assembly … shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.”

In Loudoun, the struggles between the school system — the school board, the superintendent and the school administration — and parents have spawned national headlines. Those have focused on COVID responses and social engineering by the schools.

The spectacular failures of the Loudoun County Public Schools seen in the academic scores of its students other than economically secure Asian and white kids is a bigger scandal.

Far too many young lives have been cut short of their promise by denial of not only an “educational system of high quality”, but even an adequate one.

It needs to stop. Continue reading

What Dominion is Hiding in its Wind Application

The cover page that declares we the ratepayers cannot see how Dominion Energy Virginia has calculated the levelized cost of energy for its $10 billion offshore wind project. The SCC should break this seal and open this document.

by Steve Haner

When an applicant at the State Corporation Commission claims certain information is proprietary, or extraordinarily sensitive, a reader not privy to the full document can at least get an idea what is missing.

What is missing from the application Dominion Energy Virginia recently filed at the SCC, a document so dense and complex it was broken into eleven volumes, with 61 separate documents (here)? (That is not counting the tables of contents.) Here are some of the topics masked from view that turned up in a cursory review (in the order they appear in the documents):

  • The cost of foreign currency hedges the utility proposes to buy (with ratepayer money), because about $4 billion of its planned capital and service purchases will actually be in Euros or Danish Krone and subject to exchange rate risk.
  • Information on how it calculated its claimed 97% “availability factor” for the turbines. That predicts how often turbines will be down for maintenance or some other issue over the predicted 30 years of useful life.
  • An entire appendix to the generation portion of the application, “which contains the Company’s analysis of the levelized cost of energy.” That is the key financial consideration. Under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, a LCOE determination which is too high would give the SCC the ability to reject the application. (Expect another post on this issue.)

Continue reading

Turbine Costs Appear on Dominion Bills in 2022?

Illustration of Dominion’s wind project from its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management documentation.

by Steve Haner

Customers of Dominion Energy Virginia will begin to pay for its planned 176 wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach next September, years before the first electricity is produced, if the company’s request for initial project funding is approved by the State Corporation Commission.

As with all such projects now, the bill will be paid through a specific addition to monthly bills, a rate adjustment clause or RAC. The cost for residential customers will work out to $1.45 per 1,000 kilowatt hours, but that is just for the first rate year beginning in 2022. In a news release Friday, the company claimed eventually the “net” cost to residential users would be $4 per 1,000 kWh, but that includes assumptions about future tax benefits and future costs of the alternatives abandoned.

The gross cost to consumers may be buried somewhere in the mound of Dominion documents that now constitute the full application. Or it may be among the items of data which the company seeks to withhold from public view.

On Friday, the record of the case was just a few cover letters and the company’s motion asking the SCC to let it keep much of the key information confidential.  Monday up to 40 (40!) additional documents were posted on the SCC’s case file, full of some details, but reviewing a table of contents one can see example after example of information redacted, in anticipation of SCC approval of the motion for secrecy. Continue reading

General Herring: Air All Data in Wind Application

Attorney General Mark R. Herring

An open letter to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring:

Dear General Herring:

As was reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Dominion Energy Virginia filed on Friday its application for approval to build offshore wind turbines with a nameplate capacity of 2,600 megawatts. The very first motion made to the State Corporation Commission was a request to keep all the important financial and engineering information confidential, away from public inspection.

I write as a Dominion customer and write to you in your statutory role as the representative for consumers before the SCC.  You are my lawyer.

Please do everything in your power to persuade the SCC to reject that motion for secrecy. On behalf of the people of Virginia, break that seal. I hope other likely parties in the case will join you, but you should take the lead. There is no justification for hiding all the reams of information which will be produced in the coming review, and which will have a direct impact on the cost and reliability of our electricity for decades to come.

Waiting until the smoke had cleared from the recent election, in which the company embarrassed itself, the announcement included an admission that the price of the proposed project has already risen more than 20% to almost $10 billion.

There has long been too much secrecy in the SCC’s cases, a complaint I have aired several times in various forums. This has been accompanied by a reduction in the amount of attention given to these matters in the traditional news media, with the most active news source these days hardly objective but instead a cheerleader for this unreliable, intermittent electricity source. Continue reading

Personnel is Policy On Future Energy Reform

SCC Commissioner Angela Navarro, whose term ends January 31, 2022.

by Steve Haner

Does Tuesday’s election result mean Virginia is going to move back towards a rational energy policy? Watch two key personnel decisions, both entirely matters for the next legislature to decide.

State Corporation Commissioner Angela Navarro was elected by the 2021 General Assembly to fill the unexpired term of Mark Christie, who moved to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. His SCC term was expiring January 31, 2022, so hers does too, putting her up for reconsideration immediately.

A former staff lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, she was an architect and advocate for the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act. Key decisions on that are beginning to fill the SCC docket, the largest being the next Dominion integrated resource plan and the first tranche of offshore wind development.

Will the new Republican majority in the House of Delegates deny Navarro a full term and choose another judge less associated with that bill? Well, the oldest rule in the legislature is “what goes around comes around.” When the Democrats took full control of the Assembly in the 2020 session, former Commissioner Patricia West was seeking an extension on her partial SCC term that began in 2019.

She was denied that extension, and instead replaced by Jehmal T. Hudson, who had been serving at FERC in a staff position. Continue reading

Biden and McAuliffe to Complete the Roundup of Toddlers by the State

Terry McAuliffe. Photo credit: The Virginia Star

by James C. Sherlock

Updated 26 October 1:48 PM

The progressive dream of government control of children from birth is approaching reality in Virginia.

Terry McAuliffe shares that dream and wants to lead Virginia to that promised land.

Governor Ralph Northam and the Democratic General Assembly have established state control of our youngest children, but will struggle to fund it. And if a progressive government could pass those new laws in 2020, future state governments can repeal them.

McAuliffe wants to be Governor to opt in for Virginians to the early childhood education provisions of the federal “Build Back Better” program.

To complete the government control of children from birth with federal money. Under federal regulations and requirements. Wrench control of toddlers from their parents with two sets of laws.

Who says progressives don’t like walls.

Every parent in Virginia should pray he never gets the chance. And vote to prevent him from being in position to do so. Continue reading

JLARC Agrees: VA Economy Lags National Growth

by Steve Haner

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

This makes if official: Even the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) has documented and highlighted how poorly Virginia’s economy is performing, how far our state is lagging national growth averages.

Source: JLARC 2021 Report on Virginia State Spending, Slide 7.

The admission comes in the most recent summary on state spending trends, an annual report (detailed version here) which was submitted to and approved by the legislators on the panel last week. It covers the ten-year period of 2012-2021 and does a rolling update on previous years.

Virginia’s average annual change in gross domestic product of 1.2% was just 63% of the national average, our per capita income grew 1.1% annually (58% of the national average) and our labor force grew just 0.6% annually over the period, 60% of the national average. The general correlation of the three deficits just demonstrates their interdependence. Continue reading

Richmond Public Schools – Adult Misbehavior Cripples Children’s Futures

Jason Kamras Superintendent, Richmond Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

This space this morning published a great column by Kerry Dougherty about the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS). She was as desperate for a solution as the rest of us.

I have found over the years that it is absolutely impossible to talk or embarrass the RPS into improving its schools. They simply don’t want to do it in any way that has a chance of working.

The system is run for the adults, not the children.

Administrators simply refuse to consider doing the things they could do immediately to improve their schools:

  1. Find out where the kids are when they are absent and bring them to school if there is no valid excuse. Ultimately pursue the parents of the chronically absent in court under existing Virginia law. Both will require hiring back the truancy officers RPS fired en masse; and
  2. reduce chaotic learning environments in the classrooms with a restoration of effective discipline processes.

Continue reading

Redistricting: Fairness is in the Eye of the Partisan

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Redistricting Commission has hit another wall.  This one, over Congressional districts, is good, old-fashioned partisan politics, dressed up as differing perceptions of fairness.

Last week, the Commission decided to keep Congressional districts Three and Four intact, with only those changes needed to bring their populations in line with what was needed to meet the legal requirement. These districts were those drawn by the special master and adopted by the federal court following the lawsuit several years ago. On advice of counsel, the Commission decided that this was the safest approach to avoid any Voting Rights Act challenges. Each set of map drawers was directed to proposed appropriate changes for those districts. For the reminder of the state, the Republican map drawers were directed to draw the lines for the districts in Southwest Virginia, Southside and the Valley. The Democratic map drawers were directed to draw the three districts encompassing Northern Virginia. Both sets of map drawers were then directed to draw the lines for the other three districts in the state, after accounting for the districts drawn by their counterparts. Continue reading

The State Tax Gravy Train Accelerates

by Steve Haner

First published today by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Any claim that Virginia cannot reduce taxes on its citizens without damaging state programs has been further eroded by two recent announcements.

The explosion of revenue from recent state tax increases is continuing into this new fiscal year, pointing to a potential repeat of last year’s $2.6 billion general fund surplus, which the state’s leadership is still trying to attribute to anything but its tax legislation. In the first three months of this new fiscal year general fund revenue is running $570 million ahead of last year’s record amounts, blowing out projections that assumed last year’s surplus was pandemic-related lagniappe.

The flood of money wasn’t related to the pandemic, not totally. It was related to tax policy decisions made in 2019, 2020 and 2021, the bulk of the surplus revenue coming from higher individual and corporate income taxes.

Adding to that, the Virginia Retirement System told legislators Monday that it has done so well with its investments (a 27% return in one year), the next General Assembly will be able to reduce the amount of cash it invests in the next few years, a significant reduction in annual costs. Continue reading

Dominion and Despicable Voter Suppression

So it was Dominion Energy paying for campaign ads opposing gun regulation! Here is why.

by Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia’s knowing participation in an effort to suppress the November 2 vote, aimed mainly at Western Virginia Republicans, is a truly despicable act. It should enrage all Virginians, without regard to party. This is a state-created and regulated monopoly and the $200,000 it spent on this underhanded activity was provided by captive customers.

I further assert that in previous election cycles, as heavily as Dominion funded various candidates, this type of expense would not have been approved by the management, including the late Thomas Farrell. But Farrell is dead and the political deciders at the top now are both long-time partisan Democrats who fully understood they were paying for voter suppression.

I would be expressing no anger whatsoever if Dominion had merely donated $200,000 directly and openly to Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. It would have been a logical move to support a former governor who strongly backed its failed natural gas pipeline project, and now has pledged to deeply enrich the company by accelerating the transition to unreliable renewable generation instead.

McAuliffe is nothing if not flexible. I used another word to describe his subservience to Dominion on Twitter yesterday and got blocked for 12 hours. Continue reading