Category Archives: General Assembly

Virginia Unemployment Fund Gains In Good Times

2018 labor force participation rates. Source: VEC. Click for larger view.

Laissez les bon temps roulez. Virginia’s strong employment climate is adding a financial spare tire to Virginia’s unemployment trust fund, now above 83 percent solvency by one actuarial measure and exceeding a federal recommended minimum balance on another measure.

The annual unemployment fund status update for a legislative oversight commission Wednesday lasted about 30 minutes, with the chairman, Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, noting it was far shorter and less dramatic than some previous meetings in tight times, adding “it’s a good drama not to have.” The presentation is here.

The projected $1.45 billion fund balance for next December 31 will be another record, said Virginia Employment Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess. The figures used are not adjusted for inflation, however, and the state has been at higher solvency levels in previous periods of prosperity. The funds are just sitting there earning interest and awaiting the next recession, which history deems inevitable.  Continue reading

Speaking of Mental Health–Virginia has a Crisis

The Commonwealth is experiencing a crisis in its mental health system.  The situation is the result of some positive initiatives of the General Assembly, coupled with the legislature’s reluctance to provide the funding needed to deal with the results of those initiatives.

The crisis is an acute shortage of mental health treatment beds. Around the first of this month, the Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) warned “there will be times over the July 4th holiday weekend when there will not be any open staffed beds at any of the state hospitals.”   And the July 4 weekend was not an aberration. The state’s adult mental health hospitals operated at 98 to 100 percent capacity in May and June. One day this month, the two hospitals that treat elderly patients had more patients than beds.

The state has reduced its mental health bed capacity in recent years, going from 1,571 beds in June 2010 to 1,491 beds in FY 2020, a reduction of five percent.

During that period of decreasing bed capacity, the General Assembly took two actions that have resulted in a significant increase in mental health admissions. Continue reading

Yes, Mental Illness is Key, Says U.S. Secret Service

The United States Secret Service, probably not a tool of the gun-loving American right, has just issued a report on 2018 mass shootings with a strong focus on the mental health problems displayed by the shooters. Clearly it didn’t get the same memo received by our friends at Blue Virginia, who think any such discussion unfairly stigmatizes the mentally ill and distracts from the real villains: guns themselves.

Let me get this right: Democrats don’t want to stigmatize the mentally ill, but are all too happy to blame the millions of law-abiding gun owners and subject them all to new regulations or restrictions, up to and including search, seizure and confiscation?  Continue reading

Firearms Theater: Boring, Tiresome, Repetitive

It is easy to dismiss next week’s special session of the General Assembly on proposed gun control as meaningless political theater, because that it what it will likely amount to.  It is also boring, tiresome and repetitive.

Following the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech, a group of well-intended and well-informed experts formed a non-partisan task force looking for insight, information and common ground.  There were state-level (here) and national (here) reports produced.  Continue reading

Make This Check To: Southwest Virginia

Source: Dominion Power website. Click for larger view.

Here is what I had to say in today’s The Roanoke Times about Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed pumped storage facility in Tazewell County, addressed to the people so excited about the revenue it will generate. This posting is for the people here in the other part of Virginia who pay the bills for the utility.

Read here how Dominion is selling this to the Southwest Virginians who are not its customers, promising hundreds of millions of dollars in this propaganda. That all would come from our future bills. The $320 million in estimated benefits to them is just a start on what it will cost us because we will also be paying over decades for:

  • The profits to the stockholders,
  • The interest on any bonds or loans,
  • The massive construction project itself, and
  • No additional electricity generation, just a storage system for electricity generated elsewhere, much of it lost over the hundreds of miles of transmission lines.

Continue reading

The (GOP) Chaos and Dysfunction Must End

GOP Nominee Scott Wyatt

For years my daily routine during the General Assembly included time in Delegate Riley Ingram’s office, in fact pretty much as long as the Hopewell Republican was there. I’d worked on several of his campaigns. Trust me, he left the best stories out of his hilarious farewell floor speech.

In 2018 I was present when a local party unit chairman came in to give Riley hell for his expected vote in favor of expanding Medicaid. It was a very ugly conversation. At the end I concluded, yep, this really is Riley’s last term.  The Republican activists who saw that as “Obamacare” were going to be unforgiving.  Continue reading

Dominion’s IRP Approved, With High Costs Detailed

Source: SCC Staff summary.

The State Corporation Commission today approved Dominion Energy Virginia’s Integrated Resource Plan, laying out possible investment combinations to keep the power flowing in its territory over the next fifteen years.  It also laid out the costs, in excess of $18 billion of investments plus interest plus profit margin to be paid by future customers.

The Commission added the standard caveat that individual decisions to build new generation, energy storage or transmission still must come to the SCC for the regular review.  In some cases the judges will have full discretion to approve or reject proposals, but the General Assembly (at Dominion’s suggestion) has also dictated in state law outcomes for several expensive choices.  Continue reading

Federal Tax Conformity Flooding State With Cash

What will you do with your $110?  Thanks to the conformity revenue flood, it’s coming.

Checks are expected to arrive in October for most Virginia taxpayers, the most important piece of campaign mail they’ll get before November’s election.  The $110 extra refund, $220 for a married couple, is the General Assembly’s response to the huge influx of new state tax revenue created by conforming state rules to recent federal changes.  Continue reading

Illinois to Legalize Recreational Pot: Implications for Virginia

Legal tokin’ in the Land of Lincoln. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign Illinois’ recreational marijuana legalization bill tomorrow. Illinois, America’s sixth most populous state, will become the 11th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The District of Columbia has also legalized the possession of ganja. This has implications for Virginia.

First, Illinois is the first state to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana via the state legislature. Vermont’s legislature legalized the possession but not the sale of marijuana. All other states came to legalization via citizen led ballot initiatives. Since the Virginia Constitution has no provision for citizen-led ballot initiatives, the General Assembly would have to follow in the footsteps of the Illinois legislature to legalize marijuana in the Old Dominion. Illinois has proven this is possible. The second implication is the looming encirclement of Virginia by states with legalized recreational marijuana. The closer legal pot dispensaries get to Virginia the harder it will be for Virginia to stop cross border marijuana flows. Continue reading

Fix the General Assembly, Then Tackle Energy Bill

It has been over a month since a coalition of unnatural allies announced a proposal to revise Virginia’s electricity regulation system – again – but the idea dropped from view fairly quickly. One of the main and most visible proponents, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, has now taken on a very different role in the Trump Administration.  Continue reading

No Great Leap, But a Continuing Tide

The following was written for the Thomas Jefferson Institute’s Jefferson Policy Journal and distributed earlier today.  Some themes repeat an earlier post

Fighting Joe Morrissey

It’s hard to dissect a battle while the smoke is still clearing, but the June 11 Virginia primaries demonstrated again the state’s continued and steady move away from its conservative past. It was not a Great Leap Forward for the progressive elements of the Democratic party, but where they didn’t win, they applied some serious heat.  Continue reading

More (But Not All) Cost Projections Filed About Ratepayer Bill Transformation Act

Source: SCC Staff summary. Click for larger view.

With some of its closest legislative allies facing primary challenges next week, much of what Dominion Energy Virginia filed Friday in response to questions about the consumer cost of its future plans is redacted.  The story in Tuesday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch (here) could only cover that portion of the data not kept secret.

Three of the four documents filed by Dominion are about its motion requesting protected status for the information, and the fourth (here) includes numerous blacked out portions, which we will not see unless the SCC rejects those motions.  Continue reading

Staying Within the Debt Capacity

I am following up on an earlier post discussing the capital budget recommendations of the Governor and the Commonwealth’s debt capacity. Jim Bacon’s recent post discussing Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne’s worries about increasing debt also dealt with this general issue.

Guided by Secretary Layne, the Governor’s introduced budget was relatively conservative in its capital provisions and the authorization of $568.4 million in additional tax-supported debt. As predicted in the earlier post, the General Assembly came under a lot of pressure to add to the package and responded accordingly.  The final budget bill, signed by the Governor in early May, authorized the issuance of an additional $1.1 billion in state-supported debt.

The major projects added by the legislature were the replacement of Central State Hospital ($315 million), a top priority of the Governor; “renewal” of Alderman Library at UVa ($132.5 million); and demolition and replacement of Daniel Gym at Virginia State University ($82.9 million). Also included in the introduced and final total packages was $248 million, primarily for Virginia Tech, which was tied to the Amazon deal.  Including the authorizations provided by the 2018 General Assembly, the 2018-2020 Appropriation Act authorized the issuance of an additional $2.1 billion in tax-supported debt. Continue reading

SCC Again Denies Escape from Dominion Monopoly

SCC: We’re All In This Together

The State Corporation Commission has denied another request from a major Virginia retailer for permission to escape from Dominion Energy Virginia’s monopoly electricity service.   The score for such petitions is now one approval, two denials, and the message is clear to all the other petitioners:  Go fight it out at the General Assembly.

The petition denied today was from Costco, seeking to aggregate 27 of its stores into a single electricity account that met the 5-megawatt demand trigger which allows large customers to seek a competitive supplier.  The final order is here.

Continue reading

Are PBMs Killing Pharmacies, Hiking Medicaid?

Stoney Creek Pharmacy, Nellysford, VA

A form letter mailed this month announced the death of another local independent pharmacy, this one in the bustling community of Nellysford.  Residents of Nelson County’s Rockfish Valley, including those in the large Wintergreen community, will join plenty of other rural areas in the U.S. without a pharmacy close by.  Continue reading