Category Archives: General Assembly

Now Fix the Clean Economy Act, Governor

By Steve Haner

Governor Glenn Youngkin recently flew to Louisiana to join with other Republican governors in criticizing President Joe Biden’s energy policy, especially the president’s hostility to hydrocarbon fuels. Youngkin and the rest gathered at an oil refinery to make their point that oil and gas should not go away in the decades to come.    

Energy realism begins at home. Right here in Virginia Youngkin has a golden opportunity to fix Virginia’s broken energy policy and to maintain energy choice in our state economy. The 2025 General Assembly may revisit the Virginia laws meant to eliminate natural gas electricity. Youngkin should make it clear early that he will only sign a bill that protects energy reliability, preserves consumer choice, and prevents major cost increases.  

Youngkin is celebrating some energy policy wins that are good news for Virginia consumers. The state is now out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon tax meant punish the use of coal or natural gas in making electricity. Prior carbon tax payments made by our dominant electricity provider are now fully reimbursed and the cost has disappeared from monthly bills.  

We got out in the nick of time. Yet another RGGI carbon allowance auction was held June 5 and the carbon tax rose to $21.03 per ton, a new record. In the March 2021 auction, Virginia’s first, the tax was $7.60 per ton. When Virginia Democrats voted to put Virginia under RGGI, the tax was standing at less than $6, and nobody except the Thomas Jefferson Institute spoke honestly about how it would likely increase. Continue reading

Acorn to Oak: “Free” Military Dependent Tuition

From a recent House committee presentation on the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program. Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

Virginia’s political leaders are embarked upon another of their occasional efforts to clean up their own mess, in this case scrambling to restore a generous tuition waiver at Virginia’s public universities for family members of certain veterans.

It is being touted as a benefit for Virginia “gold star families” of the fallen. Were it only for them there would be no controversy. Continue reading

Youngkin, Miyares State California EV Mandate Never Adopted for Virginia

States which are using California’s air emissions regulations on the sale of internal combustion cars. This is from California’s website. Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) and Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) announced today that Virginia will no longer comply with the California air regulations that will restrict and eventually eliminate the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles. The announcement is sure to set off a political and legal firestorm as fierce as last year’s exit from a regional carbon tax compact. Continue reading

Gas Tax Tops 40c Per Gallon, Up 150% in Four Years

By Steve Haner

Virginia’s motor fuel taxes rise again July 1, finally breaching 40 cents per gallon for gasoline. Four years ago the tax was 16.2 cents per gallon, but former Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed 2020 legislation to both increase the tax and to begin automatic annual inflation adjustments.

The tax becomes 40.4 cents per gallon. The inflation adjustment this year will add 1.3 cents per gallon, or an extra $13.50 annually for a vehicle owner purchasing 20 gallons per week. The same 1.3 cents is being added to the tax on diesel, which becomes 41.5 cents per gallon on July 1. Continue reading

Shown the Door, Petersen Calls Out COVID Fascists

By Steve Haner

Reading Chap Petersen’s biographical “Rebel,” it is pretty easy to understand why a year ago his fellow Democrats threw him out of office in a primary. In fact, the mystery is that he survived as long as he did.

The book tells a history that many would like to ignore or actively suppress. That the Democratic Party in Virginia no longer has a place for Petersen should depress us all. He is not shy in returning like for like, so reward his efforts and buy his book. Then dog ear the good parts for later reference, because that crowd now in charge is just getting started.

Petersen was always hard to pigeonhole, and like all the legislators who have made it to my personal MVP list, delighted in doing the unexpected and doing it with panache. He came to the House of Delegates in 2002 and then the Senate in 2008, defeating Republican incumbents in both elections. Many of the best known struggles of those years are detailed from his point of view in the 300 plus pages. I also engaged in some of them, not always on the same side.

But his biggest fight of all, and the one that finally did him in, is one we are all engaged in. Petersen was one the fiercest opponents of the absolute and needless destruction of commercial and personal freedoms during the panic over COVID-19. He was a patron of successful 2021 legislation supposed to reopen Virginia’s public schools. In reality, the oppression of school kids continued for another year or longer, intensifying the educational losses. Continue reading

Four Years In, Energy Subsidy Helping Very Few

From Dominion’s brochure on the PIPP program.

By Steve Haner

Four years after approval, a state program to provide lower electricity costs to low income families is still struggling to get going.  Administrative costs have far exceeded any actual benefits to utility customers to date.

It is called the Percentage of Income Payment Program (PIPP) and was created by the 2020 General Assembly as part of the Virginia Clean Economy Act. Almost three years ago, both Appalachian Power Company and Dominion Energy Virginia received permission to charge extra on their customer monthly bills to fund it.

Both companies have now filed updates with the State Corporation Commission and are seeking to adjust the amount they collect from general customers.  Dominion, which had enrolled 8,600 PIPP beneficiary accounts as of late March, is seeking to eliminate its monthly charge for a while. Appalachian, which still had zero customers enrolled by the time of its report, has applied to raise its surcharge.

Both are relatively tiny amounts so far. Just how large and how expensive the program might become over time remains anybody’s guess, but as utility costs grow so will the total amount of subsidies and surcharges. The intention is to limit a poor family’s electric bill to 10 percent of income if they use electricity for heat, and 6 percent if they use some other heating source.

So, another cost driver for the long term will be the continued push from government to eliminate the use of anything but electricity for heat. Natural gas and heating oil are squarely in the crosshairs of the Biden Administration and others who accept the climate catastrophe narrative and blame it on carbon-based fuels. Continue reading

Challenging the Fact-Free Narrative on RGGI

The states still in the Regional Greenhous Gas Initiative. Lawsuits are pending to add Virginia and Pennsylvania.

By Steve Haner

The numerous falsehoods in a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch story about the carbon tax so loved by Virginia Democrats start right with the headline.  It states that Virginia’s decision to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative “is costing millions.”

The figure of $150 million per year is then mentioned, apparently simply quoting the Democratic legislators who held a news conference May 21 to pledge their continued fealty to the program. They had sought to order Virginia back into RGGI with a budget provision, which they then agreed to drop in the final compromise.

The $150 million amount they mentioned is blatantly false, far too small.  Were Virginia still part of the 11-state cap and trade compact, RGGI would be costing utility ratepayers as much as $350 million per year, based on the most recent carbon tax amount in the first 2024 RGGI allowance auction.

So, the decision to stay out is not “costing” money but will actually save utility ratepayers as much as $700 million over 2024 and 2025.  Dominion Energy Virginia was the largest Virginia buyer of RGGI carbon allowances under the regulatory regime, and it has been passing along those costs directly to customers on all its monthly bills.

This was the second time in days that the capital city newspaper gave Democrats access to its front page to complain about Governor Glenn Youngkin’s opposition to the carbon tax regulation, and to claim he broke the law in repealing it.  The May 18 story is just as fuzzy about who actually pays the carbon tax. Continue reading

Greasing the Skids for the Budget

Oxen hauling logs over greased skids Photo courtesy of Museum at Campbell River

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia General Assembly can be efficient when it puts its mind to it.

Consider the 2024 Special Session that convened on Monday.  The House convened at noon and adjourned at 3:15. The Senate stayed around a little bit longer.  It convened at noon and adjourned at 3:51.  (Technically, both houses actually recessed, rather than adjourned, but that was done so they could come back into session later in the year if they so desire.)

During that period of a little over three hours, both houses accomplished the following: introduced guests in the galleries,  recessed so that their money committees could consider the budget bill, elected eight judges, passed a bunch of commending resolutions, and passed the budget bill.

Speaking of the budget bill, here is the legislative history of that most important piece of legislation:

Sat.  May 11

  • Prefiled
  • Referred to the House Appropriations Committee

Mon. May 13

  • Reported from House Appropriations Committee
  • Read first time
  • Constitutional readings dispensed
  • Passed by House  (94-6)
  • Constitutional reading dispensed by Senate
  • Referred to Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee
  • Reported from Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee
  • Read second time
  • Constitutional reading dispensed
  • Passed by Senate (39-1)
  • Enrolled
  • Signed by Speaker
  • Signed by President of the Senate
  • Signed by the Governor Continue reading

Youngkin Kills Tax Hikes, Still Gets Record Budget

Governor Glenn Youngkin

By Steve Haner

After much political theater, the Virginia General Assembly and Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) have now compromised on a $188 billion state budget based simply on the revenue projected from current tax law, with neither tax hikes nor tax reductions. Making those revenue projections slightly more optimistic eased the path.  

With both sides backing off their desire to change the tax rules, it became clear there was less controversy over how to spend the state’s money in the new biennial budget from July 2024 to June 2026. The top shared priorities of legislators in both parties include education, public employee salaries and benefits, transportation, mental health services, and capital improvements. Medicaid is also a huge budget growth driver which the Assembly really does not control.     

The Democrats in the majority in both chambers will celebrate that the plan achieves the spending they included in the budget they passed in March. Youngkin will celebrate that it did so without either the sales tax or carbon tax provisions that budget included. His success looks even more impressive when you recall the two other major tax hikes Democrats approved and he vetoed this year, one to impose a massive payroll tax and the other to allow localities to hike the general sales tax.  

With a slight hint of sour grapes, a budget summary from the House Appropriations Committee opens with: “The adoption of the digital economy modernization was not driven by a systematic look at Virginia’s tax structure.” That is a euphemism for the expansion of the state’s sales tax to digital transactions, which just a few weeks ago was deemed by Democrats to be vital to the Commonwealth’s future. 

The idea is hardly dead. One provision in this final budget, which was not included in previous versions, directs a 12-member legislative study committee to revisit the digital tax. It is also directed to review “existing sales and use tax exemptions” and evaluate “efforts to increase the progressivity of the income tax.” The goal is a tax package with some actual consensus behind it to consider in 2025. Continue reading

No Need to Call the Budget Bluff

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Governor Youngkin and General Assembly leaders have reached a deal on the budget for the next biennium. Based on press reports, it is difficult to say who won this battle. That’s the hallmark of a compromise.

The process started off in December with the governor saying the state had more than enough money to fund its needs and, thus, he proposed an overall cut in tax revenue. The legislature responded by saying, “Oh, no. There are a lot of unmet needs. We need all the extra revenue that is available and more on top of that.” Therefore, they proposed a tax increase. The governor responded with a bushel of proposed amendments that would have undone much of what the legislature had proposed. The Democratic majorities in both chambers rejected those amendments. Both sides agreed to adjourn and negotiate.

In the meantime, the Virginia economy was perking along and producing even more tax revenue than projected. Now the Democrats have the money they need to fund their priorities without raising taxes. The compromise proposal provides healthy raises for state employees and teachers, more funding for K-12, more money for higher ed so as to discourage tuition increases, money for Metro in Northern Virginia and for toll relief in Hampton Roads, and lots more money for mental health services. The result is that the Governor does not get his proposed tax decrease and the Democrats do not get their proposed tax increase but do have enough proposed funding to pay for their highest priorities. In a way, the Democrats seem the winners, but the governor has not objected to the uses of the additional money. In fact, his proposed budget included additional money in all these areas, just not as much as the Democrats wanted.

So far, there has been no mention in the press whether all this additional available revenue will be sustainable in the future. In budget terms, is the proposed budget “structurally balanced’? Is there a lot of one-time revenue included that will not be available for future biennia? Some of the staff at the Department of Planning and Budget and the staffs of the money committees, as well as some of the General Assembly leaders, have a good idea as to the answer to this question, but they will not be talking about it. Continue reading

The Budget Do-Over: A Game of Chicken?

by Jock Yellott 

Speaking off-the-cuff at a Charlottesville/Albemarle Bar Association lunch on April 18, 2024, Senator Creigh Deeds offered some pointed remarks about Governor Youngkin.

The Governor and the General Assembly had just the day before agreed to scrap the budget and the Governor’s proposed amendments and start over from scratch in May, averting a crisis. 

Youngkin’s more than 200 proposed budget amendments are evidence of a CEO mentality, Deeds observed. Compared to other governors the Senator has worked with, this one seems disengaged from the political process.  

Senator Deeds told his lawyer colleagues he anticipates that in May the General Assembly will vote essentially the same budget.  

Consider the implications of that.

To me as an outsider it had looked like the politicos starting over in a spirit of cooperation, this time with more realistic expectations. I was not alone in this: Steve Haner hoped they’ll “finally sit down like adults and negotiate the budget.”

Maybe we were naïve. Continue reading

State Legislatures Control Budgets — Virginia’s More Than Most

Virginia General Assembly Building (new)

by David J. Toscano

For over a month, Virginia’s legislature and governor have been embroiled in a “two scorpions in a bottle” fight over the new biennial budget, which must be passed by June 30, 2024, to fund the government. Last Wednesday, each of them loosened the cork in the carafe. After Assembly-initiated discussions with the governor, Virginia leaders showed, for one moment at least, how the commonwealth operates differently from Washington, D.C. Rather than force Youngkin to take the political hit from vetoing the first Virginia budget in recent history, the House of Delegates used an unusual procedural move, and killed it themselves. All sides committed to producing a new budget and to return on May 15 to pass it. As Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”   

Budget battles in the commonwealth are not unusual, but this one has been unique, both in the number of changes Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin proposed to the bipartisan spending plan, and in the rhetoric that has accompanied the process. Youngkin called the bill a “backward budget” and traveled the state on this theme. Legislators fired back, did their own tour, and likened Youngkin’s actions to “what spoiled brats do when they don’t get what they want.”

Last Wednesday, both sides returned to Richmond for the “reconvened” or “veto” session. The governor had vetoed a record number of bills, including measures to protect reproductive rights and enhance gun safety. Since overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote, the governor was successful with every veto.

The fight over the budget bill is different. Youngkin, like governors in 44 states and unlike our U.S. President, has the power to “line-item veto” specific provisions in the budget. His targets were thought to be a tax on digital services he originally proposed and language that requires the commonwealth to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). But he abandoned this approach when legislators shrewdly drafted these provisions to make a line-item veto legally problematic.

It does not matter whether you are a Republican or Democratic governor; legislative power is clear in the budget process. Several years ago, Governor McAuliffe learned how crafty legislative budget writing can frustrate key executive goals. The governor hoped to expand Medicaid through the budget, but Republican leadership was resistant, and explicitly included language in the budget to prevent it. McAuliffe attempted to line-item veto that provision, only to have House Republican leadership opine that the Governor had no such constitutional or statutory power to do so. When it comes to the budget, legislators enjoy proclaiming “governors propose; the legislature disposes.” Continue reading

Ready for Taxes on Netflix, NFL Sunday Ticket?

By Steve Haner

After a month of unproductive political theater, Virginia’s leaders will finally sit down like adults and negotiate the budget. Better late than never.  The message is “everything is back on the table,” which leaves the door wide open for the tax increase central to the Democrat’s demands. That deserves a quick no.

At this point, Virginians do not pay sales tax on their Netflix, Disney, or sports streaming package subscriptions. That is what they want to tax now. If you just paid an online vendor to file a tax return, next year a sales tax of up to 6 or 7% will be added to that bill. Likewise, any annual subscription for Microsoft Office or One Drive storage, or for an internet security system, will be taxed. Continue reading

Will Democrats Shut Down State Over Tax Hike?

By Steve Haner

The fight that is about to occur at the Assembly’s reconvened session on Wednesday is entirely about taxes, not about spending.

An analysis of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed compromise budget – done by the Democrats’ favorite financial bean counters, not by conservatives – confirms his budget comes extremely close to the spending levels Democrats approved at the end of the General Assembly.  The gap compared to the $188 billion overall budget is little more than a rounding error. Continue reading

Utilities Will Gamble on Nukes With Your $$$

Artist rendering of VOYGR™ SMR plants powered by NuScale Power Module™

By Steve Haner

Standing firm against raising taxes is a fine thing, but it would help if Virginia’s leaders also stopped using people’s electricity bills to fund rent-seeking energy speculations.

Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) has tweaked, but not vetoed, pending bills that allow both of Virginia’s investor-owned utilities to charge ratepayers for power plants that may not be built. The dream projects involve small modular nuclear technology, proven in military applications but so far speculative for commercial generation. Continue reading