Category Archives: General Assembly

A Series of Hidden Tax Hikes In the Bag

The bag tax is 5 pence in Scotland, but will be 5 pennies here in Virginia.

By Steve Haner

Politicians hate taxes that voters pay by check and love taxes that are buried deep on invoices or fully invisible. The 2020 General Assembly is raising taxes right and left (mostly left) but focused on that second method. These will be tax increases most people will never spot.

Governor Ralph Northam’s record introduced budget was based on several proposed tax increases (and of course the extra money collected by breaking his promise to continue last year’s tax reform effort). But legislators have not been shy, only sly, about building on that base with additional levies.

Since the Governor was already proposing to raise Virginia’s motor fuels taxes, collected at the wholesale level and never seen on receipts, this was the perfect time to add addition revenue to the existing regional transportation tax regimes.

Since the Governor was already proposing to raise Virginia’s cigarette tax, also collected by wholesalers, this was the perfect time to expand the authority for a local tobacco tax to all those Virginia counties not allowed to impose it.

At least you may be able to see on future store receipts the new 5 cent tax on plastic bagsContinue reading

Would Legal Medical Marijuana in Virginia Reduce Opioid Addiction?

Courtesy of AmericanMarijuana.Org

By DJ Rippert

The lesser of two evils. The ongoing 2020 Virginia General Assembly session has generated a lot of debate over gun control. Proponents of stricter firearms regulation cite reduced gun violence as a goal. While gun-related deaths (including murder) are a real problem, those deaths are less frequent than fatal opioid overdoses. In 2017, there were 455 murders in Virginia versus 1,241 drug overdose deaths involving opioids. The number of fatal opioid overdoses in Virginia rose from about 500 in 2010 to over 1,200 in 2018 while the number of gun related deaths (of all types) rose from 868 to 1036 over the same period. While it’s fair to say that Virginia has taken many steps to deal with the opioid crisis there is one step that has not been taken: legalization of medical marijuana. Recent studies point to the fact that most states adopting legal medical marijuana see an immediate reduction in opioid prescriptions after medical marijuana is legally available. Continue reading

Non-Union Construction Workers Need Not Apply

Photo credit: Joint Base Langley-Eustis

by Ben Brubeck

Democratic leadership in control of the General Assembly for the first time since 1993 is close to sending legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk that would raise the cost of construction and maintenance of schools, affordable housing, roads, transportation and other infrastructure projects critical to keeping Virginia economically competitive. Taxpayers should take note of the financial impact of these measures on infrastructure and development in their communities—and its anti-competitive effect on opportunity for Virginia’s construction industry.

Bills sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (SB 182) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (HB 358) has already been passed by their respective chambers following last week’s General Assembly crossover deadline. These bills would rescind a 2012 statute requiring state agencies to use a fair and open competitive bidding process to procure contracts for the construction of public works projects. The existing statute will be replaced with a controversial policy permitting government-mandated project labor agreements, or PLAs, on state and local construction projects. Continue reading

Three Bad Bills

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Each session there are bills that are introduced probably with the best of intentions and approved for those reasons, but are basically bad policy and are likely to have unintended consequences. They are not “big” bills and do not generate headlines, but skate under the radar. I want to highlight three that have come to my attention and are in an area with which I am familiar.

Inmate medical copay. (HB 281—Hope.) This legislation would repeal the authority of the Department of Corrections to charge inmates a co-pay for medical services. Inmates now are subject to a $5 co-pay for offender-initiated  medical visits. No inmate is denied medical services due to a lack of funds in his account. The revenue generated by the co-pay is used to support the agency’s telemedicine program. The House amendments to the budget bill include $405,000 from the general fund each to replace the revenue lost. Continue reading

Virginia Dems Shoot Down Assault Weapons Bill

I am pleased to announce an affiliation with KerryDougherty.com published by former Virginian-Pilot columnist Kerry Dougherty. Kerry writes on a wide range of topics pertaining to politics and popular culture from a conservative perspective, and she has given us permission to re-post her commentary regarding the follies and foibles of Virginia here on Bacon’s Rebellion. — JAB

by Kerry Dougherty

After I wrote a piece last week revealing where Rep. Elaine Luria hid during the State of the Union address, one reader – we’ll call her Joan – left a comment on my Facebook page.

“Why don’t you ever write anything positive about Democrats?” she lamented.

“Like what, Joan?” I replied.

Crickets.

Well, Joan, this one’s for you. Turns out there are some anti-gun measures that even Virginia Democrats can’t stomach. As a result, I have something very positive to say about Creigh Deeds, John Edwards, Chap Petersen and Scott Surovell, the four Senate Democrats who boldly broke ranks with the anti-gun zealots running their party to vote against the so-called “assault weapons” bill. Continue reading

The Language of the New Racism: “People of Color”

Who has more skin pigmentation, this Korean-American “person of color” or…

by James A. Bacon

So far Steve Haner is the only journalist in the state of Virginia to have remarked upon the most significant attribute of the the most consequential legislation to pass both the state Senate and House of Delegates this session — a provision in the Omnibus Energy bill that would bequeath special treatment upon that most amorphous but oh-so-politically-correct racial category, “People of Color.” (See “Energy Omnibus III: Race, Poverty and Justice.”)

The omnibus bill, as Steve has explained in his three-post series, would radically overhaul Virginia’s electricity infrastructure, making it greener and more expensive. In tacit acknowledgment that restructuring the electric grid will cost rate payers billions of dollars, legislators would insulate low-income Virginians from rate increases and also would engage in racially preferential hiring for utility construction contracts in “historically economically disadvantaged communities.”

How is such a community defined?

Historically economically disadvantaged community” means a community that is (i) a community in which a majority of the population are people of color or (ii) a low-income geographic area.

Continue reading

Energy Omnibus II: It Doesn’t Shut Gas Plants

Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, St. Paul, VA. It survives until at least 2030 and perhaps 2045 in the clean energy legislation. Dominion Photo.

By Steve Haner

Will all of Virginia’s existing fossil fuel electric power plants be closed under Governor Ralph Northam’s new clean energy transition legislation? As we continue our detailed examination of House Bill 1526 (with line references), the answers may surprise some. Not many of them. Not the natural gas plants.

Dominion Energy Virginia has been on a building spree for more than a decade, financing new coal, natural gas and woody biomass generators around the state with “rate adjustment clauses,” specific charged for specific projects. All of them emit carbon dioxide. Monthly bills now include six separate RACs or “riders,” costing residential consumers $12.43 cents for every one thousand kilowatt hours of juice they consume.  Continue reading

How to Fix the Borderline Fraud of Surprise Billing

by James A. Bacon

Surprise medical billings are one of those things where people of all political stripes come to agreement. It sucks to go to a hospital within your health insurance network only to discover when you open your bill that an anesthesiologist, consulting physician or emergency room doctor at the hospital, unknown to you, did not belong to your network, and that you’ve been charged thousands of dollars more than you bargained on.

While loathing of the phenomenon knows no partisan grounds, solutions are remarkably hard to find. The General Assembly has been struggling over this issue this session, so far without success. This article in The Virginia Mercury describes three remedies being debated, each with their own pros and cons. I have a few thoughts of my own.

Surprise billing arises from the fact that insurance carriers compete by offering lower rates to customers who agree to stick within restricted provider networks. Hospitals, physicians, labs and other providers agree to charge less in exchange for getting preferential access to the carrier’s customers. It’s one of the few ways to make providers compete on the basis of price and lower costs, and not a strategy we would want insurance carriers to abandon. Continue reading

Let’s Build Some More!

Source: Debt Capacity Advisory Committee, 2019 Report

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

This report on the capital budget section of the budget bill is later than I had planned. There is so much going on with the General Assembly this year.  I was familiar with the term “like trying to drink from a fire hose.” Now, I know the experience.

Debt

Because the vast majority of capital projects are funded with tax-supported bond proceeds, any discussion of the capital budget proposals needs to start with the Commonwealth’s debt picture. (The source of the data on the debt is the latest annual report of the Debt Capacity Advisory Committee (DCAC). Anyone wanting a clearly written explanation and discussion of the Commonwealth’s debt status can find the report here.)

Outstanding tax-supported debt of the Commonwealth more than doubled over the last ten years, from $10.6 billion (FY 2010) to $21.7 billion (FY 2019). This total is comprised of debt issued for general construction and for transportation facilities, as well as pension and other post-employment benefits liabilities. Continue reading

Energy Omnibus: What it Does, How it Costs You

What will Virginians see due to the Virginia Clean Economy Act? “Lots and lots of solar,” said the patron, Del. Richard Sullivan, D-Arlington. Higher bills, added the State Corporation Commission.

By Steve Haner

The General Assembly adopted Governor Ralph Northam’s clean energy package Tuesday, with party-line votes in both the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. Two House Democrats joined the Republicans in opposing the House version.

House Bill 1526 and Senate Bill 851 appear identical but amendments were being adopted at the last minute. Now that they have crossed over to the other chamber, they likely will become identical.  And expect furious efforts to recruit some Republican votes in favor, as this new vision for Virginia’s energy economy will be disruptive, expensive and politically explosive.

Using the House version as it passed, here is a tour of some (not all) highlights, with line references so you can follow on this PDF version of the engrossed bill. If you want to see it without line numbers, but with highlighting of the new language instead, look here. For that I’ve used the Senate bill.

The bill overrides State Corporation Commission authority to look out for consumers in too many places to count, but you’ll find the clearest and most important example of that on line 1399 of the House bill.  Continue reading

The Beauty of Workers Cooperatives: They’re Voluntary

Equal Exchange workers cooperative in Bridgewater, Mass.

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Public Access Project has published a nifty list of bills that were killed in committee when Republicans controlled the General Assembly but have broken out to the House or Senate floor now that Democrats run the show. Most are dreadful, some are tolerable, and a few are even beneficial. One bill, HB 55, introduced by the General Assembly’s self-declared socialist Lee Carter, D-Manassas, is downright intriguing.

The bill would establish “worker cooperatives” as a category of cooperative associations. A worker cooperative is a stock corporation that conducts business for the mutual benefit of its employees. At least two-thirds of employees would be required to own membership shares, and members are entitled to one vote only. Profit would be allocated in proportion to the amount of work each member performed.

The House of Delegates passed the bill in a 62 to 36 vote. Yeah, it’s kind of socialist. No, it’s not my cup of tea. But if people voluntarily enter into such an association, what’s wrong with it?

That’s the beauty of a free society. People shouldn’t be forced to participate in the corporate, capitalist economy. I’m perfectly comfortable participating in such a society, but I can understand why other people wouldn’t be. And I think it’s great if we can create mechanisms —  be they hippie communes in the woods or worker cooperatives — that allow people to organize themselves to practice of business as they choose. Continue reading

VA to Examine Company Payrolls, Hunting Bias

By Steve Haner

How bad is the climate for business in Virginia now? Just how much does this New Blue General Assembly detest and distrust evil capitalists? Let’s look at one little bill first noticed Monday in the long string of bills rushing toward Tuesday’s deadline for action. House Bill 624 won’t be the worst bill of the session, but it is very revealing of the new mindset.

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, sold this bill to the House of Delegates Monday with the common and debatable statistic that women earn 79 cents compared to every dollar earned by men. He wants the state to take on the role of ferreting that out worker by worker and devising a state-enforced solution. Doing so will mean $24 billion more paid to female Virginia workers, he claimed. Continue reading

Earmarks are Back

The capital projects section of the budget bill is often overlooked by the media. That has been especially the case this year, with all the major initiatives brought forth by the Democrats.

I am working on one or more submissions dealing with capital development, but, in the meantime, there is one item that deserves a post of its own. Deep in the back of budget bill (HB 30), in Item C-72, there lurks a proposal of dubious constitutionality involving a lot of money.

The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (CHKD) is a well-regarded, private nonprofit, free-standing children’s hospital in Norfolk. The budget bill directs that $33.4 million in tax-supported bond proceeds be provided for the construction of a 60-bed mental health hospital at CHKD. Continue reading

SCC: Clean Energy Conversion’s Customer Cost

By Steve Haner

In the first ten years, Governor Ralph Northam’s signature zero carbon electricity legislation will add almost 20%, about $280 per year, to typical Dominion Energy Virginia residential bills. That was the low-ball estimate Sunday from a State Corporation Commission expert who quickly discovered that shooting the messenger is the normal General Assembly response to bad news.

Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, visibly scoffed as Kim Pate, the SCC’s director of utility accounting and finance, explained the SCC had no position on Senate Bill 851. She was there to talk about the likely consumer cost, just as she had earlier Sunday on other bills dealing with Dominion Energy Virginia’s massive offshore wind proposal. The last time this was in committee, no legislator even asked about cost.  Continue reading

Cabinet Officers: Assembly Decides on Carbon Tax

Delegate Poindexter

By Steve Haner

Thanks to the persistence of Del. Charles Poindexter, two members of Governor Ralph Northam’s cabinet are now on record stating the General Assembly will decide whether Virginia joins the carbon tax regime called the Transportation and Climate Initiative. In 2018 both of them had signed a letter endorsing the interstate compact to reduce the use of gasoline and diesel fuel for transportation.

The Franklin County Republican was addressed by Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler in a meeting of a House Labor and Commerce Committee subcommittee January 30, and Strickler dismissed Poindexter’s use of the word rationing to describe TCI. “I’m not sure where the idea of rationing comes from. I think that’s pretty hyperbolic language,” he scoffed.  Continue reading