Category Archives: General Assembly

Suggestions to Ease Virginia’s Housing Crisis without Additional State Money

Courtesy californiahumandevelopment.org

by James C. Sherlock

The Richmond Times-Dispatch, on cue, wrote in an editorial the other day that more state money was needed to fund local housing.

Maybe.

But that is not the first place to look.

The governor wants to condition development aid to local communities on their reforming land-use policies to permit more construction.

I have a few ideas along that line.

Proffers, also known as conditional zoning, are a recognition that real estate developments have impacts on other properties and on services provided by the local jurisdiction. Fair enough.

The money for roads, sewers and schools has to come from somewhere. Proffers make the developers and their customers pay for a share of capital improvements deemed necessary by city/county planners.

Wielded unpredictably, and sometimes unethically, they are also part of the problem. See the excellent article Politics and Proffers by Matt Ahern for the games played with proffers and their cost to the housing economy.

Then there is low-cost housing.

The Commonwealth by law permits but does not require localities to waive fees for low-cost housing. That law, originally and curiously restricted to only non-profit developers, was updated in 2019 to permit the same waivers to for-profit builders.

Send state housing funds only to jurisdictions that do so. Require in law a limit to the costs of proffers for low-cost housing.

Finally, tax Virginia’s astonishingly profitable non-profit hospitals to help them with their mission of caring for the disadvantaged — in this case in low-cost housing. Continue reading

No Climate Crisis. Very Little Climate Change.

NOAA data, and NOAA notes that pre-1900 data is probably missing some storms. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

Wednesday’s climate propaganda sermon in the Richmond Times-Dispatch focused on the most recent failure of alarmist media messaging concerning the now-completed Atlantic hurricane season, which turned out to be average. It was predicted to be far more active than average, so once again the prophets of doom were wrong.

Folks in Florida certainly had a bad year, with two of the eight U.S. hurricanes hitting vulnerable and heavily populated beaches and barrier islands. But in the Atlantic region overall, looking at decades of records, it was a typical year. There is no sign in long-range data of any increase in storm activity or intensity over time.

Predicting increased extreme weather is now the go-to move for the alarmist media. Just about every local or wire story about flood or drought or fire, extended hot days or record snows, includes a claim that climate change will bring more extreme weather. In every case, the long-term trends do not agree.  Sometimes the trend lines are down, as is the case with wildfires.

You will never read that admission about wildfires. The fact that the Times-Dispatch revisited and sought to explain away the failed hurricane prediction displayed more honesty than is usual in the media. But, then, it used an illustration that shamelessly started the storm count in the 1980s, intending to mislead readers by ignoring the whole data set you see above. Continue reading

Virginia Mental Health Services in Deep Trouble – A Survey

Eastern State Hospital. Courtesy Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Development

by James C. Sherlock

Nov. 29 updates in blue.

Supply cannot begin to keep up with demand.

In this case, the consequences involve personal welfare and public safety. And they can be terrible in both cases.

Governor Youngkin will propose to the 2023 General Assembly additional funding and policy prescriptions for the state’s mental health system.

The state offers inpatient services, community-based government services, and Medicaid-funded services.  Medicare offers payments to participating hospitals. Private insurances offer coverage.

I say “offer,” because much of what policy prescribes has proven difficult to fill in practice.

Virginia’s mental health system is in deep trouble because of shortages of personnel and facilities to absorb the very steep rates of increases in persons needing assistance.

The personnel problems are twofold and affect both government and private services.

  1. Key personnel positions require trained specialists, the shortages of whom are manifest across the country; and
  2. Working conditions in mental health care are very stressful, physically demanding and dangerous, driving away badly needed low skilled workers who can easily find jobs elsewhere.

Medicaid programs offer services that private facilities and practitioners, facing the same labor shortages, have proven in some combination unable or unwilling to provide at Medicaid reimbursement rates. State-contracted Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MMCOs) have not solved those problems.

So part of the answer is money, but we really don’t know how much. And in this case, money alone may not provide sufficient services to satisfy demand. Continue reading

Batting Zero on Virginia Energy Policy Reset

by Steve Haner

One year later, a series of energy policy goals for Virginia proposed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy remains just as valid and also remain unaccomplished. Gridlock has favored the flawed status quo.

Compared to a year ago, more Virginians have awakened to the reality that they will soon be forced into electric vehicles they may not want. They may be prevented from using reliable and efficient natural gas in a furnace or stove. Their monthly electric bill is growing with charges for unreliable solar and wind projects that do not work more hours than they do.

And despite all that, the weather will remain as it is, and the millennia-long relative sea level rise will stay its inexorable course. Our self-imposed energy poverty won’t stop any of that. We can rush toward that stark future or change course, the sooner the better. The checklist remains the same.

The opening paragraph of the document a year ago noted that Dominion Energy Virginia had just admitted its 176-turbine offshore wind project was going up in cost to almost $10 billion. Debate over the project and possible forms of consumer protection continues, but the dollar figures under discussion have risen again. Consumers may now be on the hook now for a share of $11.3 billion or more, amortized over decades. A total project cost of almost $14 billion is now hinted at. Continue reading

Virginia Should Enforce Threat Assessment Laws. Noting Lack of Compliance Not Enough.


by James C. Sherlock

I have written about the Threat Assessment Teams (TAT’s) of two state universities, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

I assessed Tech to be compliant with state law. I reported that UVa is not. That of course raises the issue of the rest of Virginia’s colleges and universities.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) in 2014, with far more resources and access than I, found the state of the TAT’s serving the commonwealth’s fifteen four-year state institutions of higher learning (IHL), its community colleges and private IHLs to be as a group a hot mess (my term).

I will follow this article with an assessment of the compliance of the current policies of Virginia’s fifteen public IHLs.

The 2014 report did not have the intended effect of standardization and professionalization of threat assessment and intervention in Virginia. Preliminary reviews of the policies of each IHL show them still to be all over the map in terms of compliance.

I am reasonably sure that if DCJS redid its survey tomorrow, it would result in similar findings and recommendations. Perhaps at this point the government should actually enforce the law rather than just reporting on the lack of compliance.

One wishes that had occurred years earlier. Continue reading

SCC Urged To Focus on Wind Construction Risk

by Steve Haner

Advocates made their case Monday for a proposed settlement that offers Virginia consumers some protection from construction cost overruns on Dominion Energy Virginia’s proposed offshore wind project. Not everybody said it was superior to an earlier proposal that protected consumers from future operational failures, but all saw it as unlikely to kill the project.

The earlier approach, placing the risk of operational failure over 30 years on the utility, was going to kill the project, the utility claimed. The utility stood by that threat in the hearing in front of the Virginia State Corporation Commission. But the company is willing to risk its shareholders’ money on its ability to complete the project on time and on budget, its attorney told the Commission.

There was no indication during the hearing when a decision would come. The two judges could leave their original order unchanged or issue a new one based on the proposed agreement between Dominion, Attorney General Jason Miyares (R), two environmental groups and Walmart, one of Dominion’s largest commercial customers.

Other parties, including representatives for major industry and the SCC staff, didn’t sign the stipulation. Nor did they oppose it, and Commissioner Judith Jagdmann polled them one by one.

Two conclusions are evident from the hearing. First, all the parties to the new approach took Dominion’s threat to kill the project at face value and that is what backed them down, including Miyares. He had Deputy Attorney General Steven Popps appear at the hearing, not just consumer section chief Meade Browder, to emphasize his (Miyares’) desire to save the project in a closing statement. Continue reading

SCC’s Jagdmann Resigns, Leaves December 31

SCC Commissioner Judith Jagdmann

by Steve Haner

The (Very) Honorable Judith Jagdmann has resigned from Virginia’s State Corporation Commission, effective at the end of the year. The 2023 General Assembly now has two seats to fill on that crucial body, having failed through all of 2022 to fill an existing vacancy on the three-judge panel.

Jagdmann, who joined the court in 2006, announced her decision in a letter to the General Assembly leadership. Her current term is not over, and she is years away from any mandatory retirement based on age.

Before joining the court, she served as Attorney General of Virginia for one year after Jerry Kilgore stepped aside to run for governor in 2005. She joined the Office of Attorney General as the Deputy Attorney General for the Civil Division in January of 1998 (the same time this author was also appointed to a post there by former Attorney General Mark Earley).

The SCC is an often under-appreciated regulatory body that is both an administrative agency and a court of record. It usually gets attention for decisions dealing with utility regulation and infrastructure location, but its oversight reaches from corporate registrations and governance to the investment and insurance and telecommunications industries. Continue reading

JLARC Agrees: Index Virginia Taxes to Inflation

by Barbara Hollingsworth

Inflation is eroding the value of each dollar earned by Virginians, making it harder for them to afford decent housing, put food on the table and educate their children. But what many Virginians don’t know is that they have also been paying more in state income taxes while their real income has declined because the commonwealth’s tax code is not indexed to inflation.

A new report by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) points out that state income taxes in the commonwealth “have far outpaced median income, because income brackets have not been changed since 1990.”

Thanks to inflation, state income taxes owed by a median filer have increased 173% since 1990, while that same taxpayer’s actual income increased only 108%. Continue reading

Virginia Needs to Adopt the Uniform Act on Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking

by James C. Sherlock

Seldom can we mitigate bad problems with solutions that work and are handed us on a platter. But we can do that in Virginia in the case of human trafficking.

The Department of Justice defines human trafficking as follows:

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used.

The last time we had good numbers on arrests only, there were 5,000 arrests related to suspected trafficking in Virginia between 2012 and 2019.  Yet even now, the Commonwealth’s Trafficking Coordinator wrote at the end of last year that nearly all of the charges have been brought against buyers and sellers of prostitution, not traffickers.

The Uniform Law Commission (ULC), established in 1892, provides states with non-partisan legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law.

It has since 2013 offered the Uniform Act on the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking (Uniform Act). This act has been adopted by at least nine states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While Governor Youngkin signed a spate of new laws in June of this year, a big improvement, Virginia laws on human trafficking remain scattered all over the Code of Virginia.  The only Virginia law against it is § 18.2-355. The laws remain woefully inadequate.

The Uniform Act is ready to submit. Both parties in the General Assembly should sponsor it and adopt it unanimously in the upcoming session. Continue reading

Miyares Retreats from Wind Performance Standard

Dominion’s proposed wind project off Virginia Beach.. Scale is correct and a second tranche is planned.

by Steve Haner

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

The big risk with Dominion Energy Virginia’s planned offshore wind extravaganza has always been that either the wind out in the Atlantic blows too little or it blows too much. Too little and the ratepayers are paying an inordinate amount for intermittent electricity; too much (a major hurricane say) and the turbines could be damaged or destroyed.

Because the monopoly utility will own the project, not a third party energy developer, all that risk lands on its ratepayers. The State Corporation Commission sought to protect Virginia ratepayers from the risk. That was the point of its imposition of a performance standard on the project tied to its overall energy output.

That is the risk Dominion’s leadership refused to accept, threatening to kill the $9.8 billion project entirely. It was not an idle threat.

Now Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) has a new proposal which protects Dominion and its shareholders from that risk after all, putting it back squarely on the utility’s 2.5 million customers. Instead, the person charged by law as the protector of Virginia consumers is focused on the risk of construction cost overruns. Continue reading

Ungrateful Citizens of Fairfax County

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay credit FFXNow.com

by James C. Sherlock

Jeff McKay, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors,  can’t catch a break.

Violent crime is up. The Fairfax County Police Chief has declared a police emergency for staffing.

There has been a fairly brutal back and forth up there about who is responsible and who is or is not working to fix it.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, a George Soros acolyte, apparently has missed the news about the crime wave. His website emphasizes the reforms he has initiated since 2020. Understandably, he is not anxious to link those reforms to the crime wave. Take a look. You will be able to do it for him.

But this story is about Chairman McKay. After a big ruckus, he has moved on from crime and police shortages.

A recent story relates that he blames a lot of unsolved problems in Fairfax County — or what he assesses as problems — on the Dillon Rule. He chafes under its restrictions. He wants an exemption from that rule to make Fairfax County a city-state.

Not quite by the way, he wants authority to levy a local income tax.

Seriously. Continue reading

Good Energy Plan But It Needs to Pass

The energy cliff created if Virginia actually closes all its natural gas plants as the current law requires. Source: Youngkin’s Energy Plan using Dominion Energy data.  Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

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

In his newly released energy plan, Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) makes it clear he sees the economic abyss created by the unrealistic and ideological green utopia demanded by his predecessor. Seeing a looming disaster and stopping it are two different things.

The new document is not a full 180-degree change from the previous plan concocted by former Governor Ralph Northam (D). For example, Youngkin is not reversing his previous endorsement of Dominion Energy Virginia’s planned $10 billion offshore wind project, a central part of the Northam plan. Also, Youngkin apparently is sufficiently convinced that carbon dioxide is harmful that he wants to spend your money on carbon capture and storage.

Nor does Youngkin call for outright repeal of the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), but rather he endorses removing its rigid mandates as to how rapidly to retire fossil fuel energy generation, and its mandatory replacement with wind, solar and related battery technology. The problem is that even tweaks require amending state law, and previous efforts to do that were thwarted by the Democrats who still control the Virginia Senate and who still accept the Green New Deal catechism in full. Continue reading

Some Things Never Change

I am reading a recent biography of Patrick Henry and I came across a quote that just begs to be shared on this blog. One of Henry’s neighbors and friends in 1759 was Thomas Johnson, a member of the House of Burgesses from Louisa County. In the journal of the House, Johnson is recorded as describing the General Assembly as a place of “Plots, Schemes, and Contrivances” where “one holds the Lamb while the other skins.”

Don Rippert, with his criticism of the “plantation elite,” and Thomas Johnson would have gotten along quite well together.

Dominion is Keeping Whale Data Secret, Too

Click for expanded view. Source: NOAA

by David Wojick

Secrecy abounds around the monster offshore wind (OSW) project proposed by Dominion Energy. In this case the hidden data is about the threat to the severely endangered North Atlantic Right Whales.

I earlier reported on the big hidden whale study done by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is doing the Environment Impact Assessment for this huge project.

Digging into Dominion’s filing with BOEM I found something even worse. Dominion has done an actual threat assessment, but it is 100% secret! This is outrageous.

Here is a bit of background so folks can dig for themselves. There is a lot to look at. BOEM has a separate website on this monster OSW project, which would be one of the world’s largest. The project is titled Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind or CVOW. Dominion has submitted a large set of documents in what is called the Construction and Operations Plan or simply the COP. The COP is here.

There is a long main report plus 32 technical appendices. My endangered whale interest was immediately drawn to “Appendix R: Threatened and Endangered Species Review.” It is here, and the title indicates it reports on any and all species on those lists for protection. Continue reading

Next Virginia Tax Reform: Index for Inflation

by Barbara Hollingsworth

Most Virginians are painfully aware ­­­­that it’s becoming much more difficult to make ends meet. Prices for fo­­­­od, housing, gasoline and other necessities have soared. Inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.1 percent in June, the largest yearly increase since January 1982. And a recent study from the University of Iowa found that a typical American had to pay $669 more for basic living expenses than they did just two years ago.

All while the Commonwealth of Virginia was pocketing $2 billion in “surplus” revenue that was not anticipated and therefore not included in the two-year $165 billion state budget the General Assembly passed earlier this year. Most of that windfall was the result of the Federal Reserve’s monetary inflation, which made the prices of consumer staples soar because there were suddenly a lot more dollars chasing the same amount of goods and services.

But inflation had another unwelcome effect. It also pushed Virginia taxpayers into higher tax brackets despite the fact that their actual living standards went down, not up.

Governor Glenn Youngkin wants to set aside $400 million for tax relief in his revised budget, which he will present to the state legislature in December. But that’s less than a quarter of the total surplus. The budget signed by Youngkin also includes $450 million to pay for potential cost overruns on the commonwealth’s capital projects due to … you guessed it …. inflation. Continue reading