Category Archives: General Assembly

Yet Another Tax Increase Proposal

Del. Delores McQuinn. Photo credit: Richmond.com.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, has submitted a bill, HB 1541, that would raise taxes in Central Virginia by 2.1% on wholesale fuels (about 7.6 cents per gallon of gasoline) and 0.7% on the sales and use tax to fund regional transportation projects.

The taxes would raise an estimated $168 million a year. Fifty percent would be returned to the localities for projects that would “improve local mobility,” including roads, sidewalks, trails, mobility services, or transit; 35% would go to a Central Virginia Transportation Authority; and 15% would be dedicated to mass transit in Planning District 15.

McQuinn said the dedicated funding is critical to improving access to public transportation, especially for low-income residents who have no other way to get to jobs or amenities in the region, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Said she in a meeting with leaders from four localities in the region: “Transportation has become to me almost a civil rights issue.”

A civil rights issue? Wow! I always thought of “civil rights” as ensuring that all Americans enjoyed the same constitutional and legal protections. Now, it seems, the concept of civil rights has expanded to the idea of redistributing income from motorists and consumers, many of them low-income themselves, to trendy priorities favored by urban white elites under the guise of helping minorities and the poor. Continue reading

Virtue Signal With Somebody Else’s Morning

Yesterday it was nice. This morning brings a downpour. Being in this line today will be less fun. Making everybody with legislative staff, state employee or registered lobbyist badges get screened and scanned before entering the Pocahontas Building to do (or watch) the people’s business will get us all soaked. (Even U.S. Senator Tim Kaine got caught in it …for a while.)

Hey I get it, being “tough on guns” is vital, a virtue, and what good is virtue if you do not signal it? In 36 years of almost daily attendance to General Assembly sessions, the occasions when something stupid was done with a gun inside the General Assembly buildings usually involved legislators themselves. No legislator stood in this line yesterday — they sailed past us.  Continue reading

Virginia Death Tax Would Be Fairly Narrow

by Hans Bader

A few days ago, I wrote about legislation to reinstate Virginia’s estate tax. The Tax Foundation has informed me that the tax contained in the bill would affect fewer households than in most of the states that still have an estate tax. (Most states no longer have an estate tax at all).

This matters, because I incorrectly wrote that the tax would “affect the inheritances of many middle-class people.” Well, it turns out it’s not that many. That’s because the bill indirectly incorporates by reference a $10 million exclusion — even though that is not mentioned anywhere in the language of the bill itself.

As the Tax Foundation told me, after I emailed them my blog post, the bill’s language “could be clearer” about that, and “probably should be,” but it apparently does have the effect of incorporating a $10 million exclusion. So unless you have a relative with $10 million, it probably won’t affect you.

(Because the bill itself did not mention such an exclusion, many commenters at Richmond Sunlight and elsewhere had assumed that it would affect many Virginia households, especially in northern Virginia, where homes are quite expensive, and a typical home in many neighborhoods costs over a million dollars) Continue reading

Dems Da Rules

Majority Leader Charniele Herring and Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. Photo credit: Washington Times

As the late Sen. Edward Willey of Richmond used to say, “The rules are written by those with the votes.” Leading up to the convening of the new GA session, there was some speculation that the House Democrats, newly in the majority, might make significant changes in the House Rules. In the end, they largely stuck with tradition.

The rules of a legislative body are important. They establish the framework within which the legislature process is conducted. For example, they establish the standing committees of each house, along with the number of members of each committee and how those members are selected. They set out the procedures for handling legislation on the floor. They are esoteric and a great sleep-inducer, but the legislators who master the rules have a great advantage over their colleagues. Continue reading

Where’s the Voice of Business?

The mouse that roared squeaked

by James A. Bacon

As the General Assembly considers a host of issues that could have devastating consequences for Virginia’s business climate — tax increases, $15 minimum wage, repeal of the right-to-work law, a death tax, trial lawyer-friendly anti-discrimination legislation, and the list goes on — the business community has been remarkably quiet.

Once upon a time, when business spoke — like in the old E.F. Hutton commercial — Virginia listened. Now, it seems, business isn’t speaking, and nobody’s listening.

The silence of Virginia’s business community struck me when reading a Roanoke Times op-ed today in which Terry Durkin, vice president of public policy for the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, expressed muted reservations about the minimum-wage and right-to-work bills. Whoah! Where did he come from? When’s the last time I heard from anyone in the business community who wasn’t bleating about safe, non-controversial topics?
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A Sure-Fire Formula for Chasing Away Affluent Retirees

Source: Tax Foundation

by James A. Bacon

Once upon a time, the Commonwealth had an “estate” tax (paid by the estate of a person upon his or her death) like many other states, but changes in federal law effectively repealed it in 2007. There has been no serious move to reinstate the tax in Virginia until this year. Now Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, and Del. Vivian Watts, D-Alexandria, propose to reimpose the tax with exemptions for closely held businesses. (See Hans Bader’s description of the tax here.)

It’s hard to know how seriously to take the prospect of a death tax in Virginia. Are Surovell and Watts off in left field, all by themselves, or is there quiet by widespread support for their idea? We’ll find out as the 2020 General Assembly session rolls on. In the meantime, it’s not too early to begin discussing the pros and cons of the tax.

I acknowledge that the death-tax debate cuts many ways. As a libertarian-leaning conservative, I am uncomfortable with the idea of an aristocracy of wealth perpetuating itself through inheritances. But I’m even more uncomfortable with the idea of social-engineering zealots deciding who gets to keep their wealth, and how much they get to keep. Those moral questions are interesting but, to my mind, secondary to the practical, real-world impact on wealth creation and the generation of tax revenue here in Virginia.

Here’s the bottom line: As long as the United States is a federal system of 50 states, the states will compete to attract wealthy people, the jobs they create, and the tax revenues they generate. A death tax in Virginia would incentivize wealthy residents to relocate to states that have no death tax. Continue reading

How to Cripple Small Business with One Easy Law

Stacking the deck

by Hans Bader

Anti-discrimination legislation under consideration by the Virginia state Senate would shrink the value of the state’s economy and fundamentally alter its business climate.

The “Virginia Values Act,” introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would subject even small businesses to unlimited compensatory and punitive damages in discrimination lawsuits and order businesses to pay the lawyers’ bills of the workers, tenants, or customers who sue them. The bill also would let Virginia’s Attorney General sue businesses for a $50,000 fine. But if a business proves itself innocent, it would receive nothing under the Virginia Values Act — no reimbursement of its attorney fees.

The legislation is very one-sided. If the “Virginia Values Act” become law, many businesses will have a powerful incentive to pay off people who make even dubious accusations of discrimination. Having to put up with that injustice will discourage people from starting a business in the first  place. It will also discourage large companies for expanding into or relocating to Virginia, since plenty of other states don’t impose such onerous damages and fines on companies in discrimination cases.

The Virginia Values Act was introduced on January 8 as Senate Bill 868. It is more extreme than, but in some ways similar to, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). That law also provides for unlimited compensatory and punitive damages in discrimination cases, and also forces the business to pay the attorney fees of a person who successfully sues it. Continue reading

Rate Case Bill Offers Repentence to Legislators

By Steve Haner

Sinners! The hour of redemption is at hand! For years now some of you have deprived your fellow Virginians of a fair hearing in front of the judges set above them. To deny justice is among the worst of abominations, but a chance for salvation has appeared.

Yes, I am talking to the many Virginia legislators who helped protect the profits of the state’s dominant electric utility from proper review and adjustment. You have corrupted the law with “this is in the public interest” and “refunds shall not be ordered unless” and “rates may not be reduced until” and “this shall be deemed reasonable and prudent.”  The judges you have fettered with these phrases sit on the State Corporation Commission

Some of you fell from grace in this way in 2013, 2014, 2015 and then again in 2018. One correct vote in 2020 can wipe the slate clean, returning your political souls to purity.

With passage and implementation of House Bill 969, all will be forgiven. Even this author of countless energy Jeremiads will praise your return to the fold. But woe unto you who fail to heed this final trumpet and abandon the people again. The day of decision is here.  Continue reading

2020 Assembly May Not Vote on Carbon Car Tax

By Steve Haner

It now seems unlikely the 2020 General Assembly will act directly on Virginia’s membership in the proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative, an interstate compact to cap, tax and then start to ration fossil fuels that add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Virginia would be the southernmost member.

While six pieces of pending legislation (so far) mention the similar Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which caps, taxes and rations CO2 from power plants, the silence continues on TCI. It has been conspicuously absent from gubernatorial pronouncements on these issues. A Virginia Mercury story this week on various environmental proposals cited a December statement from him that “no decisions have been made,” although it wasn’t clear on what.

When organizers of the TCI compact released their draft memorandum of understanding last month, they clearly were pointing to action in the various states in the near future. But the MOU itself is only an outline, with many blanks to fill in. An argument that the issue is not ripe for the legislature could be valid. What is the actual goal or schedule for forced supply reductions?

An argument that it doesn’t need legislative blessing at all, however, would not be valid. Virginians should not be subjected to this tax, cap and ration regime without a recorded vote by their elected representatives.

What people can do now, if they care, is register an opinion with the TCI organizers on their public input portal. Their last round of comments included many who dislike this idea, so they are asking again now that more details are out.

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Bacon Bits: Dems Gone Wild Edition

With Democrats focused on really important stuff such as the proper use of pronouns “(she” and “her” when referring not only to female senators and delegates but the sergeant of arms, a male), they may or may not have time to attend to every bill submitted, especially those likely to bog down in the face of determined resistance. But it’s worth highlighting some of the more extreme measures for the purpose of illuminating the Democratic Party id. Even if these bills go nowhere this session, they reveal the preoccupations of the progressives who are increasingly dominant in the party of (the now-discredited) Jefferson and Jackson, and tell us where Virginia could be heading. (Hat tip to Hans Bader for bringing these to my attention.)

Expanding the Virginia Human Rights Act. Del. Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, who last year championed late-term abortions and lobbied for a lactation room in the General Assembly, has submitted HB 1200 to revise the Virginia Human Rights Act, which already makes it it unlawful to discriminate against any employee on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender… or medical condition such as lactation. The bill would prohibit discrimination on the basis of age for anyone 40 years or older, eliminate the exemption for employers with fewer than five employees, and render the employer liable for up to $25,000 in damages plus attorneys fees — not “reasonable attorneys fees,” as provided in federal law, but “attorneys fees,” which could be wildly inflated and could easily be substantially higher than the actual award.

Equal Pay Act. Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, has submitted SB 660, which would prohibit employers from paying wages and compensation to members of a “protected class” (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation — it’s not clear if this includes lactation status) “at a rate less than the rate which it pays … employees who are not members of the protected class for substantially similar work.” The measure establishes criteria for when wage differentials between employees are permitted: seniority (not penalizing for leave due to pregnancy, parental, family, or medical reasons), a “bona fide merit system,” or a “bona fide factor” such as education, training or experience. Throwing in a burdensome bureaucratic requirement for good measure, the Equal Pay Act would require employers to maintain records on the wages and wage rates, job classifications, and other terms and conditions of employment for three years. No exemptions for small businesses or even micro businesses. Boysko’s state senate biography lists her occupation as “community organizer.”

If Democrats prevail on bills like these, you can kiss good-bye to free labor markets.

— JAB

Death Tax Proposed for Virginia

by Hans Bader

Lawmakers in both houses of Virginia’s legislature have proposed an estate tax. That’s a tax on what residents own at the time of their death. The proposed tax, set at hefty rates not seen since the 1970s, would affect the inheritances of many middle-class people.

Virginia had an estate tax until July 2007, when the Republican-controlled legislature allowed it to be effectively repealed. But this year, the Democrats took control of both houses of the Virginia legislature. And two Democratic lawmakers promptly proposed reinstating and increasing the estate tax, to a higher level than in 2007.

The tax is contained in two bills: SB 637, proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, and HB 736, sponsored by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Alexandria.  (The bills would exempt “closely held businesses” to avoid decimating small businesses on the owner’s death.)

The tax is not set to the level of 2006 or 2007, when few American estates were even subject to the death tax, and tax rates were not at their peak. Instead, it would be set as it was back in the 1970’s, when estate taxes were at their most burdensome and affected the largest number of middle-class households. Continue reading

Virginia 2020: Tax-and-Spend on Steroids

by James A. Bacon

Ralph Northam ran for governor as a don’t-rock-the-boat center-left moderate who would continue governance of Virginia in the tradition of his predecessors Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine. Virginians bit the bait. Then the blackface scandal happened, and Northam had to do penitence to Virginia’s progressives to survive politically. Subsequently, in what was in part a referendum on an unpopular President Trump, Virginians installed a Democratic Party majority in the General Assembly. I’m not sure Virginians knew what they were getting, but they’re now finding out.

Northam has chosen to govern as a classic tax-and-spend liberal. The Commonwealth’s budget (General Fund and Non General Fund) will have increased from $57 billion as originally submitted in Fiscal 2019 to $68.4 billion by Fiscal 2022, or 20%. That would constitute one of the biggest spending expansions in Virginia fiscal history. (If we adjust for inflation, which is much lower than in the past, it may be the biggest expansion of government in our lifetimes.) Judging from the governor’s State of the Commonwealth address yesterday, there is not a single problem facing Virginia that doesn’t warrant a government solution.

Yet, as much as Northam embraced big government yesterday, his agenda is not as radical as many of his Democratic confreres in the legislature would like. He did not advocate a rollback of the state’s Right to Work law. He believes that corporate investment is a good thing, and that Virginia needs more of it. He did call for a minimum wage increase but did not specify that it had to be $15, as many have called for. Rather than fund every special interest with its hand out, he actually proposes setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars to build the state’s financial reserves to $1.9 billion, enough to safeguard Virginia’s AAA bond rating and provide a financial buffer against a recession.

Here’s a terrifying thought: Given the impotence of General Assembly Republicans, Northam may be the only thing standing between Virginia and a really radical progressive agenda. Continue reading

John, Alternatives to the VEA Do Exist!

by Steve Haner

Dear “John Randolph of Roanoke,” you very much have a choice if you are tired of paying dues to the Virginia Education Association. I saw your lament in the comment string on Jim Bacon’s report today about pending legislation to force non-union employees to pay union dues.

“Can’t drop out though. These guys are the only ones that will go to bat for me if I am falsely accused of something at school. We are so wide open and vulnerable these days. I guess I have the wolf by the ears.”

Here is information on three alternatives you might consider, with up to $2 million of professional liability coverage offered for far less cost than VEA dues.   You can choose from:

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Bacon Bits: Elections Have Consequences Edition

Half a loaf is worse than none. Sen. Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, has introduced a bill that would represent a significant erosion of Virginia’s Right to Work law without repealing it outright. SB 426, entitled “Fair Share Fees,” would authorize an employer to charge employees within a collective bargaining unit who choose not to join the union for the union’a cost associated with collective bargaining, administrative overhead and representation of employees before public bodies. The “fair share fee” would exclude the cost of political activities, lobbying and other activities unrelated to collective bargaining and in no case would exceed 60% of dues. The justification is to eliminate the “free riding” of non-union members who benefit from a union’s collective bargaining efforts.

Tactically, this is a brilliant move by Saslaw because it undermines the most powerful argument against mandatory union membership and payment of union dues — that it forces employees to contribute to political causes with which they disagree. Politically, the bill represents a big payoff to organized labor. Republicans in the General Assembly aren’t likely to support this half-a-loaf approach, but it could persuade moderate, pro-business Democrats. If Saslaw’s gambit succeeds, it would significantly increase the economic power of unions in Virginia and undermine the state’s business climate.

Are safe zones next? HB 40, sponsored by Del. Ibrahim Samirah, D-Herndon, would require every Virginia public school to create and maintain a “mental health break” space with the public school building. Under the bill, the Board of Education would promulgate regulations for the design of the space, student usage, and staffing. The spaces would be indoors, separate from classrooms and as close as possible to the school’s medical service facilities. I can’t imagine this bill will go anywhere this year — the Democrats have bigger fish to fry with the move to bolster K-12 spending by $1.5 billion — but it provides insight into emerging priorities among Virginia progressives. In the progressive vision, the mission of public schools is morphing from educating children to ameliorating their social, economic and mental-health condition. This my friends, is a bottomless pit. There will never be enough money. (Hat tip: Carol Bova.) Continue reading

Handguns, Not Rifles, Are the Problem

Source: 2018 Crime in the United States. (Figures do not include “Firearms, type not stated.”)

Governor Ralph Northam has just introduced his “Virginia 2020 Plan” outlining his legislative priorities for the 2020 General Assembly session. His summary of the plan says this about gun control:

Advance common-sense gun safety measures. Keep prohibited persons away from firearms. Universal background checks. “Red flag” law. Restore longstanding “1 handgun a month” law.

What? Nothing about bump stocks and assault weapons? Has Northam backed off the idea of restricting gun types in favor of keeping “prohibited” people (domestic abusers, the mentally ill) away from firearms? If so, that’s a move in the right direction. Continue reading