Category Archives: General Assembly

What can Virginia learn from Nashville (Part 2)?

Update. In the first installment of this two installment post I described the metropolitan juggernaut that is modern day Nashville. I also provided some historical perspective on how Nashville became the sixth fastest growing US city (measured along several axes) between 2011 and 2016. As a side note, the 35 fastest growing cities documented in the prior link included no cities in Virginia. I have family in Nashville. For three of the last four years I have visited my family, run in a wildly popular race and witnessed the remarkable growth of Music City. My 2019 trip is complete and this article is the promised update.

First, a step back. Admiring the rapid growth of Nashville requires a fundamental belief. One has to believe that rapid growth in urban areas is a good thing. This is not a universally held belief, in Virginia or in Tennessee. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was quoted as saying, “When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.” While I understand the bucolic allure of country living I believe that the economic future of the United States and Virginia will largely be in the cities. I think Virginia should be striving to create an environment conducive to fast growing, safe, livable cities. To that end much can be learned from Nashville as well as Charlotte, Austin, Raleigh, etc. Continue reading

Cuccinelli to North Carolina on Electricity Regulation – Avoid Virginia’s Mistakes

The Cooch is back. Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli penned an op-ed for the Wilmington, North Carolina based Star News opposing Duke Energy’s proposed changes to electrical regulation.  The title of the opinion piece is, “N.C. should block this Duke Energy power grab”.  Cuccinelli’s biggest issue with the pending regulation is extending the period of time between utility rate cases.  The editorial board of the Star News agrees. Cuccinelli writes:

“Key provisions to extend the period of time between utility company rate cases are embedded within N.C. Senate Bill 559, being debated at the N.C. General Assembly. Similar provisions hurt Virginia customers, and will hurt North Carolina customers, too.”

Continue reading

Barbara Favola Makes Disingenuous Statements about Dominion Funding

A clarification has been added to the end of this article.

Setup. Barbara Favola is the Democratic State Senator from Virginia’s 31st district.  That district is centered in Arlington but includes areas of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties as well.  Favola is a politician-for-life having served on the Arlington County Board from 1997 through 2012 and in the Virginia State Senate since then.  She is seeking to extend her 22 consecutive years in politics to 26 in the upcoming General Assembly election.  However, Sen Favola’s well laid plans hit a snag.  She will face a challenger named Nicole Merlene in the June 11 Democratic primary.  Ms. Merlene has astutely called Sen Favola’s ethics and independence into question based on Favola’s non-legislative position as the head of a lobbying organization representing clients in Richmond.  An article in ggwash summarized a debate between Favola and Merlene:

“In her opening statement, Merlene referred to a December 2016 proposal to build a 325-foot tall tower on Virginia Department of Transportation land in Rosslyn. Favola, the sitting state senator for the district, was an advisor for the project.

Merlene said this type of behavior was pervasive, citing her opponent’s relationship with Marymount University and Virginia Hospital Center, which are both clients of a lobbying organization that Favola leads when she is not working in Richmond.“This is an issue where our representative was using public office for private benefit,” she said.”

Favola responded by employing what has become known as “the Saslaw – Norment defense” which holds that no amount of money from any source could ever be corrupting based on the genetic honesty of long time Virginia politicians. Continue reading

Politician Behaving Badly?

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chester, has caught flak for engaging in an argument with a Virginia Capitol Police officer — dropping the F bomb in the process — when the officer prevented her from parking in a restricted area near her legislative office building. As depicted in media accounts, she came across as officious and entitled. But there may be more to the story.

In breaking the story several days ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted vaguely that Chase had received threats, was “in fear for her life,” and had taken to wearing a pistol on her hip during the 2019 General Assembly session. In a Facebook post yesterday, she claimed to have been “accosted on three separate occasions” and said she doesn’t “feel safe parking outside the Capitol.”

This raises the question: Is there any basis to her fears or is she just being paranoid? There would seem to be a bigger issue here than a temper tantrum over a parking space. Continue reading

Judge Rules Virginia’s Confederate Statues Protected by State Law

Statue of Gen. George Henry Thomas, Virginian and Union General, in Thomas Circle – Washington, DC.

Court case. Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore has ruled that the City of Charlottesville cannot remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The judge determined that these are war memorials protected under Virginia state law. Articles describing the decision can be found here, here and here. As the Roanoke Times writes …

“The Monument Fund filed suit in March 2017, claiming the Charlottesville City Council in 2016 violated a state code section that bans the removal of war memorials when it voted to remove the statue of Lee. The suit was later amended to also include the Jackson statue.

The defense recently has focused on the question of whether the statues constitute monuments. Recent motions by the defense have sought to have a jury make the determination.”

Dillon’s Rule. Virginia has a strict implementation of Dillon’s Rule. This means that a high percentage of political power within the Commonwealth of Virginia rests with the state government rather than the localities. This political philosophy has been used by the state to micromanage localities for decades. One example is a section of Virginia law titled, “Memorials for War Veterans”. The law allows localities to construct memorials for war veterans but not to remove those same memorials. This section of Virginia code was the basis for the suit over the two statues in Charlottesville. Continue reading

Courts Authorizing “Reverse Location” Warrants in Virginia

FBI “reverse location” warrant in Henrico County…. Photo credit: Forbes

Big brother Google is watching you. Back in October, 2018,  Forbes reported that a Virginia court had authorized the FBI to use a “reverse location” warrant to try to solve a series of crimes in Henrico County, Va. This warrant, also known as a geofence warrant, allows police to compel Google to provide all cellphone activity for all people in a general area over a specified period of time. The resulting handover of data includes locations and other information on potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of people. While Google has complied with the warrants in the past, it is unclear whether the company complied in the Henrico case. Continue reading

Tuition Monster Tamed? Don’t Relax Just Yet.

Virginia 529’s Tuition Monster

It is premature to declare victory in the effort to restore sanity to tuition decisions at Virginia’s state colleges, but several factors seem to be coming together to give students and their families a break for the coming school term. Repeat:  For the coming school term.  Continue reading

How Government Creates Poverty: Fines and Fees

Government is much better at creating poverty than at curing it.

Yesterday the General Assembly voted to end the practice of suspending driving licenses for non-payment of fines or restitution or both and ordered Department of Motor Vehicles to restore driving privileges for hundreds of thousands of Virginians. If you need to do business at a DMV office in July, get there early. Restoring 600,000 licenses may take a while.   Continue reading

Virginia’s “Secret” Medical Marijuana Program

The doctor who should be governor. State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant is a Republican from Henrico County. She is also a practicing physician. In this year’s General Assembly session she put forth SB1557 which expanded last year’s so-called “Let Doctor’s Decide” legislation (HB1251).

What’s new? The 2018 legislation (HB1251) authorized licensed medical providers to prescribe CBD and THC-A oil “to alleviate the symptoms of any diagnosed condition or disease determined by the practitioner to benefit from such use.” CBD, or cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of marijuana plants. It is used to treat a variety of maladies. It is non-intoxicating. THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the non-psychoactive acid form of THC found in marijuana plants when raw. It is also non-intoxicating unless it is heated. Once heated, THCA releases THC which is intoxicating.  The 2018 legislation restricted THCA oil to contain no more than 5 mg of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana). Continue reading

On Energy Efficiency, Ratepayers Lose Again

Fellow electricity ratepayers, we just took it in the neck again.

This morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch brings the news that Dominion Energy Virginia will not seek to count lost revenue as one of the cost elements in the energy efficiency program it was ordered to undertake by the 2018 Ratepayer Bill Transformation Act.  This follows an earlier story, also by the Associated Press, that Governor Ralph Northam has written the company to insist on that position.

Missing from both stories is a key fact:   Dominion won’t spend a dime.  It is all your money.  When the 2018 General Assembly mandated $870 million of spending on energy efficiency and demand response programs, it was the same as a near-billion dollar tax increase.  One of many in the bill.  Now the $870 million customer cost will get larger.   Continue reading

Sure, Give The Money To Everybody. Why Not?

The so-called Taxpayer Relief Fund to be created with the residual dollars from the 2019 state tax legislation has not seen the first dollar deposited and Governor Ralph Northam is already proposing to spend some of it, seeking to expand the refunds which were part of that bill to all Virginians. Continue reading

The Marijuana Legalization Debate in Virginia: Lessons from Colorado

It’s a long way from Colorado to Virginia!

Elevated thinking.  I recently had the opportunity to do some skiing in Colorado. I hadn’t been to Colorado since the state legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014. I expected to see a Cheech and Chong movie played out on a vast scale high in the Rocky Mountains. That expectation went unmet.  Instead, I saw an American town where legal marijuana use has been incorporated into everyday life in a barely noticeable manner. Colorado has more pot shops than Starbucks outlets but you wouldn’t know that from a cursory visit. All of which got me thinking – what has been the marijuana legalization experience in Colorado and what lessons are there for Virginia?

Nil sine numine. “Nothing without providence.”  Residents of The Centennial State believe Colorado is guided by a “divine will.” After five years of “divine will” has legal pot turned into Rastafarian revelry or Puritanical perfidy? My unscientific poll of Coloradans riding various chairlifts and gondolas with me established a consensus of … “more good than bad”. Continue reading

SCC Details High Customer Cost of RGGI

RGGI states

The State Corporation Commission staff has “shown its work” on an earlier estimate of electricity rate increases resulting from Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, despite a Democratic legislator’s complaint in Sunday’s Washington Post it was not being transparent.

“Even if you agree with the SCC, its analyses should be public information designed to inform the public debate. The SCC, however, has chosen a less transparent route, disadvantaging the public and the legislature from having all the necessary information to determine energy policy in the commonwealth,” Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville wrote.   Continue reading

More Power for States: Good or Bad?

One of the most pleasant surprises that I discovered upon becoming a frequent follower of this blog was the whole world of energy regulation. RGGI, and, now, TCI, were new terms for me. I became aware of the cap- and-trade concept in its first widespread use in dealing with sulfur dioxide emissions, but was not aware of its current use for carbon dioxide.

Steve Haner’s recent post on TCI referred to RGGI and TCI as interstate compacts. That caught my attention. Long ago, in my political science courses, I learned about interstate compacts (my professor wrote what was then the definitive study on interstate compacts). The U.S. Constitution provides, “No state shall, without the consent of Congress…enter into any agreement or compact with another state….” (Article I, Section 10) Virginia has entered into a number of agreements with other states that fall under the ambit of this provision.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets limits on the catches of certain fish species, is one example. Another, more familiar, example is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. But  RGGI and TCI have not been approved by Congress, which puzzled me.

It turns out that not all agreements among states constitute an “interstate compact” in the Constitutional sense. The Supreme Court in its first case dealing with interstate compacts (Tennessee v. Virginia, 1895), and confirmed in 1985 in its most recent case on this subject, declared that an agreement among states does not require the consent of Congress if it does not infringe on, or encroach upon, federal supremacy. Continue reading

Back to Taxaginia: Add A New Wealth Tax

Only $1.7 of $4.6 billion was diverted back to taxpayers by 2019 law.  Final row includes $420 million for one-time tax rebates paid later this year.  It was the addition of the Pease Limitation raising taxes on high incomes which reduced the final tax relief total. Sources: Chainbridge Solutions August 2018 report on revenue projections. Department of Taxation on tax reduction estimates. Click to open.

The 2019 General Assembly is a dust storm in the rear-view mirror, but the four state tax increases that were discussed in “Taxaginia” last November are still in the road ahead.   This post revises and extends my reporting on their status in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, featured on the Commentary section front.

 In a piece in June 2018  I saw signs the state would keep the state income tax revenue harvest produced by conformity with the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  Turns out that prediction was 60 percent correct, with my calculations showing less than 40 percent of the expected revenue was diverted by tax policy changes.   Continue reading