Category Archives: General Assembly

Finally — a New Budget Bill

Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The money committees have reported a “conference” budget bill, which the General Assembly will probably adopt either tomorrow or Saturday.

The legislature has backed off the earlier contingency appropriations that drew objections from the Governor.

As with any budget, there are numerous moving parts. The legislature would capture savings in several areas and provide additional spending in others. Here are some of the major spending items:

  • $95.3 million for K-12. The source of the money is revenue from licensing of “gray” machines or “games of skill.”
  • $60 million for higher education “to maintain affordable access.”
  • $11 million for a one-time $500 bonus to state law-enforcement and corrections officers.
  • $379.6 million over the biennium to reappropriate some of the $2 billion in new spending earlier unalloted due to revenue shortfalls.

Continue reading

Enjoy Driving at Night Without Headlights? You’re in Luck!

by Kerry Dougherty

Oh my. This really is special.

Virginia’s General Assembly – in the midst of an expensive special session with no end in sight – just passed a bill that, if signed by the governor, will forbid police officers from stopping a car that is being driven at night without headlights, tail lights or brake lights.

This is what happens when Michael Bloomberg bankrolls extreme left-wing candidates in your state and these blockheads will vote for any measure that’s aimed at crippling the police.

You’re not hearing much about this deeply flawed bill because the slobbering lapdogs in the media are overjoyed that it also prevents the cops from stopping cars due solely to the aroma of marijuana. A milestone for the Old Dominion.

But pot is only one part of the bill. Continue reading

Lost Absentees, Found Roll Call, Missing Statues

By Steve Haner

Faulty Absentee Ballot Tracker Still Losing Track

Complaints continue about an absentee ballot tracking system on the Virginia Department of Elections website. Someone with a problem similar to what I encountered in September reached out to Richmond’s WTVR-TV 6 News, which reported that the problem lies with the United States Postal Service. The tracking system is provided by an outside vendor.

Jessenia Eliza, the Director of Government Initiatives at Democracy Works (the outside vendor), told CBS 6 the issue the Duszaks were facing was as a result of their ballot barcodes not being scanned by USPS.

“Ballot Scout relies entirely on USPS data in the state of Virginia. How it works is that as the intelligent mail barcode on ballots are scanned, that information is sent to our tool, and it updates the associated voter record,” explained Eliza. “We’re seeing this here and there with ballots that aren’t moving beyond that ‘in-transit’ status. That typically means just that the USPS didn’t scan it further, not necessarily that the ballot isn’t moving.”

The reporter then spoke with somebody at the state, who said: Continue reading

Energy “PIPP” Proposal Just the TIP of an Iceberg

The initial “PIPP” tax added to Dominion and APCo bills in 2021 may hide the full impact of the program.

By Steve Haner

As the State Corporation Commission prepares to set up Virginia’s first electricity cost shifting program, using a tax on all electric bills to provide discounts to low-income customers, advocates are already pushing to expand and enrich it.

An expert hired by an environmental group argues in testimony that the General Assembly erred when it capped electricity payments from poorer households at 6% of their monthly income if they did not have electric heat, and 10% if they did. Appalachian Voices’ expert wants the SCC to lower the rate to 5% and 8% respectively, greatly increasing the amount of revenue that must be extracted from other customers.  Continue reading

Investigative Journalism: Still Alive and Aimed at Dominion

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Well, investigative journalism is still alive. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has teamed up with the national journalist investigative organization, ProPublica, to report on the political influence of Dominion Energy in Virginia.

The first result of this effort is a major, long article in today’s edition of the RTD.  By long, I mean a big front-page display and three full pages on the inside, plus another full page on utility influence in other states. For those BR readers who are stopped by the newspaper’s paywall, I would recommend that you try to read it. Continue reading

Is DMV Hiding 26% of Virginia’s Fuel Tax?

DMV Table.  Missing is the additional 7.6 cents per gallon collected in every county and city as a “wholesale tax” but still passed on to consumers. Oversight?

By Steve Haner

The Division of Motor Vehicles website is not honestly reporting fuel taxes in Virginia on that table above. This cannot be an oversight.  Continue reading

A Reasoned Approach to Neck Locks

Del. Carroll Foy and the Democratic id.

by James A. Bacon

Democrats may control both the state Senate and the House of Delegates, but it is increasingly apparent that there are significant differences between the two chambers. The House, to borrow Freudian symbolism, reflects the id of the Democratic Party, the subconscious urges welling up from the reptilian brain. The Senate functions as the ego: the conscious, thinking part of the personality that moderates between the id, the superego (internalized values and morals), and reality. As a consequence, some of the crazier legislative ideas emanating from the House have been killed or watered down in the Senate.

A case in point is the initiative to ban the police use of chokeholds.

In a response to the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, the House passed a bill, HB 5069, which declared that any police officer in Virginia using a “neck restraint” in the performance of official duties was guilty of a Class 6 felony with provisions for increase in periods of imprisonment.

This was a Pavlovian, id-like response to a tragic killing (which may have been a murder, although that has not been determined yet). I am willing to lay long odds on the fact that the bill’s author, Del. Carroll Foy, has never herself been faced with a situation in which had just managed to wrestle an adrenaline- and meth-fueled criminal suspect to the ground. Continue reading

Yes, the General Assembly is Still in Special Session

The Virginia Senate in its spread formation

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

It is time to check in on the progress of the endless session of the General Assembly. It is apparent that it was a mistake for the House to meet virtually. If the Delegates had been required to stay in Richmond the whole time, rather than being able to “attend” committee meetings and floor sessions from the comfort of their homes, they would have finished much quicker. But, maybe it is not endless; leaders of both houses are predicting they will be able to finish up by the end of next week.

Budget. The legislature has not gone through the formal process of getting the budget bill into conference and appointing conferees. Nevertheless, the chairs of the two money committees, Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, and Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, report they are close to a final budget deal, according to today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.

But, Governor Northam is not happy with the approaches the two houses have taken and is threatening to throw cold water on any deal and veto it. He does not like the contingency spending that was in both the House and Senate versions of the budget bill, because those provisions commit funding that he wanted to keep in reserve due to uncertainty over the fiscal effects of the pandemic. He also does not like the legislature designating how most of the federal CARES money should be spent on COVID issues, thereby decreasing his flexibility over that $1 billion pot of money. (For a more detailed discussion of these issues, see my previous post here.)

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne repeated his earlier position, “We do not need a new budget for financial purposes.” That remark leads to the obvious question: “Then why did the governor call the special session?” Continue reading

Transportation Carbon Tax Debate Starts Again

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

By Steve Haner

Having imposed a carbon tax on Virginia electricity generation in 2020, the General Assembly starting in January 2021 will consider adding a similar tax on every gallon of gasoline and diesel sold for vehicle use. The Transportation and Climate Initiative, an environmentalist dream for a decade, is finally ready for its close up.

Advocates in the 12-state region that would make up the proposed interstate compact held two webinars in September, one focused on additional modeling on the project and the other discussing all the racially and environmentally just ways they believe states can spend the billions in new taxes.

The new modeling results did not change the basics of the program. TCI is a cap, tax and trade system that imposes a dollars-per-ton cost on the carbon dioxide emissions released by burning the fuels. The tax rate is set by an interstate auction, and the tax itself is imposed on the fuel wholesalers. The amount of fossil fuel emission credits that wholesalers may bid for will be capped and then will shrink a certain percentage every year.  Continue reading

Dominion Green Energy Costs Continue to Grow

Dominion Energy Virginia’s major capital projects, listed in its pending integrated resource plan. The SCC staff added the lifetime revenue requirement, the total dollars extracted from ratepayers over time which includes financing costs and the company’s current profit margin. Source: SCC

by Steve Haner

As sobering as they were, the initial estimates of how a green energy conversion will explode Dominion Energy Virginia rates have now been revised up. The State Corporation Commission staff now sees it costing an additional $800 per year for a residential customer to purchase 1,000 kWh per month by 2030, an increase of just under 60%.

The main drivers of the higher costs will be all the offshore wind and solar generation Dominion proposes to build, as outlined in its most recent integrated resource plan. That plan is now being reviewed by the SCC, and the staff filed its analysis late last week, summarized here on pages 4-5.

The separate cost analysis by Carol Myers of the SCC’s Division of Utility Accounting pushed up the utility-issued estimate by disputing assumptions the utility made. Staff disagrees with the utility projection that by 2030 less than half of its electricity will be used by residential customers. It is now about 55%. Should the portion shrink as Dominion projects, more of the project costs would be imposed on commercial users.

Myers reported it is also unrealistic to assume most residential households use 1,000 kWh per month, when the history show usage at or above 1,100 kWh.  Plugging that into the data would increase the projected cost to families even beyond $800. Myers’ testimony also shows huge increase in commercial (60%) and industrial (65%) power costs by 2030, even larger on a percentage basis than residential. For the state’s economy, they also matter. Continue reading

All Leader Saslaw Cares About: Is Dominion OK?

Senate Majority Leader Richard “Is Dominion okay with this?” Saslaw

By Steve Haner

Every now and then you can actually see the strings, see the puppet master that is Dominion Energy Virginia calling the shots at the Virginia General Assembly. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, provided a glimpse of its power during a floor debate Thursday.

Republican senators were in revolt. Two days after the House of Delegates had approved a plan to force all utility ratepayers to cover the unpaid bills and late fees for those who have fallen behind, the same language amendment was before the Senate for adoption.

“Once again, we have cast the ratepayers aside here in Virginia,” Senator Richard Stuart told his colleagues assembled in their spread formation at the Science Museum of Virginia. The average ratepayer is struggling to pay their own bill in this recession and did not sign up to pay the bills for those others who for whatever reason do not. “This is immoral. This is not right,” Stuart concluded. Continue reading

Dominion ❤ New Utility Bill Payment Plan

This time you get touched.

By Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia loves the General Assembly’s most recent proposal on how to deal with mounting unpaid utility bills in the COVID-19 recession. You might not.

The state’s dominant utility has activated its network of grassroots lobbyists (including company retirees and stockholders) to express their personal support to their hometown delegate and senator, in an email that a recipient shared:

Last week the Senate Finance and House Appropriation committees passed budget bills that included assistance to those utility customers who have experienced economic hardship due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All utilities have been impacted and the legislation recognizes that relief to those citizens most at risk will be different from one region and utility to the next. The direction adopted by both Chambers have been consistently supported by Dominion Energy…

As predicted more than once, the unpaid bills ultimately come to all utility consumers. The approach outlined in the new budget language is a variation on earlier themes, but the bottom line is unchanged.   Continue reading

House Offers $330 Million Utility, Unemployment Aid

By Steve Haner

Virginia’s House of Delegates has proposed spending $120 million from federal COVID-19 relief funds to help at least some Virginia families catch up on their utility bills and wants to pump $210 million from the same source into the state’s unemployment insurance program.

Both ideas surfaced when the House Appropriations Committee approved a set of budget amendments September 25 (more details here). Neither idea is matched in the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee amendments, also revealed Friday and summarized here. That $330 million in COVID assistance for individuals is a serious difference of opinion to be resolved in the coming conference process.

The General Assembly so far is following Governor Ralph Northam’s advice to show restraint on state spending in the midst of the COVID-19 recession. Neither the House nor the Senate are proposing to raid state reserves to restore spending priorities frozen during the emergency. Neither is looking to increase any tax rates.

However, both have plenty of ideas for spending the $1.3 billion in unallocated federal COVID funds provided to Virginia. And both combed through the budget looking for places to cut or unnoticed revenues, creating available money to be spent on their own priorities.  Continue reading

No! We Want to Spend the Money!

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

After more than a month into a special session called primarily to deal with revenue shortfalls resulting from the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, the House and Senate finally have produced their versions of a revised budget.

I wonder if Governor Ralph Northam is regretting having even called this special session. Neither house limited its budget amendments to provisions related to revenue shortfalls, COVID-19 response, or the fiscal impact of other legislation being considered by the special session (criminal justice reform). For example, the Senate has an amendment related to the development of a “linear park” in the Shenandoah Valley. In effect, both houses have proposed major re-writes of the budget. Continue reading

Hitting a Cop With a Pretzel Will Still Be a Felony

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the pieces of the criminal justice reform package that caused some consternation on this blog has been killed in a House committee. SB 5032 (Surovell, D-Fairfax) would have amended the statute that makes assault of a public safety employee, including a law-enforcement officer, a felony, with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months. (Assault generally is a misdemeanor.)

As the bill emerged from the Senate, it included the following provisions:

  • The felony charge was retained;
  • The mandatory minimum sentence was eliminated;
  • If the degree of culpability were slight, e.g. offender was mentally ill, or if there were no bodily injury, a jury or judge could find the offender guilty of misdemeanor assault, rather than felony assault. (Such a reduction in the charge would be discretionary on the part of the jury or judge.), and
  • The incident would have to be investigated by another law-enforcement officer not involved and any arrest approved by the Commonwealth’s attorney.

Continue reading