Category Archives: Governance

Northam Declares State of Emergency

Photo credit: Patch (McLean)

by DJ Rippert

Danger! Danger! Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam declared that the Old Dominion was in a state of emergency due to the Coronavirus. Northam exercised these emergency powers five days after the first Coronavirus case was confirmed in the state. The online Patch newspaper from McLean reports that “a statement from the governor says the declaration gives the state flexibility to east [SIC] regulatory requirements and procurement rules, continue federal and multi-state coordination and continue access to critical services.” Northam also announced plans for state employees to work from home.

Northam’s declaration of emergency was considerably slower than in many other states. In Maryland, for example, Republican Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency on the same day that the first cases of Coronavirus were confirmed. Yesterday, Maryland detected the first case of Coronavirus caused by community spread. Continue reading

More Bad News on Coronavirus

All I need is the air that I breathe. Recent research indicates that the coronavirus can live in air for 3 hours post aerosolization. The Hill reports that, “A study awaiting peer review from scientists at Princeton University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) posted online Wednesday indicated that the COVID-19 virus could remain viable in the air up to 3 hours post aerosolization, while remaining alive on plastic and other surfaces for up to three days.” Previous media reports maintained that the Coronavirus required direct human contact in order to be transmitted. To be clear, this research has not been peer reviewed. However, public policy decisions would seem to be impacted if the Coronavirus can survive for hours suspended in air.

Overstaying your welcome. Researchers have evidence that people infected with the Coronavirus will remain infectious longer than previously believed. The Hill reports on a study by The Lancet, a British medical journal, indicating that people suffering from COVID-19 may be able to spread the disease for up to 37 days. If true, this finding calls into question the previously held expert opinion that recommended an isolation period of 14 days after infection.

Cancel culture. Cancellations of anything and almost everything continue to pile up. Examples include Ireland closing its schools and colleges, the NCAA Men’s National Basketball Tournament being held without fans in the audience, Italy closing almost all shops (other than grocery stores and pharmacies) and the NBA suspending its season starting today.

Implications for Virginia. Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 breakout remains sporadic at best. Continue reading

Another Critical Coronavirus Graph

By DJ Rippert

Timing. As Jim Bacon wrote, “Now comes COVID-19. Everyone is in a blind panic. The concern may be overwrought, whipped up by the media. Or maybe things could get worse than anyone could imagine. Nobody knows. Uncertainty reigns.” Jim is right. Uncertainty does reign. But what are the costs of indecision if things do get worse than anybody can imagine? The graph at the left qualitatively describes how early action can change the shape of the infection curve and avoid a peak that overwhelms our health care system. Do Virginia’s leaders understand this?

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Incredible Bills in Conference List Remains

The Virginia House and Senate convene at noon today, and today is actually today finally.  The General Assembly recognizes this as March 7, having had a two-day March 5.  March 6 will never exist in the records.  Stopping the clock for an entire 24 hours allowed legislators to continue to put disputed bills into conference, and they did so until right before “Thursday” adjournment at 5:45 p.m. Friday.

Being March 7, the Assembly is scheduled to adjourn.  Some of the more contentious issues remain on this unresolved bill list.  Some do have conference reports voted on by one chamber or the other, or printed ready for action.  Many have no agreement.  Either the session goes into overtime or some of these just fail.  A budget vote sometime next week also seems inevitable, unless they want to vote first and read it later.

The list:

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Sine Die Tomorrow? Bills in Conference

A Peek Inside the Process

Somehow I don’t think this is done by Saturday…From the Legislative Information System (LIS) this morning, here are the bills still in conference committees.  Some are known to have resolutions, but still must come to the floor:

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Virginia’s Board of Health and “the Virginia Way”

Virginia Board of Health meeting. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James C. Sherlock

You know how sometimes you assume something to be true because you simply can’t imagine an alternate reality? I have been guilty of that. The State Board of Health is charged with overseeing the Department of Health and many other important missions. After spending more than a decade researching and observing the activities of portions of the VDH, it never occurred to me to review the qualifications of the people on the Board. I just finished that review. It is not what I expected.

The Board currently has 14 members representing ten formally organized stakeholder groups as current law requires. An enormous flaw in that law is that it specifies only whom the members represent, not their personal qualifications. The Board includes one local government official, one EMS representative, and two consumer representatives[1].  None of the defined stakeholder groups represents economically disadvantaged Virginians. All members have been appointed by Governor Ralph Northam and his predecessor. Continue reading

Virginia Rated Worst State for Partisan Gerrymandering

By DJ Rippert

They’ll be back (in office forever). The USC Schwarzennegger Institute released a report finding that Virginia had the highest degree of partisan gerrymandering among all U.S. states. The report analyzed the “statewide popular vote in 2017 or 2018 state legislative elections and the partisan composition of the state legislative chambers in 2019.” While other studies draw somewhat different results, Virginia is often near the top of the list of “most gerrymandered states.” In mid-2019 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lawsuit by Virginia voters challenging Virginia’s voting districts on racial grounds.

As the USC report states, “Self-interested legislators who seek reelection have long attempted to draw their own districts to protect their personal reelection chances and to improve the electoral odds of their political party.” Repeating for emphasis, Virginia is not only one of many states with extreme gerrymandering, it is rated by this study as the most extreme case of partisan gerrymandering. This is no accident. It is the result of deliberate actions by members of our General Assembly hailing from both parties.

Partisan gerrymandering is a form of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. It should not be allowed and Virginia should certainly never be the worst offender. Beyond that, the Virginia Constitution states, “Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district.” A state does not become the worst example of partisan gerrymandering in the United States by using contiguous and compact districts. Once again our General Assembly’s actions show that they believe laws are for the little people and not for themselves. Continue reading

Governance Nightmare: Integrating Hospitals and HMOs

Sentara: the epitome of Big Medicine

by James C. Sherlock

Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, has introduced a terrific piece of legislation, HB 1731. The bill tackles for the first time an increasing threat to competition, cost, availability, consumer choice and quality of health care in Virginia — the vertically integrated carrier.

The combination of hospitals and insurance carriers has captured the attention of neither the media nor the political class, but it is a fundamental driver of runaway healthcare costs in Virginia.

To illustrate the impact of vertically integrated carriers in the marketplace, consider Sentara Health’s offering of its Optima HMO plans in Charlottesville and surrounding counties in 2018 — Hudson’s legislative district. Optima was the only carrier that year to offer plans on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) marketplace in multiple locations where Sentara had hospitals. The people depending upon the federally administered program found that their only option, Optima, charged the highest plan prices in the United States.

A 40-year-old couple with two kids had to pay $40,000 in premiums for a Silver Plan. Plus they were liable for up to $11.700 in co-pays and deductibles. Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital was included in the network. The University of Virginia Medical Center was not. All in the family. Similar scenes played out in other areas of Virginia where Sentara had hospitals and Optima was the only ACA seller. Continue reading

Marijuana Decriminalization in Virginia: Issues and Recommendations for Regulators

Photo credit: Snopes

By Don Rippert

Ready, fire, aim. In Virginia, it seems likely that the Democratic Party’s control of the General Assembly and Governorship will result in decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. This legislation will likely be passed in the 2020 session and go into law next summer. But what are the details of decriminalization? What specific policy decisions should our lawmakers consider when drafting the decriminalization legislation? Failing to consider these issues in advance of the legislative session could usher in a repeat of the shambolic attempt to legalize casino gambling in Virginia

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Virginia Legalized Gambling: Outlook for 2020

Photo credit: Gambling Herald

By Don Rippert

It’s not called the OLD Dominion for nothing. Virginia has lagged the nation in allowing legalized casino gambling. This is especially noteworthy since the United States doesn’t have a very tolerant attitude toward legalized gambling compared to other countries. In other words, Virginia has been a laggard within a lagging nation. That is changing. As of 1997 only two US states allowed legal casino gambling. Today 43 US states have operating casinos.  Virginia is not among those 43 states. Is anybody surprised? However, legislation passed in 2019 will change that. It seems very likely that Virginia will be joining the modern world of legalized gambling in 2020 (and beyond). The biggest barrier to Virginia casinos opening in 2020 is the bureaucracy of our state government. More on that in a moment. First, let’s review a brief history of legalized gambling in the Old Dominion.

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Northam Asserts “Systemic Inequity” Exists in State Government, but Doesn’t Say Where

Janice Underwood (foreground). Photo credit; Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam has appointed Virginia’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

In the new “senior-level position,” Janice Underwood, former director of diversity initiatives at Old Dominion University, will develop a “sustainable framework to promote inclusive practices across Virginia state government,” stated a press release from the governor’s office. As part of that job, she will implement a “measurable, strategic plan” to address systemic inequities in state government practices, and turn feedback from state employees, external stakeholders and community leaders into “concrete equity policy.”

Well, this  is quite the indictment of Virginia state government, including the tenure of Northam’s four gubernatorial predecessors, three of whom were fellow Democrats: Terry McAuliffe, who is rumored to be pondering running again for the governorship, as well as Virginia’s two U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Who knew that Democrats allowed inequities to persist so long?

Remarkably, Northam, who has vowed since his blackface controversy to dedicate himself to racial equity, provided no details regarding what “systemic inequities” exist in state government. The inequities must be pretty grievous if they are to be described as “systemic.” But he leaves citizens hanging as to what they might be. Remarkably, the Washington Post and Richmond Times-Dispatch, which normally are hyper-alert to evidence of racial injustice, neglected to inquire what Northam might have been referring to. (The Daily Press covered the story, too, but I could not get past the firewall.) What, oh, what could the governor mean? Continue reading

A Dialogue on Money in Virginia Politics

Jeff Thomas: Thank you for having me to Bacon’s Rebellion, Jim. I’m a longtime reader, first-time poster. Money in Virginia politics is an important topic on which I think we both agree, and I’m eager to hear your take on it. As I understand it, we’ll each answer and ask a question of the other within a 500-word limit. So let me begin.

What would be the rules for your ideal campaign finance system in Virginia?

Jim Bacon: Jeff, I’m delighted to engage in this exchange. As author of “The Virginia Way: Democracy and Power after 2016,” you are one of the few writers to take a deep interest in Virginia’s political economy, genuinely trying to understand the sources and distribution of power at the state/local level. Hopefully, this dialogue will prove illuminating.

Like you and many others, I find the role of money in politics to be disturbing. It is deeply unfair that the rich and powerful can buy more political influence through campaign contributions than ordinary citizens. But unfairness is part of the human condition. The question is whether the cure is worse than the disease. I do not believe in restricting campaign contributions, even if it means giving a billionaire California liberal like Tom Steyer and his NextGen Climate Action group (more than $3.7 million in the past few years) a bigger voice in Virginia politics than a life-long resident like myself. The Constitution gives Americans the right to freedom of speech and the right to petition government, and I regard the donation of money to political candidates as an extension of both those rights. Continue reading

Koch’s Recipe for Reforming Higher-Ed

James V. Koch’s indictment of the U.S. higher education system can be summarized as follows: The cost of attending four-year public universities has soared in recent decades, creating an affordability crisis. Lower- and middle-income students and their families have coped by piling up massive student loans to the point where indebtedness has become a major social and economic problem. Higher-ed institutions, especially those with brand names and pricing power, have extracted wealth from its students to fund institutional priorities of bolstering prestige and influence.

The underlying problem, Koch suggests in his recently published book, “The Improverishment of the American College Student,” can be traced to an asymmetry in political and market power.

Undergraduate students come and go. They and their families usually focus intently on college costs for a period of one to six years. After this, their attention dissipates. There is no permanent constituency of interested parties or victims. … Hence it is difficult to organize student or parent pressure groups that might address tuition and fee issues…

By contrast, the institutional interests of colleges, universities, and their bureaucracies endure. Boards of Visitors, set up to provide oversight of ambitious administrators, are routinely captured and dominated by university presidents. Board members adopt the goals and priorities of the administration rather than those of largely invisible students and families. Continue reading

Compare Localities to Improve Performance

Roy Fauber. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

I like the way Roy Fauber thinks. One doesn’t have to agree with the conclusions of the retired Federal Research Bank of Richmond executive to appreciate how he goes about dissecting issues in a recent op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The cities of Richmond and Norfolk are close peers, he observes. They are similar in the sizes of their population (Norfolk 243,000 and Richmond 217,000), the percentage of the school-age population (11% and 12%), and poverty rates ( 22% and 25%). One might add that both cities are similar in that they are 200+ years old, can boast large downtown districts, and suffer from decaying decayed inner city neighborhoods and aging infrastructures.

Despite the similar nature of their challenges, Fauber notes, Richmond’s real estate taxes are 19.6% higher than Norfolk’s on a per-capita basis. General taxes are 26% higher per capita. He asks: “What accounts for this major disparity? … Do Richmond citizens get more for their money?”

Darn good question. Politicians are masters of deflection and excuse making. Citizens can cut through the rhetorical fog by posing questions like Fauber does. Continue reading

The Latest Front in Virginia’s Energy Wars: Rural Electric Co-Ops

One in six Virginians get their electricity from a rural electric cooperative. In theory, because co-ops are owned by their electrical customers, the interests of owners and customers and owners are aligned — in contrast to Virginia’s investor-owned utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co., in which the interests of stockholders and customers often come into conflict. But in the real world, the agency problem intervenes: The electric co-ops are run by professional managers, and a question arises as to whether entrenched management is putting its own interests ahead of the owner-customers they serve.

The policies of Virginia’s electric co-ops has been the source of considerable consternation among environmentalists. As noted last month by Ivy Main, a Sierra Club of Virginia blogger and contributor to the Virginia Mercury, “While a few co-ops have adopted innovative customer-friendly programs, most actively resist change.”

By “actively resisting change,” Main refers to their reluctance to embrace the environmentalists’ clean energy agenda. Coal accounts for 75% of energy generated by electric cooperatives nationwide, compared to less than 28% for all utilities nationally. “Worse,” she writes, “failing to see the promise of distributed generation, most co-ops have locked themselves into long-term supply contracts that give them little room for self-generation with solar and wind. … In fact, stuck with the dirty black stuff, rural electric cooperatives are much more likely than investor-owned utilities to support coal and oppose climate regulations.” Continue reading