Category Archives: Money in politics

Democratic Lawmakers Threaten Spending Bill Over SALT Cap Repeal

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Tax that man behind the tree. As Congress works to pass a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package a group of “moderate” Democrats are threatening to block the spending bill unless the State and Local Tax (SALT) caps are repealed. Prior to Donald Trump’s 2017 tax law, state and local taxes were fully deductible on federal income tax returns (for itemized filers). The 2017 tax law, passed at the urging of Donald Trump, limited the SALT deduction to $10,000. This cap has long rankled Democrats elected to office in high-tax, high-spending locales such as the New York metropolitan area and San Francisco. Closer to home the cap also impacts people living in Virginia’s high-cost, high-tax areas like Northern Virginia. Continue reading

Campaign Finance Reform in Virginia – the New Governor Must Lead

by James C. Sherlock

I consider campaign finance reform the foremost issue facing representative government in Virginia.

We are one of only a few states with no campaign donations limits at all. We pay for that in legislation enacted and not enacted because of the preferences of huge donors. And in the stink of legal public corruption.

It also drives way up the cost of running and keeps good people from participating.

The new governor will have to lead. Continue reading

Out of the Mouths of Fund Raisers…

From a McAuliffe campaign email blast sent out under the name of Senate Mark Warner comes a remarkable confession: “Terry is having a bad week, Jim.”

How bad?

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate “finished off July with strong fundraising numbers,” said pseudo-Warner (I can’t believe the Senator actually laid eyes on this email). “But he told me since August started, contributions have plummeted — in fact, they’ve almost completely stopped.”

Terry’s “Trump-endorsed opponent” Glenn Youngkin is planning to spend $75 million of his own money, warns the email. If Dems don’t help Terry get his fundraising back on pace, he’ll have no chance of catching up.

Now, I realize that no fund-raising letter lets on that its candidate is rolling in dough and doesn’t really need your help. But admitting that the money raise has dried up, even for a week, is not something you see very often. No candidate likes to show weakness. I wonder if McAuliffe really does have a problem.

— JAB

Coming to Virginia – a New State of Emergency?

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

The Governor’s 15-month emergency powers expired June 30, and, God, does he miss them.

From The Virginian-Pilot:

“School districts that aren’t requiring masks, including several in Hampton Roads, are running afoul of state law, Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday.”

OK.

The bigger questions are

  • how long the governor will put up with the lack of emergency powers;
  • when he will start to follow Virginia’s Pandemic Emergency Annex to its Emergency Operations Plan; and
  • is the General Assembly even interested?

Continue reading

The Accelerating Scale of the Legislate-Regulate-Spend-and-Repeat Cycle Has Broken Government

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians – the state and individual citizens – have received over $81 billion in COVID-related federal funding. That comes to $9,507 for every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth.  Big money. 

That was Virginia’s share of $5.3 trillion in federal spending just on the pandemic (so far). A trillion dollars is a million million dollars. A thousand billion dollars.

For comparison, GDP was about $21 trillion in 2020  It is projected to total just short of $23 trillion this year.  The national debt is $29 trillion and growing. A little over $86,000 for every American. That figure does not include the $5 trillion in additional spending pending in the Congress.

Every day we spend $1 billion on interest with interest on the 10-year treasuries at 1.18% today. The Congressional budget office predicts 3.6% before 2027. Do the math. That is $3 billion a day — well over a trillion dollars a year — in interest. 

Relax. If you thought I was about to launch off on a discussion of drunken sailors, writing checks that our grandkids will have to make good, and the fact that inflation will drive interest payments ever upward, be reassured I am not.

This is about the demonstrated inability of many government agencies at every level to regulate, administer, oversee, spend and repeat with anything approaching efficiency or effectiveness.  Continue reading

Panhandling Politicos Hobnob with Richmond Lobbyists

by Kerry Dougherty

File this under “Virginia Democrats have no shame.”

On second thought, perhaps it should be filed under “Patrick Wilson is the best newspaper reporter in Virginia.”

Wilson, some of you may remember, was an ace reporter at The Virginian-Pilot for many years until the Richmond Times-Dispatch stole him away. I know Wilson and he’s an absolutely tenacious investigator who can sniff out impropriety in government and report fairly on it.

For instance, during the past year he’s provided Virginia with shocking details about the Parole Board scandal — you know, the gang that “waved its magic wand of freedom“ over murderers and set them free — that other news outlets were too lazy to dig up or report.

Now, in classic Wilson style, he’s reporting on the small-but-telling hypocrisies that pop up whenever the General Assembly is in session. Continue reading

Dominion Takes $206M From You Off the Top

by Steve Haner

As of late 2020, Dominion Energy Virginia had forgiven $206 million in unpaid electric bills for customers financially stressed by last year’s COVID-19 pandemic and recession. Those unpaid bills are not being covered by any of the billions in federal COVID emergency funding, nor are stockholders eating a loss.

We, the other Dominion customers, will pay them. As reported last year, this was decided by the Virginia General Assembly. How it happens is about to unfold.

The $206 million figure is prominently featured in Dominion’s initial filing in its pending triennial financial review by the State Corporation Commission, which actually covers a four-year period ending with 2020. The amount of bill relief is directly deducted from any calculation of excess profits, dollars which otherwise might justify rebates or even a rate cut.

This will be the first official review of the company’s cost of service and earnings since 2015, the hiatus being another little gift to the Dominion stockholders from legislators. It is a long and sordid tale how we got here, too often told. Thanks to a bipartisan fondness among legislators for accounting rules that favor Dominion, there may no way the SCC can order the company to pay rebates to us or cut our rates, excess profits notwithstanding. Continue reading

VMI Alumni PAC Endorses GOP Ticket

by James A. Bacon

The Spirit of VMI Political Action Committee (SoVP), formed by Virginia Military Institute alumni in response to the Governor Ralph Northam-ordered VMI racism investigation, has endorsed the Republican slate of candidates for statewide office — Glenn Youngkin for Governor, Winsome Sears for Lieutenant Governor, and Jason Miyares for Attorney General.

In making endorsements, VMI alumni have taken a different tack from dissident alumni at the University of Virginia and Washington & Lee University. The “woke” revolution transforming higher education across the country is being forced upon VMI from the outside, in contrast to the implementation of Critical Race Theory (cultural Marxism, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, or whatever you want to call it) which originates internally at other institutions. Neither the Jefferson Council at UVa nor the Generals’ Redoubt at W&L have engaged in electoral politics. Continue reading

Same Politicians Who Legalized Weed and Casino Gambling Killed Skill Games

by Kerry Dougherty

For more than 30 years Virginia’s been breathlessly legalizing vices.

It began when voters approved a state-run numbers racket – the lottery – in 1987. Since then, all manner of wagering has been approved for our gambling pleasure.

Virginia now has horse racing, off-track betting, sports betting and soon, casinos.

But in their wisdom, members of the General Assembly – the same ones who battled tirelessly to bring slot machines and blackjack to the Old Dominion – decided to 86 electronic skill games that reside mostly in truck stops, convenience stores and restaurants.

Make no mistake, they’re doing the bidding of the greedy big boys of gambling by cracking down on the little guys.

The casinos don’t want competition for those Virginia betting dollars. Continue reading

Change Coming to Virginia Beach Politics

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

A recent federal court decision could fundamentally change the  politics of Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth’s largest city.

Some background is needed first. Virginia Beach has an unusual method of electing its council. All 11 members of the council are elected by all the voters in the city. However, seven of the council members must live in the district they represent, while three members and the mayor are truly at-large, meaning they can live anywhere in the city. For example, Mary Doe may run for council as the member from District 7, which includes Sandbridge where she lives, but she must get a majority of the citywide votes for the seat.

The electoral arrangement has been in place since 1966  It has its origins in the conditions established for the consolidation of the small city of Virginia Beach and the large county of Princess Anne in 1963. Continue reading

Where Is the Trump Donor Money Going?

The Virginia Public Access Project has done an interesting bit of data sleuthing. It identified 360 Trump donors who have given to Republicans battling for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination through the end of March.

Trump in Heels Amanda Chase is dominating in the number of contributions, but average size of most her donations is small. The big money is going to Glenn Youngkin and Kirk Cox. Here is the breakdown:

— JAB

COPN Monopolies Depress Income for Virginia Healthcare Professionals Without Lowering Costs

The Business of Healthcare

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia is among the richest states in the country.  

We are ranked ninth among states with the highest median household income in the 2019 (latest) Census Bureau American Community Survey. Virginia median household income was $74,222 and the U.S. as a whole was $62,843.

But Virginia has a Certificate of Public Need (COPN) law among the most stifling of competition in the nation. The law itself and the regional monopolies created combine to suppress both opportunity and income for healthcare professionals.  

The monopolies don’t just control the healthcare delivery market, they also control the labor market.  

This essay will illustrate the effects of COPN and COPN-generated monopolies in depressing wages, and thus on the willingness of medical professionals to practice here. And then show you those lower wages don’t save consumers a dime. Continue reading

Medicaid and Medicaid Rate Increases Boost Virginia Hospital Profitability

The Business of Healthcare

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia in 2018 both expanded Medicaid and increased Medicaid reimbursement rates.  

Those changes orchestrated by Virginia hospitals took effect in 2019 and resulted in a major financial windfall to those same hospitals.

I have compared the 2018 and 2019 Hospitals Operating and Total Margins spreadsheets published by the state through its contractor vhi.org. They provide detailed financial performance information for every hospital in Virginia. The 105 hospitals in 2019 included acute care, rural critical access hospitals, children’s, psychiatric, rehabilitation and sub-acute hospitals.

We will see that when the Medicaid changes kicked in in 2019, Virginia’s wealthy urban hospital systems got richer.  

But we will also see that those same changes rescued the rural hospitals from barely breaking even in 2018 and enabled them as a class to book extraordinary profits in 2019.

We will ask at the end of the discussion whether the state-provided outsized profitability of Virginia’s untaxed non-profit hospital systems may warrant a re-examination of their tax exemptions. Continue reading

COPN – Don’t Leave Home Without It

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes I think we don’t personalize the effects of Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) program on individual Virginians in ways that are relatable. Nor do many understand the power of the hospital monopolies.

Many readers here have followed the progress of our reporting of the increasing and relentless suppression of competition in healthcare by COPN. I will offer in this essay a single example that may personalize it.

In 2009, the regulation, not the law, that defined the radius from your home of facilities that would be considered when seeing whether you are adequately served by existing open heart surgery facilities was changed as follows:

Title 12. Health » Agency 5. Department Of Health » Chapter 230. State Medical Facilities Plan » Part IV. Cardiac Services

Article 2
Criteria and Standards for Open Heart Surgery

12VAC5-230-440. Accessibility Travel time.

A. Open heart surgery services should be within 30 60 minutes driving time one way, under normal conditions, of 95% of the population of a the [ health ] planning district [ using mapping software as determined by the commissioner ].

Simple change. Thirty minutes was changed to 60 minutes. You surely did not notice. You were meant not to notice. And your elected representatives were not asked to vote on it. Continue reading

Buy Bacon’s Book

By Peter Galuszka

This is a shameless advertisement. Jim has written an excellent book and you should buy it and review it.

While some of Jim’s focus is at odds with a similar book I wrote eight years ago, “Maverick Miner” is a really well put together effort at research and writing.

In my reporting, I asked many people, mostly miners, what they thought about E. Morgan Massey. The response: tough on unions but good guy. I heard this over and over. I was told that if rank and file miners had a serious problem, they could call Morgan and he’d come to the mountains to work things out. I heard this a lot and it gives credence to Jim’s book.

You should buy the book, read it, and like it or not, post something on Amazon. Here’s something I did:

“In this book, Jim Bacon, a Richmond journalist, tells a fascinating story about 94-year-old E. Morgan Massey, the former head of coal company that would become highly controversial. Massey paid Bacon to write a private narrative about the Massey family and agreed to let Bacon write his own unabridged account. Taken as a biography and while understanding that this is from Massey’s viewpoint, the result works very well. Massey explains why he hired Donald L. Blankenship, who achieved remarkable notoriety as the boss of Massey Energy, a company spinoff. He ended up in federal prison. The book underestimates the human and environmental cost of coal mining in the Central Appalachians. It also takes Massey’s side in dissecting what caused the April 5, 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners – the worst such U.S. coal disaster in 40 years. Even so, Bacon’s access to internal sources and records is a welcome contribution to understanding a great story.

Peter Galuszka is author of “Thunder on the Mountain: Death At Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal.” (St. Martin’s Press, 2012)