by James A. Bacon
Solar energy is the cheapest source of electricity now available, solar advocates tell us, and that’s a big reason we should build more of it in Virginia. At the same time, says the solar lobby, the industry needs local-government tax breaks, in particular a state-mandated 80% exemption from local machine-and-tool taxes.
“If that tax incentive was not in place, you could not have the had the kind of development that was necessary,” David Murray, executive director of the Maryland-DC-Delaware-Virginia Energy Industry Association, tells the Register & Bee website at GoDanRiver.com.
So, which is it? Is solar the cheapest electricity source available, or the cheapest just when poor rural local governments are compelled by the state to grant massive tax breaks?
Pittsylvania County, the county adjacent to the City of Danville, has one solar farm in operation and has granted permitting for eight others. The county expects to benefit from two revenue streams: property taxes and machine & tool taxes. Under legislation in effect since 2016, small solar projects (less than 20 megawatts capacity) are entirely exempt from the M&T tax, while larger projects are 80% exempt. Moreover, under the State Corporation Commission depreciation schedule, utility-scale solar is taxed at 90% of value in the first five years but only 10% of value by year 25. Continue reading
Blue waves have consequences
By Peter Galuszka
The Virginia Democratic party’s stunning success in November’s General Assembly elections has, as promised, lead to some big changes, after, forward-moving legislation was stymied for years by GOP politicians, often in committee,
Let’s run through a short list of where the Dems have succeeded and what else can happen. I’ll keep this short given the detailed coverage other columnists have provided.
Guns: Big wins so far on one-purchase-a-month and universal background check. Some movement on “red flag” laws to allow law enforcement to temporary take away firearms from people deemed dangerous. Exactly how to define that remains to be seen. The Big Enchilada, however, is assault style rifle. Proposals would restrict new sales of them and limit their magazines to 10 or so rounds plus banning “bump stocks” that allow semi-automatic weapons fire just about automatically. Whatever happens, this is progress, since for years anything related to firearms got killed in committee with no real discussion.
Marijuana: It’s not time yet to run out and stock up on little bags or buy gummies with THC in them, but it is likely that possession will be decriminalized. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
In the first ten years, Governor Ralph Northam’s signature zero carbon electricity legislation will add almost 20%, about $280 per year, to typical Dominion Energy Virginia residential bills. That was the low-ball estimate Sunday from a State Corporation Commission expert who quickly discovered that shooting the messenger is the normal General Assembly response to bad news.
Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, visibly scoffed as Kim Pate, the SCC’s director of utility accounting and finance, explained the SCC had no position on Senate Bill 851. She was there to talk about the likely consumer cost, just as she had earlier Sunday on other bills dealing with Dominion Energy Virginia’s massive offshore wind proposal. The last time this was in committee, no legislator even asked about cost. Continue reading
Sen. George Barker and Del. Mark Sickles have teamed up to introduce legislation that seems to be good for consumers. SB 767 and HB 901 tackle the very annoying practice of “surprise” or “balance” billing. This is what happens when you go into surgery, planned or emergency, and your hospital and doctor are in your insurance network, but the anesthesiologist is not. So, when you get your bill, there is a great big charge for the anesthesiologist.
As the legislators explain in an op-ed in today’s RTD, under the terms of the legislation “the out-of-network providers would be fairly compensated at a rate established at the lower of the median amount that in-network providers would receive, or 125% of what Medicare would reimburse for that service.” I think the patient would still be liable for any co-pays or deductibles.
I have read the bill and it seems favorable to us regular consumers of health care, but my eyes and brain have always tended to glaze over when confronted with legislation dealing with insurance. If anyone out there checks it out and finds that there is some catch in it that makes it not so favorable, please let us know.
— Dick Hall-Sizemore
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By Peter Galuszka
You won’t hear much about this on Bacon’s Rebellion, but on Wednesday, Donald J. Trump became the third U.S. president in history to be impeached.
The vote in the House of Representatives split right down party lines with Virginia’s Democrats voting for impeachment and Republicans voting against.
Leading the charge were Abigail Spanberger of the 7th District and Elaine Luri of the 2nd District. The former CIA operative and former Navy officer showed considerable guts because they flipped seats normally safely held by Republicans who promise to come after both of them next year.
The strictly bipartisan impeachment vote is being mirrored in Virginia now that Democrats have taken control of the General Assembly. A number of conservative Republicans who had been running the legislative show for years have retired and the state GOP is in serious disarray.
Gov. Ralph Northam is pushing a big $135 billion budget that provides long-needed spending for mental health and education. The Trump fallout is fueling an atmosphere that will embolden Democrats to push ahead with such measures and raising Virginia’s ridiculously low cigarette tax. Continue reading
By Peter Galuszka
On Feb. 15, 1989, I was standing amid reporters and people waving red flags and holding flowers at the northern end of a metal bridge linking Uzbekistan with Afghanistan. A row of Soviet BTR armored personnel carriers streamed home as their crews waved and smiled.
These were the last troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, where the nearly 10-year war had killed about 15,000 Soviet troops and 2 million civilians. The Soviet Foreign Ministry badly wanted foreign correspondents to record the last of the withdrawals.
They chartered a plane to take us from Moscow to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. From there we went to a Soviet Air Force base where tough looking men loaded flares on the sides of gigantic cargo planes. They would shoot off the flares to distract U.S.-made Stinger missiles as they corkscrewed into Kabul.
Next on our trip was the small town of Termez where Russian helicopter gunships buzzed overhead. Near the bridge, was a parade ground covered with locals. I spoke with a teenage girl who said: “They’ve taken us out of school four times to practice this.”
The lesson was that Afghanistan is always going to be a remote quagmire. The British and Russian empires found that out in the 19th century and now the Americans are after a seemingly endless 18-year-long war that has left about 2,400 U.S. troops and more than 58,000 civilians dead. Continue reading
How “complete streets” helped revive a small town. Hopewell, best known for its kepone spill in the James River, is nobody’s idea of a progressive community. But perhaps it should be. The city of 22,000 is leading the way in designing bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly “complete streets,” writes Greater Greater Washington‘s Virginia correspondent. Three years after City Council committed to boost the health of its population by encouraging walking, outdoor recreation and nutritious food, its streetscape improvements have won a designation as a Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) platinum standard community. The shift to walkability has coincided with the creation of 25 new businesses downtown and 70 new jobs. Said Evan Kaufman, executive director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership: “Hopewell is one of those cities in which 10 years ago not many people had much hope for the future, but following Main Street and complete streets principles have changed the city in a way few people thought possible.”
Richmond’s fare skipper problem. By one measure, Richmond’s transit system is doing great: Ridership is up 15% since the launch of the Pulse Bus Rapid Transit system in June 2018. But lax enforcement on the transit line has lost revenue for the cash-strapped system, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The transit system, GRTC, cannot even quantify how prevalent fare skippers are. “Without an accurate fare evasion rate, GRTC may be unable to assess the severity of fare evasion and its financial impact,” states a new report from the Richmond city auditor. GRTC estimates that riders who evade the $1.50 fare account for 12% to 14% of the Pulse’s 5,400 average daily ridership. On paper, then, fare skippers account for some $360,000 a year in lost revenue. But who knows… if forced to pay their fares, how many would bother to take the Pulse in the first place?
Metro, Union strike contract deal. The Washington Metro has agreed to a four-year labor contract with its largest union. The transit agency will give up its strategy of privatizing some operations in exchange for… what… well, that’s not exactly clear, According to the Washington Post, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld moved to privatize several Metro operations in order to contain expenses and stay within a 3% cap on the annual growth in subsidies negotiated as a condition for a boost in financial support from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. ATU Union Local 689, with about 800 members, has been on strike, shutting down or reduce Metrobus routes used by about 8,500 riders daily. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Later this week the University of Virginia Board of Visitors will consider increasing tuition by 3% to 4% in the 2020-21 school year and jacking up fees between 3% to 6%. Here is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation showing the arguments and data that the administration presented the board in its November meeting.
As usual, the UVA administration blames tuition increases on declines in state support for higher education. “Responsibility for funding educational costs has shifted from the taxpayer to the student,” states one slide. “Increases in tuition have not kept pace with declines in general funds, leaving a gap of $3,648 per student in 2020-2021.”
While those numbers may justify tuition increases in previous decades — UVa bases its calculations on trends going back to 1990-91 — it overlooks the fact that between 2012 and 2018 (the latest year for which I could obtain data from UVa’s annual financial reports), state support increased by $20 million even while academic (non-hospital) spending increased by $511 million! (See support for these numbers here.) The state is to blame for higher tuition? Really? In what universe? Continue reading
Everything’s better with bacon!
By Peter Galuszka
It helps to have an influential father, especially if you are Peter Farrell.
The 36 year-old former Republican delegate and financial investor has been named to the Board of Visitors of Virginia Commonwealth University by Gov. Ralph Northam.
Northam, a Democrat, has accepted thousands of dollars in political donations from Thomas Farrell, Peter’s father, who heads Dominion Energy, which has also contributed to Northam.
There’s nothing especially wrong with young Farrell’s appointment although his age and relative inexperience might raise eyebrows. He served in the House of Delegates from Henrico County from 2012 to 2018 when he said he wanted to “retire” to spend more time with his family and investment business.
But there’s always been a whiff of inside baseball with him. According to a 2016 book by Richmond author Jeff Thomas, the way was cleared for Farrell’s ascendance into politics literally behind closed doors. Continue reading
Speaker-designate Eileen Filler-Corn, Fairfax. Photo credit: CNN
by Dick Hall-Sizemore
Both the RTD and Washington Post today reported on the new Speaker-to-be’s first committee chair appointments. (This is one of the real powers of the Speaker of the House of Delegates. He/she gets to make all committee appointments, including the chair of each committee.) The Post was a little more muted, but from the RTD’s headline, “3 members of Va. black caucus to lead House panels”, one would have thought the appointments were a surprise and part of a Democratic plan to give special perks to the black caucus. The chairman of the black caucus even weighed in by praising the “historic appointments.”
What would have been surprising would have been not appointing those members to the chairmanships. Each one is the Democratic delegate with the most seniority currently on the committee. So far, the new Speaker-to-be (herself certainly far from what a traditional Speaker has been) is going with tradition.
The Richmond-Times Dispatch reports today that Governor Northam will be leading a trade tour of the Middle East, beginning tomorrow. This is not unusual; governors routinely tour foreign countries talking up Virginia with government and private leaders in foreign countries.
However, the governor’s budget bill for the next biennium, the only budget that he will have complete control over (development and implementation) must be finished by about December 10, less than a month away, with the Thanksgiving holiday in there as well. Again, this is not unusual; other governors have scheduled their trade trips during the middle of November. This was frustrating for the budget writers in the Department of Planning and Budget because a lot of decisions had to be delayed until the Governor got back, thereby piling the work on the budget into the last few days before it had to be sent to the printer. Continue reading