Governance Reform for the Tobacco Commission

Two decades later, and still looking for an economic replacement.
Two decades later, and still looking for an economic replacement.

This is the year for governance reform. Not only will the General Assembly tighten up state ethics laws and consider proposals to strengthen the autonomy and transparency of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, legislators are proposing an overhaul of the way the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission does business.

A 2011 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that the $756 million the tobacco commission had spent had only a marginal impact on Southside and Southwest Virginia, tobacco-growing regions whose economies the spending was supposed to diversify.

Now Governor Terry McAuliffe has backed a set of proposals by Republican lawmakers, including commission chair Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, to make the organization more accountable. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, proposals include:

  • Establishing an online database of all awards;
  • Reviewing all loans, grants and distributions of money by a “viability manager” such as the Virginia Resources Authority.
  • Adopting a strategic plan every two years to set priorities, measurable goals and quantifiable outcomes.
  • Reducing the number of commission members from 31 to 25;
  • Setting a requirement that 60% of commission members have an expertise in business, economic development, investment banking, finance or education.

Bacon’s bottom line:

 I’m not sure that anything can take the politics and favoritism out of the dispensation of tobacco commission dollars, but these proposals seem to be a modest step toward more transparency and accountability. So, that’s good.

Alas, the problems of Southside and Southwest Virginia are far bigger than these modest reforms can address. Traditional economic development strategies will not transform the region. The commission needs to underwrite some radical experiments with the venture capital-like mentality that, while most likely will fail, a handful might open up previously unimagined possibilities. The proposed reforms are likely to reinforce group-think, however, and that’s not good.

—  JAB

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12 responses to “Governance Reform for the Tobacco Commission”

  1. I don’t understand why it can’t be done like the Lottery is. The lottery money has not become a corrupt slush fund..

    The Tobacco Commission should be totally restricted to 1. health care clinics in economically-depressed Va and 2. Community college grants to kids who qualify for Community College but lack finances.

    this does not have to be what it is right now. It can be something that helps Virginians..

    We have no shortage of politicians who blather on incessantly about putting fuel tax money into a “lockbox”.

    Why not this?

  2. making them provide online information about their spending is not a “modest” thing.

    Such sunlight will send the good-for-nothings running for cover.

    you worry about 460 which needs some sunshine also – but this problem is directly reflective of the way the General Assembly and it’s leadership have chosen to do business.

    This is not an accidental “oops”. This is a purposeful intent to set up and maintain a corrupt system. Do not sugar-coat this as an unfortunate mistake. The same guys running around yammering about a lock box for transportation and reforming PPTA – knew about this all along and have chosen to ignore it while piously claiming they want to “reform” …

    there might be some honest folks in Richmond – but it’s also clear there are a bunch of others who could care less about the Tobacco Commission unless it gets splattered in the media.

    I find it just atrocious when these guys talk about lockboxes and ethics and reform and they pretend the tobacco commission is off the table.

  3. I think it’s fascinating after all the “Terry McAuliffe is a political rent seeker” babbling we are seeing more movement on ethics and transparency in his first year in office than we saw in the prior ten.

    1. Well the guy walks and talks like a car salesman – no disrespect to readers here that might be car salesmen!

      and never, never ever never say that just because he looks good now that he won’t blow up later – aka McDonnell!

      and the more I think about McDonnell – the more that riles me up is not only the Jonnie Williams stuff the just corrupt way the Mansion Chef was told to recover his costs from a catered event he provided.

      Telling him to take food out of the Mansion as in-kind payment for his catering was just beyond the pale.

      and back to McAuliffe – he better be clean as a whistle because Virginians are not in any mood for more of the same – and the GOP critters are in the wings waiting to pounce at the first whiff of impropriety!

      I admit – I had very low expectations for McAuliffe .. I was just praying that we did not end up with Cucinelli who just seemed so hard right that we’d not get any real governance accomplished just more anti-abortion crappola and further investigations into UVA Climate stuff and who knows what else unproductive right popular hard right shiny objects.

  4. wesghent Avatar

    It is a shame that so many citizens comment that they hold the Virginia General Assembly in low regard. I have watched the GA as an adult for about 60 years, and I can say it’s never been so poorly regarded by the people of Virginia as today.
    The criminal convictions of the former governor, Robert McDonnell, and his wife, have dealt a huge blow to our collective pride in the Commonwealth. Many of us ordinary citizens — folks who lead quiet, law-abiding, mundane lives — have little understanding of how corruption and misuse of public office occurs and continues. We tend to believe what we have been taught in school and college: i.e., that elected officials generally will do the right thing in the discharge of their duties. But even the Tobacco Commission gets abused and bent to the purposes of a few of the politically connected.
    More and more today, we see that ethical and moral behavior are not practiced by elected officials. They put their own self-interests first and are often influenced by people and corporations who simply have the money and are determined to get their own way. A news report states, “Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Richmond, convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, won re-election to the House of Delegates in a special election Jan. 13, 2015, while incarcerated in Henrico County jail.” Almost unbelievable.
    Such lack of self-discipline and unlawful behavior has occurred in both parties in Virginia, and it has defamed the Virginia Way, which was historically a belief in honest approaches to government, despite occasional blunders on both partisan sides.
    The way out of this dismal swamp? The General Assembly can begin by demonstrating self-control: put an end to taking gifts from whatever source in any amount — Zero, zilch. That’s a very tough pill to swallow, but it’s the only way back to credibility. It will take character and self-discipline — qualities we ordinary citizens expect from our elected officials. It will also attract national approval and perhaps restore the Virginia Way.
    As Harry Truman might have said, “If you must have the gifts, get out of public office.” And as for Governor McAuliffe, he’s looking ok, even if there’s not much good to compare him with in the past administration; turnarounds are made one step at a time.

    1. there’s an interesting article this morning in the Daily Press:

      Former Del. Phil Hamilton says feds target Virginia politicians

      I can generate a very small amount of sympathy for him but his overall attitude is that what he did was misunderstood and he intended no corruption – it just looked “bad”.

      he’s convinced he was wrongly convicted.. go read

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    A KILGORE proposal? Is this a joker?

  6. wesghent Avatar

    I emailed with P Hamilton for a year or more, before his major offense was brought to light. I almost begged him to support regionalism, from Va Bch to Wmsburg, and set aside his unfair bias against SoHampt Roads. He always replied negatively, once apologized, and never got my point of “we’re all in the regional fight together: unite!” Little did we know that he would eventually seek to feather his own nest over here at ODU! I’ll read this new piece, but nothing washes away old-fashioned self-seeking in politics. Hamilton was arrogant: he never accepted mild criticism, and those within 50 miles of him knew it, and still do. Serve on!
    P.S. Daily Press wants a fee to read; no can do.

  7. wesghent Avatar

    The Virginian-Pilot today is running an editorial, “Avoiding bad deals for transportation,” stating, “On some of the biggest initiatives of his tenure, McDonnell’s administration failed to perform reasonable due diligence, opting instead to risk taxpayer dollars by pushing toward an outcome, all while hoping necessary pieces would somehow fall miraculously in place.” Not exactly calling a spade outright, but at least implying that McDonnell and his key people (Connaughton is named too) did sloppy work, favored firms with insider influence, and cost the taxpayers of Virginia MILLIONS of dollars when budget money was supposed to be tight. There was a lack of redeeming qualities in these folks’ attitudes or performance. But in the face of these somewhat soft-ball delivered facts, there continues to be a procession of politicians and prelates who want to testify publicly that Bob McDonnell was a good man who made a few mistakes, and that he shouldn’t have to serve time for the crimes for which he was convicted. It’s a pity that he and his close associates like Connaughton cannot be brought into a court of law and required to testify under oath about the “bad deals for transportation” that they drew up and entered into, some of which continue to harass ordinary people each day of their lives: Elizabeth River tunnel tolls come immediately to mind, here in Norfolk and Portsmouth.
    One message is, If a corporation gets a deal like that — no matter how wrong it is or how many folks it penalizes — it will stay on the books and penalize innocent people every day. How do you change a bad law? Search me.
    Given this scenario, how can we hope to model good government for our young people, let alone teach respect for the law in the public schools?
    “How can they charge those unfair tolls, Dad?” as young folks may ask; “Well, son, I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
    Is that the Virginia Way?

    1. Jim had a previous post on US 460 and a little of who did what and who shot john in it….

      but I did want to point out that the US 460 was no flushed and, in fact, is still alive and re-configured.

      I guess there might be some opinions about how viable the reconfiguration is – as a PPTA or not…

      but the point is – that such a re-configuration – was also an option for Connaughton and McDonnell that would have – probably kept it from
      become a high-profile, psuedo-scandal.

      VDOT has taken similar approaches with other controversial projects – like the Cville bypass ..

      so the obvious question is – why did the McDonnell folks insist on pushing so hard with so little flexibility for compromise.. just turning it into an all or nothing proposition – that ultimately blew up in their face?

      that strikes me as questionable in terms of judgement – aside from the merits of the project or it’s financing.

      why turn it into something so high risk and failure splatters it across the public conscious and encourages those who want to go back and find who the miscreants were?

      I don’t have an answer for confidence in govt (or our institutions) these days.

      they never were perfect, always had flaws and always will – as will many non-govt corporations and even NGOs.

      what’s changed is the fire and ferociousness of the folks I call anti-govt who now use every falter as proof of 1. govt incompetence and 2. things govt should not be doing and 3. things the private sector should be doing (as if the private sector doesn’t screw up also …

      so govt an most of our institutions are now under relentless attack.. by critics – who themselves – really have no better alternatives or have such cockamamie alternatives that’s it’s a joke.

      VDOT screws up plenty. But VDOT also plows your roads and makes sure your traffic signals work – properly – and fixes potholes and makes sure the shoulders and ditches are kept in reasonable condition.

      building new location roads is always a high wire act.. there are so many ways it can blow up… anyhow.

      I still think the “blame” for US 450 ACE permits lies somewhere in the bowels of VDOT -and Connaughton was not driving the bus by himself.

  8. lifelongnova88 Avatar

    Young reader here (username tells all you need to know). I attended Boys State VA at Liberty University (what an unusual school, btw) while in high school, and had some interesting talks from down-state legislators about the disparity between the regions…this blog has done a good point of reiterating those differences.

    Wouldn’t the most productive use of the tobacco largess be to give every Southside resident under the age of 35 a one-way first-class plane ticket to any metropolitan area in the United States with an unemployment rate of less than 6%, with the stipulation that x% of their wages be sent back to their parents and grandparents? It’d be cheaper than state assistance, and it would provide a better opportunity for the young adults to have better careers.

    Actually, growing up I never even knew that downstate had this pot of discretionary funding. Has any of the spending had any lasting benefits? And when will the money run out?

    The money should be spent on scholarships and migration to high-earning regions of the US.

  9. jalbertbowden Avatar

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