How Virginia Would Fare Under President Biden, Part 1

By DJ Rippert

And then there were two. Today, Elizabeth Warren announced that she will withdraw from the presidential race. That leaves Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard (yes, she’s still running) as the remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination. Given that Tulsi Gabbard has exactly one delegate (from American Samoa where she was born), the odds of her prevailing are so low that the race can safely be considered a two- man contest. Two weeks ago Joe Biden’s campaign seemed deader than disco. Then came Super Tuesday. Now he’s the front runner.

It seems worthwhile, then, to consider how Biden’s announced policies would affect Virginia if he were elected president this November. Politico keeps an updated list of the candidates’ positions on the issues which you can see here. Politico records the candidates’ positions using fifteen categories. This blog post examines the first five categories — criminal justice, economy (excluding taxes which is a separate category), education, elections and energy (including the environment and climate change). The remaining ten categories will be examined in future articles.

A regular Joe? Biden’s stated positions are widely seen as more conventional, centrist and establishment-oriented than those of Bernie Sanders. While that’s true, Biden is till very much a “tax and spend” Democrat with announced plans to raise taxes by $4 trillion over 10 years. This would constitute the taking of an additional 1.5% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product for the federal government. Assuming state and local taxes remain a constant percentage of GDP, Biden’s plan would move the U.S. from 27.1% of GDP taken in taxes to 28.6%, putting us just ahead of Ukraine — one of the Biden family’s favorite places. Beyond raising taxes Biden has a variety of other ideas for change. Assuming he can get his ideas enacted into law by Congress (a big assumption), many of his plans would materially change life in Virginia.

Criminal justice. A long list of no’s. No capital punishment, no cash bail, no mandatory minimum sentences, no private prisons. These positions represent significant change for Virginia. For example, despite being a relatively small state, Virginia has executed the second most people since 1976. Virginia also has a number of private prisons.

Economy. Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 and mandate paid family and sick leave. If implemented all at once the minimum wage hike would significantly impact rural and small town Virginia causing job losses. Biden’s specific policies on paid leave are too high level to analyze.

Education. No for-profit charter schools, two years of free community college, forgiveness of student debt for people employed in public service for at least 10 years, and increased pay for teachers through increased Title I funding. Across America only 12% of all charter schools are for-profit and Virginia has less than one percent of its students enrolled in charter schools. No impact. Virginia’s community college system is poorly regarded in some polls without a single community college among the nation’s top 50 in other polls. “Free” tuition for community college is only useful if a state’s community colleges are high quality.

Based on the ratings, Virginia would need to “up its game” to take full advantage of the “free” tuition. For student debt reform the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program already does what Biden proposes to do. However, it has been badly implemented and is plagued by problems. Biden’s actual proposal is to fix this existing program. The irony of significantly increasing the scope of a federal government that can’t effectively operate the programs it already has in place is apparently lost on Mr. Biden. Increasing teacher pay — Virginia provides the 34th highest pay for teachers among the 50 states and D.C.  There has also been a whopping 9.7% decrease (adjusted for inflation) in average teacher pay since 2000. Anything the Federal government can do to blunt some of our state’s poor performance with regard to teachers’ salaries would be helpful.

Campaign finance. “Overturn” Citizens United decision. It’s hard to say how politicians think they can overturn a U.S. Supreme Court decision without a constitutional amendment, but Biden clearly thinks unlimited spending in politics should not be allowed. To the extent that Virginia’s Democratic Party majority in the General Assembly starts to listen to their national leaders on campaign finance reform this could be very beneficial to the Old Dominion.

Energy. Nukes are good, drilling for oil and gas on federal land is bad, carbon emissions should be taxed. A big net positive for Virginia where a lot of electricity is generated by nuclear power, offshore drilling will be blocked when Northam signs the new law and we are a relatively low per capita carbon emitter. Biden’s energy proposals would enhance Virginia’s competitive position vs. other states.

Stayed tuned for the next five categories — food & agriculture, gun control, health care and immigration.

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28 responses to “How Virginia Would Fare Under President Biden, Part 1

  1. Well…. at least he’s not Bernie Sanders.

    • That battle isn’t over yet. The Human Gaffe Machine could still do a face press on the way to the nomination. I thought about Virginia under Sanders but his plans are so wild that I couldn’t conceive of what a socialist America would mean to Virginia (or anywhere else for that matter).

  2. Biden, in a word, is boring. Really, really boring. That’s just the usual blather, DJ. Damn, another depressing choice in November.

    • If elected, Biden will get some of his major programs through Congress. They always do. Spoiler alert – the real issue is taxes (upcoming category). Between what our General Assembly has done, what Biden wants to do and the aging of wealthy Boomers – Virginia could easily see an accelerating out migration from the wealthy areas in the Urban Crescent – especially NoVa. The Son of Sam was boring too.

    • Steve says:

      “Biden, in a word, is boring. Really, really boring….Damn, another depressing choice in November.”


      “I’m all set for Bernie, communist,” he said. “And then we have this crazy thing that happened on Tuesday, which he thought was Thursday. But he also said 150 million people were killed with guns, and that he was running for the U.S. Senate — there’s something going on there.”

    • Plus now we all know for sure that not only is most of our news reported by the Mainstream media totally fake and made up, so too much of the political polling is America is totally unreliably, no better than the mainstream media fake news. Increasingly we inhabit a fake world. This is the result of all of our “experts.”

  3. Donald trump is not “boring” but he’s a horrible president

    • I tried to write a “low snark” column. Only took one semi-oblique shot at big government. I’ve been to Ukraine twice in the past year. Team Biden was eyeball deep in corruption no matter how hard they try to sweep it under the rug. There are many more skeletons in that man’s closet.

      There are moral arguments against Donald Trump that are valid – especially with regard to what he says and tweets. However, Virginia has generally prospered under President Trump. Whether America has prospered is a valid question but beyond the scope of this Virginia-based blog in my opinion.

    • But “not boring” can matter. Did you know Kent Jenkins when he worked in VA? (Pilot, Post). He had a saying: Always vote for good copy. You gotta admit the Donald has been good copy. He may have delayed the death of the WaPo, New York Lying Times and a few others.

      • I’m not convinced that Uncle Joe will stay boring. There are a lot of skeletons that will come out that will be excellent copy. There will be more where these came from ….

        I also suspect that Biden’s mental capacity has been significantly diminished by age. From the linked article …

        As the Washington Post delicately put it: “Biden got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony.”

        The main stream media may avoid questioning Biden’s past acts or present mental health but the Republican Party won’t be as kind. In my opinion, The Human Gaffe Machine will generate a lot of good copy.

        • Hard to tell what is a lie, what is a gaff and what is actually a ‘Senior moment’!
          As for Trump…I read a psychiatrist’s evaluation, just from actions taken, that said Trump is a ‘malignant narcissist’ … a real category in the psych books. Sounds accurate to me.

  4. Boring would be refreshing after the last three years.

    Thanks, Don, for this overview. I did not realize that Politico kept this scorecard.

    Now for my rejoinders:
    Criminal justice–all these proposals would apply to the federal criminal justice system; thereby having little impact on the state’s criminal justice system. And most criminal trials are in state courts. But, nevertheless, the positions he is proposing are where Virginia is or is heading:
    Death penalty: We still have it, but there is has been a long time since anyone was sentenced to death. The last executions were in 2017: the killer of the Harvey family in Richmond and the guy who killed a deputy sheriff in Montgomery County (?). DOC’s death row now has only two inmates.
    No Cash bail–Virginia is moving in this direction. The Crime Commission
    has been directed to study it this year.
    Mandatory minimum sentences–Northam has said that he would veto any bills containing a mandatory minimum sentence. However, there are still a lot of those now on the books.
    Private prisons–Virginia has two. One of those is Lawrenceville Correctional Center. The state owns the facility and contracts with a private company to run it. It must meet standards established by DOC and is monitored on-site by DOC. The warden participates in regional management meetings with DOC staff. The other one, near Farmville, is entirely private and has a contract with ICE to hold illegal immigrant detainees. Under Virginia law, it could not hold state inmates.

    Economy–Since Virginia is now moving toward a $15 minimum wage, the federal increase should not have any additional impact, unless it is not phased in.

    Education–There does not seem to be much radical here. I think he should be praised for the commitment to fix the implementation of the promise to forgive student debt for people who opt for public service. It is disgraceful how folks worked for low wages in public service for ten years only to be told that their student debt would not be forgiven because they signed up for the wrong option, under faulty advice, or missed some obscure form

    Campaign finance–I agree with you on being doubtful that the Citizens United decision can be overturned legislatively.

    • I was glad to read your reply. I hoped that the column would start a conversation about the candidates’ proposed policies.

      I disagree with you on minimum wage. The General Assembly, as I understand it, wants to phase in the increase and has provisions for geographical differences. I’m quite concerned that Biden will propose immediate action since that would go the furthest with the voters. I doubt there will be any sensitivity toward geography either. The low cost of living, rural and small town red areas of America can go pound sand if Biden is elected. If true, the job losses in rural and small town Virginia will be substantial. That will set off a chain reaction in Virginia whereby more money will have to be taken from the Urban Crescent to fund the rest of the state. At some point Northern Virginia will find itself in the same position as New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles – crowded, congested, expensive and highly taxed. People will leave, especially those with high incomes and expensive homes. New York will likely drop from 22 Congressional seats to 20 in 2022 when the results of the next census are applied to the elections that year. I see no reason whatsoever as to why Virginia won’t find itself in the same boat.

      An across the board, hasty rise in the federal minimum wage (along with a possible recession) will wreak havoc on Virginia.

      “It is disgraceful how folks worked for low wages in public service for ten years only to be told that their student debt would not be forgiven because they signed up for the wrong option, under faulty advice, or missed some obscure form.”

      Yep, the Federal government is often inept and always stubborn and resistant to change. Kind of makes me wonder why we need a bigger government at any level – local, state or federal. However, Biden should get credit for recognizing something broken and being willing to fix it.

      • I agree that any increase in the minimum wage should be phased in. I doubt if an increase in the minimum wage alone would have the dire results you forecast.

        • It one of the bills hung up in conference…..might die.

        • I agree. Minimum wages don’t make NoVa a traffic nightmare. Nor do they drive the General Assembly’s willingness to raise taxes – whether that comes in the form of a tax hike of just higher electricity bills. But rural Virginia is teetering on the economic edge right now – after 10+ years of national prosperity. When the 2008 – 2009 recession hit Virginia’s school funding formulae reduced the amount of money siphoned from Northern Virginia to be spent elsewhere in the state. The hue and cry from downstate was deafening. McDonnell decided to short change the state employee pension system rather than reduces the wealth transfer. What was it Margaret Thatcher said about eventually running out of other people’s money?

          • johnrandolphofroanoke

            I seem to remember Bob McDonnell returning the borrowed pension money plus interest at some point.

        • Ripper
          My children tell me that my mental capacity has diminished with age.

      • Northern Virginia will NOT find itself in the same position as position as New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.

        Those places, as high taxed as they may be, have some positive attributes that Northern Virginia does NOT have and NEVER WILL have.

        The positive attributes that Northern Virginia lacks were made up for by low taxes.

        Absent that, Northern Virginia doesn’t have much to recommend it…unless your life’s goal is to work for the Feds or be a Federal contractor. In which case you will stay until either you retire OR your last kid graduates high school and then you will leave.

    • Dick, one of the biggest downward pressures on wages for less-skilled workers is illegal immigration. Indeed, some economists believe that the recent uptick in wages at the bottom end stems from Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. The Democratic Party cares more about illegal immigrants than American workers. So does America’s self-appointed elite.

      • True. Supply, demand and price applies in the labor market just like anywhere else. I also wonder when I walk into an airport and see food ordering kiosks where I used to see waiters and waitresses, walk into a supermarket and see the self-checkout lines, drive through a toll gantry with my EZPass where there once was a human toll collector.

        I’m surprised that there have been no comments on Biden’s free community college proposal. That seems to me to be an idea worth discussing. Maybe 13 years of “free” public education isn’t sufficient anymore.

        • I would like to know more about how “free community college” would be implemented, since community colleges vary a lot among states, even within states. Instead of it being free, it would be better to expand federal student grant and loan programs, based on need, such as the Pell grants.

          • Jane Twitmyer

            Partially agree with you… but the argument has been made that graduating from high school is no longer enough to serve you in our much more complex world.

            Then there is the argument about brain development … it continue into the 20’s, so positively affecting that development sure sounds like it is worth it.

            How about free 2 year commuter college as an extension of our responsibility to educate our kids and put some emphasis on the skills that will be required for good jobs.

  5. I looks like I agree with Mr. Biden on at least one issue.

    I am 100% opposed to privately owned and/or operated prisons.

    Dealing with crimes and criminals is one of the few powers/responsibilities which I think should be completely within the purview of the state.

    • I don’t really understand the case against private prisons – other than at a high level. It’s not really a big issue in Virginia since we don’t have a lot of prisoners in private prisons.

      One thing I should have mentioned about Biden’s proposed policies – I expect them to become Democratic Party standards if he’s elected. Given the Democratic trifecta in the statehouse and the fact that no state election will occur between now and the next General Assembly session in 2021 I think a lot of Biden’s ideas will be taken up at the state level (in 2021) if he is elected this November.

  6. There are basically two objections to private prisons. First is the philosophical objection that justice should not be administered by someone with a profit motive. The second objection flows from the first. Because private prison companies need to maximize profits, they will cut corners on expenses where possible. Generally, corrections officers at private prisons are lower paid those at publicly operated prisons, who are generally low-paid themselves. Private prisons will generally have fewer corrections officers (less expense). All of this contributes to high turnover and poorer security. Also, there have been reports of poorer living conditions in private prisons. Finally, long-term experience has shown that the purported savings from private prisons has not materialized.

    As for their profit levels, there have been ups and downs. What has saved them has been the federal government detaining illegal immigrants. ICE is probably the biggest customer of the two major private prison companies.

    More details can be found here:

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