by James A. Bacon
Democrats may or may not be poised to take control of the Virginia General Assembly. Steve Haner, who knows infinitely more about Virginia politics than I do, thinks Republicans have a shot at retaining their majorities. But from my untutored perspective, all signs point to a big Democratic win this fall. A return of state governance to the Democrats has very different implications today than it would have, say, 20 years ago. This is not the party of Jerry Baliles, Doug Wilder or even Mark Warner (back when he governed the state as a moderate). The Dems have moved far to the left and, as I opined recently, issues that were never issues before now are.
A case in point: A Virginia Chamber of Commerce survey of state lawmakers has found that a majority of Democratic lawmakers say they oppose the state’s right-to-work law.
Dozens of Democratic candidates skipped the question or did not respond to the Chamber’s annual survey. But a majority answered, and all but three candidates in the House of Delegates and four in the Senate said they did not support the law. Most of the candidates who made that pick were either incumbents in safe Democratic districts or challengers with no legislative record. Continue reading
As a life-long resident of Virginia for seven decades (there, I have said it), I have seen many changes. Occasionally, reminders of these changes are especially striking. One of those stark reminders occurred about 10 years ago. I was sitting in on a General Assembly committee meeting in which the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court gives sort of an annual report to the legislature. The Chief Justice at the time was Leroy Hassell, the first black chief justice. It suddenly hit me: Wow! The Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, an imposing black man! Virginia has really come a long way over the last 30-40 years.
I just finished a remarkable book that brought more reminders. The book is We Face the Dawn: Oliver Hill, Spotswood Robinson, and the Legal Team That Dismantled Jim Crow by Margaret Edds. The author combines the best of two worlds: thorough and detailed scholarly research and the writing of a journalist. Continue reading
Neo-Nazies on the loose. I’ve been highly critical of Attorney General Mark Herring for spinning state crime statistics to imply that there has been a surge in white supremacist hate crimes in Virginia. But that’s not to say there aren’t hateful white supremacists residing in the the state. The Daily Beast describes how an FBI crackdown on the so-called “Atomwaffen Division,” which it describes as a “homicidal neo-Nazi guerilla organization,” has netted criminal charges against two alleged members of the group’s Virginia cell. In June, the FBI arrested Brian Patricks Baynes, of Fairfax, on gun possession charges. And in September, the bureau arrested 21-year-old Andrew Jon Thomasberg, of McLean. The white-supremacist threat is real, and it must be taken seriously. But let’s not blow that threat out of proportion.
The Staunton Miracle. Rural Virginia may be in an economic funk, but Virginia’s smaller metros seem to be holding up pretty well. The Staunton/Waynesboro labor market has the lowest unemployment rate of any in the state — 2.5%, according to August 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by the News Leader. Next lowest: Charlottesville and Winchester at 2.6%, Harrisonburg at 2.7%, and Roanoke at 2.8%. Among major metros, Richmond is the lowest at 2.9%. We hear all the time — and I have perpetuated this narrative — that most of the jobs are going to the big metros. Is this true? We can’t tell from unemployment data alone. We also need to look at job creation, under-employment and workforce-participation rates. Regardless, it’s good to see that almost everyone who wants a job in small-metro Virginia seems to have one.
A voice for the voiceless. The Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, a former sponsor of this blog, is making progress toward building Virginia’s first coalition to address the affordability crisis in higher education. The Virginia College Affordability Policy Council met last week to discuss solutions to problems of affordability and workforce readiness. Co-chairs include James V. Koch, former president of Old Dominion University, and Brett A. Vassey, president of the Virginia Manufacturers Association. The group has recruited a wide range of businesses and trade associations as members. You can view Koch’s presentation here.
Tom Barkin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
by James A. Bacon
A couple of days ago I lamented that the purveyors of the “conventional wisdom” at a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond conference on rural development had little new or insightful to offer. I must offer a partial retraction. A friend has forwarded to me a speech by bank President Tom Barkin. While most of the points he made were familiar, some were new to me — and, hey, I figure if they’re new to me, someone who has been tracking rural development issues for some 30 years, they’re probably new to many others.
In that speech, “Moving the Needle in Rural Communities,” Barkin discusses the disappearance of “anchor institutions” in rural communities such as banks, hospitals and colleges. I’ve discussed the closure of rural hospitals on this blog, but always in the context of the rural health care crisis, never the rural economic crisis. I’ve also written about the travails of small, private liberal arts colleges, but, again, only in the context of higher education affordability, never the rural economic crisis. And, frankly, it never occurred to me to write about the disappearance of banks. However, the concept of anchor institutions seems to be a useful one for understanding rural economic health, and their continued erosion is a worrisome trend.
So, here’s what Barkin had to say: Continue reading
By Peter Galuszka
Sound the klaxon horn at Bacon’s Rebellion! More DARK MONEY is coming to pollute the state’s glorious electoral process.
Emily’s List, a PAC supporting female Democratic candidates, has announced that it is planning on donating an extra $1.5 million to help flip the GOP-controlled Virginia General Assembly.
Along with another $600,000 Emily’s List gift made jointly with Priorities USA, the money is the largest single investment the PAC has ever made in an individual state’s legislative elections, according to WTOP Radio of Washington.
Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said the races are underfunded and the funds should help 39 women running in Virginia’s off-year elections flip the General Assembly.
That’s not all. According to The Washington Post, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D. 2nd) has created a committee to raise $228,000 to match the same amount raised by Republicans to fight her reelection next year. The reason for the GOP largesse? Luria, along with U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th), had the unmitigated gall to sign a letter in the Post of several Members of Congress with defense or intelligence calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump (not a bad idea in my book). Luria is a retired Navy commander and Spanberger was a covert officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. Continue reading
Source: JLARC October 7 report on state spending over time, in this case a decade of sustained economic growth with no recession.
By Steve Haner
Every year, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issues a report looking at ten years of state spending, sliced and diced various ways. In recent years, the headline results have largely been surprisingly consistent and the 2019 report issued Monday fit the pattern. As seen before:
- Medicaid program costs lead the charge, exploding almost 19% in one year due to the expansion that started January 1, 2019, even though the fiscal year was one-half over by then. It went from $10 billion to $11.9 billion. The average annual growth over the decade has exceeded 7% and $600 million.
- Keeping up with Medicaid, and exceeding it in some categories, are the various forms of transportation spending. In the decade since the base year of the report, fiscal year 2010, Virginia has passed both statewide and regional transportation tax increases, and various toll projects have been completed – all flowing through the state’s books.
- The third budget element that has seen major growth is higher education, with the vast majority of the new money coming from tuition, fees and auxiliary operations at the state schools, not state tax dollars. When all the schools are lumped together, their spending growth is right in line with the other two mega programs, and the higher education totals push past the growth in state funds transferred for local public schools. Local public schools don’t charge tuition and fees they can raise at will.
- Virginia’s general economic performance lagged the national average for the entire decade, with average annual gross domestic product growth of 1.4% (versus 2.2% nationally), per capita income growth of 2.8% (versus 3.4% nationally) and labor force growth of 0.9% (versus 1.5% nationally.) The GDP is adjusted for inflation.
by Bill Tracy
I am pleased to report that Robin Hood is alive and well in Virginia! Most taxpayers are now receiving a state tax rebate courtesy Governor Ralph Northam and the General Assembly. Eligible taxpayers may receive up to $110 for individual filers and up to $220 for a married couple filing jointly.
But, hey, wait one minute! Where the heck is all of this “income redistribution” cash coming from? Taxpayers like me, of course, had their state taxes increased substantially. If you will recall, about a year ago, Gov Northam was saying that some Virginia taxpayers have been underpaying taxes, and he aimed to fix that by increasing them.
Who were these deadbeat Virginia taxpayers? Some are senior citizens like me who have committed the “crime” of not having enough itemized deductions to meet the new higher Federal standard deduction. As senior citizens, my wife and I now have to come up with $26,600 of itemized deductions or suffer the consequences of Virginia’s new tax bite. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The Van Kesteren family, owner of Van Kesteren Farms in Accomack County, wants to build solar panels on 180 acres as a way to supplement the income from its farming operations. But the price tag for connecting to the regional grid is posing a major barrier.
The estimate for connecting to the Eastern Shore electric grid has increased from $3-4 million in March 2017 to $26.5 million today, according to an article in Energy News Network. The article focuses mainly on the Van Kesteren family’s thwarted ambitions, as made clear by the sub-head: “An Eastern Shore farming family is frustrated that its solar project is at the mercy of the local utility and grid operator.”
But the story illustrates a broader story regarding a critical and often overlooked aspect of solar-power economics: how some proposed locations for solar farms can be rendered uncompetitive by high interconnection costs. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Virginia stopped being a red state a decade or two ago. Despite a Democratic sweep of all statewide elections (U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general), one could maintain the pretense that Virginia is a “purple” state thanks to a Republican-dominated General Assembly. But it has been long apparent that Republican control will end with the 2019 elections. As further evidence for that proposition, as if any were needed, now comes a new Wason Center for Public Policy poll.
Key finding: Democrats lead Republicans by 13% on the generic ballot test among likely voters 40% to 36%. Ds have a strong advantage over Rs in voter enthusiasm: 62% to 49%. More Dems than Republicans say they “definitely” will vote” than either Republicans or Independents. As a general rule, polls are decreasingly trustworthy, but the Democratic advantage is so overwhelming that it cannot all be attributed to implicit bias in the polling methodology.
Come January Democrats will control all statewide offices and the General Assembly. Virginia, we now can say, is the southernmost Northern state — Maryland with a larger rural hinterland. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
What Was Lost Is Found Again. Couldn’t they wait at least another few weeks? Anybody foolish enough to believe that Dominion Energy Virginia and the Virginia Democratic Party establishment have really parted ways (as Jim Bacon seemed to think a while back), take note of this from today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch: Governor Ralph Northam’s new communications director, Grant Neely, is totally plugged into the Dominion Energy/Richmond’s Navy Hill/Mark Warner and Bob Blue nexus. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but certain Democrats just about any time you want.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
The P in PJM Now Joining RGGI. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has signed an executive order that his state should be the next to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. According to this from The Philadelphia Inquirer, the executive order route comes after being rebuffed by the legislature. It is a strong first step but not a done deal, with litigation one possible route for opponents. Virginia’s on-hold membership will likely be determined by the General Assembly elected next month.
Duke Energy solar farm
by James A. Bacon
The surge in solar power production in North Carolina has caused an increase in nitrogen oxide (NOx), a serious air pollutant, North Carolina’s Duke Energy has concluded. Without changes to state regulatory policy, according to a report by North State Journal, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions also could increase.
These counter-intuitive findings stem from the fact that solar power is an intermittent source of power, which must be offset by on-again, off-again generation from fossil fuel sources, primarily natural gas. The on-and-off cycling of power stations leads to inefficient combustion and higher NOx emissions. The effect on CO2 emissions is less clear, although utility officials raised the prospect of a “slight increase” in CO2 at the plant level under certain conditions.
I have no idea if Duke’s conclusions will stand up to close scrutiny. For sure, they will be attacked by those who are committed to intermittent renewable energy sources at any cost. But the debate in North Carolina is highly relevant to Virginia. North Carolina has the largest installed base of solar power of any state outside of California. But Virginia is adding solar capacity rapidly, and the Northam administration has set a goal of attaining a zero-carbon electric grid by 2050.
Let me be very clear. I am not advocating a dial-back in Virginia’s commitment to solar. But I do say, if we are going to aggressively expand our reliance upon an intermittent energy source, we need to know what we’re getting into. Continue reading
By Peter Galuszka
Part buffoon, part populist, state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, has for years represented white resentment against modern times, Tea Party-style.
She’s picked up on every bad feeling out there and amplified it, including pent-up anger against minorities, immigrants, government workers, women’s rights and gun control advocates and more.
She’s had a weekly radio show, “Cut to the Chase” in her home Chesterfield County where she vented her views.
When the Senate considered ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment passed decades ago, she strapped on a .38 revolver on her right hip, sashayed to the podium and pronounced it “My personal ERA.”
To be sure, Chase did some things right. She blocked Dominion when it tried to push its way to dispose of coal ash waste on its terms. Then she stumbled. She got into a pointless verbal battle with a Capitol police officer, who happened to be African-American, about where she can park. She annoyed female voters by implying that rape can somehow be their own fault. Her campaign material said she’s not afraid to “shoot down gun groups” in a state where worries about gun control are the No. 1 concern. Then she insulted Sheriff Karl Leonard, a fellow GOP candidate, by saying he had let Chesterfield become “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants. The untruthfulness of the comment was too much for the county GOP, which booted her on Sept. 30.
Chase is still running for the 11th Senate seat against Democrat Amanda Pohl who has seriously out-raised her in political funds. Chase could still win in November, but the events represent a turning point. Continue reading
Declining geographic mobility. Graph credit: McKinsey Global Institute
by James A. Bacon
A recurring question on this blog and elsewhere is why don’t more Americans (and rural Virginians) move to areas of greater economic opportunity? Why do they remain stuck in communities with high unemployment and low wages? Americans have always moved to economic opportunity in the past. What’s different now?
Those questions give rise to another set of questions. If people refuse to budge, should the rest of society take pity on them and subsidize their choice to stay put? As Don Rippert commented in a previous post, “The best thing the state can do is issue relocation vouchers to rural residents.”
The authors of a McKinsey Global Institute report, “The Future of Work in America,” tackles the geographic-mobility question. The biggest factor, they suggest, is the vast and growing gap in the cost of living between prospering cities and lagging communities. “Variations in the cost of living — and particularly in housing costs — are a clear contributing factor holding back geographic mobility in the United States. The cities offering the greatest job opportunity also happen to be expensive places to live.” Continue reading
Image credit: Virginia Tech
Billion dollar baby. You know Virginia Tech has made the big time when its projects hit the $1 billion mark. That’s how much Tech’s innovation campus in Alexandria, which is tied to Amazon’s HQ project, will ultimately cost. The first phase, a 300,000-square-foot academic building, will cost a mind-bending $275 million, reports the Washington Business Journal. (If it’s any consolation, that figure does include the cost of furniture.) Eventually, the campus will total 1 million square feet of space, including incubator space for new startups, offices for industry collaboration, and convening space for alumni events as well as ground-floor retail “knitting the campus into the fabric of Alexandria.”
VCU R&D Hits Record. Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia’s third-ranked research university, raised a record $310 million in sponsored research funding in fiscal year 2019, reports Virginia Business. The number represents a 14.6% increase from the previous year. The top recipient was the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, which will launch a five-year study predicting outcomes of government regulations of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Enrollment up at UVa and W&M. Fall 2019 enrollment numbers are coming in for public universities, and the news is good — at least for the top-tier institutions, according to this Forbes magazine tally. Here in the Old Dominion, the University of Virginia reports a first-year class size of 3,920 students, an increase of 80. Despite aggressive tuition increases in recent years, the College of William & Mary reports anticipated enrollment holding steady around 1,540, down only six students from the previous year. So far, falling college enrollments have hit mainly community colleges and small liberal-arts institutions.
Projected job growth by 2030. (Darker colors indicate faster job growth). Source: McKinsey Global Institute. Click for larger image.
by James A. Bacon
A handful of megacities have captured a majority of U.S. job growth since the Great Recession and could win 60% of job growth through 2030, according to a July McKinsey Global Institute report. A middle tier of “stable” metropolitan areas and thriving niche cities will continue to see job growth, though at a more modest rate than the megacities, while the bottom tier of lagging metros and rural areas will see only marginal growth, if any.
The differential rates of job growth will be driven in part of the next wave of automation, which will displace many office-support, food-service, manufacturing, and customer-service jobs, while a dynamic economy creates more jobs in healthcare, STEM fields, business services, and work requiring personal interaction, says the report, “The Future of Work in America: People and Places, Today and Tomorrow.” “While there could be positive net job growth at the national level, new jobs may not appear in the same places. The challenge will be in addressing local mismatches and help workers gain new skills.”
If McKinsey’s “midpoint” job projections are close to the mark, the Washington metropolitan area will continue to dominate job growth in Virginia, while “stable” metros like Richmond and Hampton Roads will contribute to a lesser degree. The Shenandoah Valley and Roanoke-Lynchburg area will see marginal growth, and the rest of the state negative job growth.
These conclusions put a filigree on what everyone already knows about the challenges facing rural Virginia. What, then, is to be done? McKinsey offers some general strategies for adapting to our brave new world that sound remarkably similar to what I had to say in yesterday’s blog post about rural development. And I quote: Continue reading