Note: video starts at 4:50
by DJ Rippert
Northam fiddles. As a resurgence of COVID-19 spreads across Europe and the United States, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam held a press conference ostensibly to discuss the pandemic. The presser provided little new information about the coronavirus or Virginia’s plans to combat the disease. Northam did review statistics from the five health regions around the state but failed to provide any new guidance for Southwest Virginia where cases are spiking and the positivity rate has reached 8%. Northam’s useful advice was to wear masks, maintain social distance and wash your hands regularly. Continue reading
by DJ Rippert
Stepping back. Over the past five months there has been an unending flood of information, guesses, misinformation and politicized ramblings about COVID-19. Various factions put forth their experts and cherry picked data to support their agendas. It’s time to step back and synthesize all that has been written into a set of common sense observations and preliminary conclusions about COVID-19.
The virus isn’t going anywhere. Even the most aggressive attempts to contain the Coronavirus will not eradicate the virus. The spread can be slowed and the curve can be flattened but the infections continue and the outbreaks resurge. After a catastrophic bout with Coronavirus in the spring Spain thought it had the contagion under control. The country reopened in what the Spanish thought was a sober and controlled way. Today, cases are spiking – particularly in the Catalan region. In the San Francisco Bay area of California strict lockdown protocols were implemented. The tide seemed to have turned. Reopening commenced. Now, many bay area counties are seeing a spike in Coronavirus. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
If the overall case fatality rate for COVID-19 is 4 tenths of one percent, as the Centers for Disease Control just estimated, then perhaps 300,000 Virginians have or have had the disease. That’s working the math backwards from the 1,200 Virginia deaths reported so far.
The chart below snipped from the CDC’s report shows four possible scenarios and the fifth column is marked “most likely” case fatality rate. As we all now know, age is the key factor, and the death rate for persons 65+ is the highest, perhaps as high as 3.2%. But the CDC thinks most likely it is 1.3% in that group, and as low as 0.05% for those under 50 (5 deaths in 10,000 infections). Continue reading
By Steve Haner
More often than not, the suspense in an election is over long before the polls open. That is the case with the two primary contests which will require me to sit in a polling place all day on June 23. The expected losers should just drop out now and save us all the risk.
The precinct where I work has both a Republican and a Democratic contest scheduled, which will require my co-workers and me to be at the polling station from 5 a.m. until 8 p.m. Based on what happened in the local elections yesterday, it will mostly be voting from cars – in a location with very little parking. Continue reading
(Photo credit RTD)
“Mara, you call Haner back. He’s really gonna be pissed he can’t come in Monday.”
Somebody has to explain to me how my getting a haircut in downtown Richmond Monday posed a threat to city residents, city residents who will now be crowding into the barber shops and salons of nearby Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover County. The same city residents who can and will by the thousands visit stores, patio restaurants and other business in those localities, often just yards from the city line. Mayor Levar Stoney’s unilateral decision had nothing to do with infection control and will accomplish nothing. SDH
By Steve Haner
Originally published in the May 3 Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star and then distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.
Just as COVID-19 was starting its destruction of the world’s economy in early March, the Virginia General Assembly took final action on an exuberant two-year state budget within shouting distance of $140 billion. Six weeks later at the Reconvened Session, with the economic damage obvious but not yet measured, the Assembly reaffirmed the same spending plan. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
The latest complaint against the Northam Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is failing to provide adequate state tax relief. The complaint comes from the Tax Foundation and surfaced in a news report in Wednesday’s Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has now chimed in with an editorial.
Apparently most other states have matched the new (and temporary) federal income tax filing deadline of July 15 rather than April 15. Virginia has delayed the deadline for paying any taxes still owed for 2019 from May 1 to June 1. But the 2019 income tax returns are still due on May 1, and the common complaint is that since Virginia taxes are based on your federal adjusted gross income, you need to know your federal AGI figure to file.
“Virginia has done the least to help taxpayers with delayed filings or delayed payments than any other state,” said Jared Walczak, director of state tax policy with the Tax Foundation.
Walczak said although Virginia requires that state tax returns be filed by May 1, the payment deadline has been extended until June 1. But even with an extension on tax payments, Walczak said interest starts to accrue on the amount you owe.
“Virginia is the only state in the nation that is doing that,” said Walczak. “Everywhere else, there is at least some relief on both filing and payment deadlines.”
By Steve Haner
When I’m wrong, I should rush to admit it. The concerns expressed by others on this blog that the Northam Administration was failing to recognize the financial aspects to the COVID-19 pandemic were valid. The person exhibiting wishful thinking was me, with my assumption they were already acting.
That’s because they just acted, with an executive order to state agencies to freeze hiring, tighten spending and otherwise batten down the fiscal hatches for a storm. “We can expect to enter a recession soon,” Chief of Staff Clark Mercer writes in a four-page memo quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Wrong. The economy has been in recession for a month. A month. The concern now is a depression.
Mercer said the state expects “significantly less revenue” than the most pessimistic forecast Northam’s economic and revenue advisory councils considered last fall and reduced cash balances at the end of this fiscal year that will carry into the next two-year budget and require cuts in spending.
“Our intention is not to cut the budget in the short term, but decisions will depend on how much revenue comes in,” he said.
Wrong again. The state will be slashing the budget as never before, and the Governor should have started the process weeks ago. One can only hope, and it may be a forlorn one, that agency financial managers saw the clouds and acted on their own. If the Governor’s people are only now getting serious about the amendments to the budget due in seven days, shame. Continue reading
By Steve Haner
A week after the March 3 Democratic presidential primary I was sick, probably with a cold but I had to wonder. No fever developed and patent medicines got me through. But it could have been COVID-19 after checking in hundreds of voters in the Maple Street Firehouse.
There is no way I’m repeating that activity on June 9. Thank you, Governor Ralph Northam, for saving me from having to abandon the other nice folks who work that precinct. Even if we are on the infection down slope, holding a primary that day is a risk we don’t need to impose on those volunteers.
Republican officials exploded when the stay at home directive was advanced to June 10. A statement released by the Republican Party of Virginia whined:
“… the timeline seems all too convenient,” said RPV Chairman Jack Wilson. “We ask that Governor Northam show us the data that led to his decision. It is not our opinion that the Governor is purposefully engaging in voter suppression, but an explanation would help to mitigate any concerns.”
Did my statement mitigate your concerns, Jack? I bet thousands of poll workers feel the same way.
Let’s drop the debate over which elected official or cabinet agency is more hapless and focus on some truly clueless people – this state’s all but dead Republican Party. Yesterday the state party certified three candidates to run June 9 seeking the nomination against Senator Mark Warner, D-Virginia. Don’t look at the story yet, can you name one of them? I cannot. And I would love to see somebody give Warner a race. People forget how close Ed Gillespie came to beating Mark-not-John six years ago. Continue reading
By DJ Rippert
Penny Layne. Aubrey Layne is Virginia’s Secretary of Finance under the Northam Administration. Previously, Layne served as Secretary of Transportation under the McAuliffe regime. Prior to his time in government Layne held a number of executive positions in private enterprise including the presidency of Great Atlantic Properties. Layne is listed by Wikipedia as being a Republican. If true, he must have shown considerable competence and talent to be appointed to senior positions in two consecutive Democratic administrations.
Five days ago, during a Q&A with Richmond Times-Dispatch Magazine Layne effectively made an astonishing prediction. He was asked about the economic fallout from the COVID-19 epidemic in Virginia. The interviewer noted that COVID-19 would trim $2 billion from the state’s $48 billion General Fund budget within the $135 billion biennial budget. Here’s the question, “When the state budget was passed earlier this month, it was based on a full-throttled economy. Now the state is forecasted to lose potentially $2 billion in the upcoming two-year budget because of the coronavirus pandemic. How will the Northam administration address the drastic change facing the approved $135 billion budget?” Layne went on to answer that question and others without ever calling the $2 billion estimate into question.
Is it possible that the economic hit to Virginia from COVID-19 (even after federal bailout money) will only be $2 billion from the General Fund over two years? That’s just over 4% of the General Fund and just under 1.5% of the total budget.
To see a larger version of this graph click here.
By DJ Rippert
The failure of American government at all levels is on display with COVID-19.
Is our ever expanding government working? The percentage of U.S. Gross Domestic Product spent on government has been increasing for the past 50 years. While the percentage rises during recessions and falls during good economic times the trend-line is clear. Government, at all levels, is consuming ever more of America’s economic output. Despite this continuing rise in government consumption, many progressive politicians press for even more government spending as a percentage of GDP. But what are we getting for all that spending? Is our ever-growing government becoming more effective, more capable, and better able to help and protect Americans? Evidence over the past 20 years casts doubt on the argument that more / bigger government means better government.
By Steve Haner
This is how we solve the coming hospital bed crisis. This is how we stretch our ventilators supply. No politician is going to say this, neither Donald Trump nor Andrew Cuomo, and doctors won’t start this conversation. Lester Holt won’t bring it up on Nightly News.
It is called a “do not resuscitate” order. DNR. It can stand on its own or be part of package of advance medical directives and powers of attorney. If you don’t have one, sign one. If you are 40 and think yourself healthy, consider one anyway. Today. Continue reading
My first post in two weeks. What the heck, I should join the parade and give a bunch of advice to our beleaguered Governor which he is likely to ignore. This first appeared today in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. It has one of those annoying “take a survey” paywalls, but in this case asks a question we should all answer. Try it.
By Steve Haner
The assumptions underlying the most contentious debates of the 2020 General Assembly session are gone. Sixty days ago, activists were arguing that this was a rising economy and state government should mandate raising workers to a higher level.
This is a now sinking economy, and the General Assembly’s actions have piled bricks on the life rafts that workers in the commonwealth will need to survive.
The priority now is containing the spread of this respiratory virus, but soon it becomes reviving an economy that has come to a near stop. Nobody knows when or where unemployment will peak, but this is starting to look more like 1929 than 2009.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s lasting legacy will not be his response to the virus, but the speed of the following recovery. Continue reading
By DJ Rippert
From Outer Banks to Outer Mongolia. Dare County, N.C. issued orders last week closing its borders to non-residents. Dare is a coastal county just south of Currituck County, N.C., which borders Virginia. Many Virginians know Dare County from Outer Banks vacations in towns such as Duck or fishing trips launched from Manteo. Checkpoints into and out of Dare County are apparently now manned by law enforcement officers who will check IDs to ensure that travelers are residents of Dare County or have pre-authorized transit permits issued by Dare County. As of last week there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dare County, and it seems county officials want to keep it that way.
Is it legal? Some are questioning whether officials in Dare County can legally enforce a prohibition against non-residents entering the county. Apparently they can. North Carolina law, specifically N.C. General Statute 166A-19.31, allows local officials to control access and ingress to their jurisdiction during times of emergency. Given the Coronavirus outbreak, local officials in Dare County have decided to invoke that law.
We want your taxes but not you. Dare County has many vacation homes owned by non-Dare County residents. These homes are typically expensive and generate a material amount of tax revenue for the county. Originally, non-resident owners of these homes were allowed entry into the county by showing their tax receipts for the property along with valid ID. Yesterday that changed. Dare County is now excluding non-resident property owners from entering the county.
Commentary. I was originally predisposed to giving Dare County officials the benefit of the doubt regarding the border closure. For one thing all those expensive and unoccupied beach homes could be targets for burglars taking advantage of the Coronavirus outbreak. However, my perception changed when those same officials decided to bar entry for non-resident property owners. These are people who have invested in the county, who pay taxes to the county and who should have every right to go to their properties. I have no idea if Virginia law would permit the same type of buffoonery from our local officials. Let’s hope not However, even if such actions are allowed, I hope no Virginia jurisdiction would follow the selfish, arrogant and small minded actions of the officials in Dare County, N.C.
By DJ Rippert
Early Spring Break. Last Thursday Virginia Governor Northam somewhat suddenly decided to shut down all K-12 schools starting the next day. The shutdown is for “at least two weeks.” The question of how to manage continuing free and reduced price meals during the shutdown has been left up to the individual school districts. Yesterday a man in Virginia’s peninsula health district died of COVID-19. Today, Northam banned all gatherings of more than 100 people. As of this writing (1:30 p.m. .Sunday, March 15) there have been 45 cases of Coronavirus recorded in Virginia with one death.
After a “wait and see” start Northam now has Virginia taking actions in parallel with more aggressive U.S. states. However, every state is taking action. West Virginia shut down its schools “indefinitely” despite the Mountain State being the only state in America to have no confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Future actions by the Virginia state government are hard to predict. Senior officials in the Trump Administration are urging a 14-day national shutdown which would obviously apply to Virginia. A good look at how the U.S. Coronavirus outbreak compares to other countries can be seen here. If the federal government does not declare a national shutdown, Virginia could still take any number of actions depending on the severity of the situation. Let’s look at what’s happening elsewhere.