Tag Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Fog of Political Campaigns

Del. Kim Taylor (R) Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

During the campaign season, I often get so frustrated with the pronouncements of candidates that I wish I could publicly pose questions that they would have to answer. The most recent example comes from a story in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch about the highly competitive House race in the Petersburg area.

The incumbent, Del. Kim Taylor (R) says she “wants harsher punishments for opioid dealers.” To be fair to the delegate, that is a common refrain among a lot of politicians. I have two questions:

  1. The type of opioids that are primarily abused are Schedule I or II drugs. The current statutory penalty for the distribution of Schedule I or II drugs is a sentence of five to 40 years. For the second conviction, the sentence range is five years to life, with a three-year mandatory minimum sentence. If the possibility of a 5 to 40-year sentence is not enough of a deterrent, what sentence would you propose?
  2. You have been in the legislature for two years. Why haven’t you introduced a bill to increase the sentence for opioid dealers?

The three top priorities of her Democratic opponent, Kimberly Adams, are

Kimberly Adams (D) Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

“building affordable housing, keeping the community safe from violence and preserving abortion rights.” Who could argue with building affordable housing and keeping the community safe from violence? The question I would ask is: What specific actions do you propose to accomplish these goals? As for abortion rights, she was specific on that. She supports the current law.

Which Party?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I was at the Virginia State Fair this morning.

The state Republican Party has this “booth.” It is a good idea. I don’t know if the Democrats have one because I did not walk around the whole area. The Republicans have a good location—right next to the main Commonwealth Pavilion, where there is a lot of foot traffic and there are bathrooms.

I was struck by how many yard signs did not identify the candidate as a Republican. A few did say “Conservative” but left off any party affiliation.

I chatted with the nice guy who was manning the booth. He is chairman of the Westmoreland County Republican Party. He said that he, too, had noticed the lack of party identification on the yard signs. He said he did not understand it and had no explanation for it.

Of the scores of yard signs displayed, only four candidates were willing to admit they were Republicans.

DOE Response to Average Teacher Salary Issues

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

My article on average teacher salaries must have struck a nerve. This morning I received an answer to my inquiry from the Department of Education (DOE).

In short, DOE disavows any responsibility for the accuracy of the data in the report it submitted to the General Assembly.

The Office of Communications declares, “All data in the teacher salary survey report is based on data certified by school division superintendents. VDOE staff tries to identify as many of the variances as possible and obtain corrections from school divisions within the time-frame available each fall.” Continue reading

Doesn’t Anyone Read These Things To See If They Make Sense?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In preparing my recent article on tax cuts, I was going to include a section on the need for increases in teacher salaries. In researching the issue, I discovered that the Department of Education (DOE) submits to the General Assembly a survey of teacher salaries in Virginia.

I was delighted because that was exactly the type of data I needed. However, as I went through the numbers, I came to the conclusion that I could not use them. There were so many anomalies that I could not trust the numbers. Continue reading

Whose Water Is It?

The Rappahannock River. Photo credit: Va. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There are some issues that seem to be baked into public policy and, because they affect sensitive and important areas, tend to lead to controversies periodically.

Many years ago, one of the hottest controversies was the “inter-basin transfer of water.” Because Virginia is a “riparian rights” state, folks who live next to rivers can withdraw water from the river, but are not supposed to divert it to use by other people who do not live on the river. To do so would diminish the water available for those other riparian landowners. The Virginia Supreme Court in the 1942 case of Town of Purcellville v. Potts declared a per se prohibition against inter-basin transfer:

While a riparian owner is entitled to a reasonable use of the water, he has no right to divert it for use beyond his riparian land, and any such diversion and use is an infringement on the rights of the lower riparian proprietors who are thereby deprived of the flow. Such a diversion is an extraordinary and not a reasonable use.

The field of water law is a very complex one and that is as far as I am willing to dip my toe into it. Suffice it to say that inter-basin transfer of water is an important concept. For a more in-depth discussion, see here. Continue reading

A Case Against Further Tax Cuts

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

After more than a decade of state budget revenue shortfalls and concomitant budget cuts, one would think there would be smiles all round at the news of revenues coming in substantially above the projections, resulting in a healthy general fund surplus. Incongruously, that was not the case.

Republicans seemed to be outraged that the state brought in so much more money than was projected. There were calls to give it back to the taxpayers. It is somewhat curious that these are the folks who often demand that government be run like a business, yet there are no demands that large companies, such as big oil companies, for example, give refunds to their customers when they bring in record profits.

Governor Youngkin, not satisfied with large tax cuts in 2022, wants taxes cut even further. In July, citing the expectation of revenues exceeding the forecast (which was admittedly on the low side), he declared, “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to have a substantial tax reduction.” In his address to the money committees in August, after citing the advances his administration had accomplished with the increased revenues and the challenges still ahead, he announced, “This is our moment to soar.” But, not too high, it would appear, because “we must provide substantial tax relief.” Continue reading

Transparency? Hah!

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Maybe it was the weirdness of amending the biennial budget after Year 2 of the biennium had started.  Maybe all the money they had to spend made them dizzy. Maybe they were in a hurry because many of them were in the middle of re-election campaigns. Whatever the reason, the General Assembly decided in its special session to adopt the budget to sacrifice transparency in favor of efficiency.

A quick review of the normal procedure will serve to clarify how different this year was. Normally, after both houses have considered the budget bill and rejected each other’s version, the bill is sent to a conference committee comprised of members from both houses. In a largely shrouded process, the conference committee eventually produces a report consisting of all the changes to the introduced budget bill that its members have agreed upon. (Comparisons to the Vatican College of Cardinals electing a new Pope are apt.) Continue reading

How They Spent That Money

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Steve Haner and I unofficially tag-team on the state budget. Fittingly, he covers the revenues (taxes) and I cover the spending.

Regarding the revenues available for spending, it is notable what was missing from the presentations by the Governor and Secretary of Finance in their appearances before the money committees last month. There was no mention of the $5.1 billion balance tirelessly touted by the Governor in his public calls for more tax reductions.

In the presentations and charts presented, it was difficult to discern what that unencumbered balance actually was. Using the data in the staff presentation to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, one is able to tease out the $5.1 billion being touted by the Governor. First, there was $2.1 billion. This is hard to follow, but basically it was a balance designated in 2022 for “Additional Taxpayer Relief” and subsequently rolled into the unrestricted general fund balance. However, both the administration and the money committees were carrying it on their spreadsheets as an amount reserved for taxpayer relief and that is how the Comptroller identified it in her annual report to the Governor.  To that $2.1 billion the Governor added the additional $3.0 billion in general fund revenue projected over the official estimate.

That was a valid projection of the general fund balance at the end of FY 2023. However, as both Steve and I have pointed out several times on this blog, that was a gross amount. After deducting for the required deposits to the Rainy Day Fund and the Water Quality Improvement Fund, the appropriation in the “skinny” budget bill enacted last spring, and the amount required to fund the Pass Through Equity Tax previously enacted, the net general fund balance available at the end of FY 2023 was approximately $2.4 billion. Continue reading

Another List of Best Colleges

Washington and Lee University.

Inspired by the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of colleges, everyone is getting into the game, each with its own criteria.

The Wall Street Journal has just released its list of “Best 400 Colleges in America.” Its rankings are based on student experiences, social mobility, and salary impact. Its greatest emphasis was on the following questions:

  1. How much will the college improve its students’ chances of graduating on time?
  2. How much will it improve the salaries they earn after receiving their diplomas?

The top school in the ranking was Princeton, followed by M.I.T, Yale, Stanford, and Columbia. Nine Virginia schools were ranked among the top 400, with four landing in the top 100. They were:

44—Washington and Lee
76—Virginia Tech
95—George Mason
152—James Madison
243—Old Dominion
326–Christopher Newport

“School’s Closed Today! It’s the Law”

Photo credit: Your Teen Magazine

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Now that two of my grandchildren are in public school, rather than being home-schooled, I am more attuned to what is going on in public school.

Last Friday, I was in Northern Virginia visiting them because they were off from school. Although I was happy to get the extra time with them, I was ranting about the absurdity of a school holiday only two weeks after school had opened and in face of the impending Labor Day holiday. My grandson informed me it was the law. I protested that it couldn’t be, but he showed me that it was. Continue reading

“Let Me Talk to My Sales Manager to See What We Can Do”

Wren Building, College of William and Mary. Photo credit: Williamsburg Yorktown Daily

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

George Will had a fascinating column recently whose thesis is counter to the dominant opinion on Bacon’s Rebellion about the cost of higher education. Will cites recent research that concludes, “Students are paying less for college than they did 15 years ago.”

What is going on, although he does not use this analogy, is a lot like buying a car—hardly anyone pays the sticker price. Relying on a prevailing belief of Americans that higher cost signifies higher quality, institutions of higher education in the 1980s and 1990s began relying on higher tuitions as a marketing tool. For those applicants it wished to enroll, they offered discounts, otherwise known as merit scholarships.

I got a glimpse of this process a couple of years ago when my grandson was considering which college to attend. When I complimented him on the merit scholarships that were being offered, he and his mother dismissed the compliment, saying they were pretty much automatic for anyone being offered admission.

The large amount of student loan debt that has accumulated in recent years results from higher education minimizing its discounts by steering parents “toward having government provide the discount with subsidized student loans.” Lots of parents and students, believing the sticker cost is real, “sign the loan forms.”

This is certainly an interesting wrinkle in the ongoing discussion of the costs of higher education.

Psst, the War’s Over

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I saw this motorcycle in Lexington a few days ago.  Apparently, the owner missed the news that the war is over and his side lost.

If he goes downtown, they should be able to bring him up to date.  (It is hard to see in this picture, but Main Street was lined with American flags.)

Deja Vu, All Over Again

Cluster development in western Loudoun Co. Photo credit: Washington Post

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Today’s Washington Post has an article about efforts to preserve farmland in Loudoun County.

That headline instantly took me back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when there was a flurry of activity regarding the need to preserve farmland and provide landowners incentives to keep their farmland from being developed.

Loudoun County was in the center of that activity. At that time, the population of the county was about 57,000. Development in the area near Dulles Airport and the Rt. 7 corridor was in the early stages. A large part of the county was open land, consisting of large estates, as well as medium and small farms. The tools for preserving that land that were being discussed, sometimes heatedly, were conservation easements and transfer of development rights. A sample report of some of those studies is here. Continue reading

More Ruminations on Higher Education in Virginia

Radford University

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

James Sherlock has done a great service for this blog by starting a conversation on the future of higher education in the Commonwealth.  There are several paths that could be followed.

One of his contributions was identifying the schools that have been losing enrollment. I was not surprised that Longwood, Radford, and Mary Washington led the list. They are essentially going after the same students. I was aware that VCU enrollment was down. It may be the victim of its over-optimistic projections. However, its enrollment decline may have been temporary. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports today that one the largest freshman classes in the school’s history arrived on campus this past weekend. I was surprised that the enrollment at Old Dominion has declined. Being the only major four-year institution in South Hampton Roads, one of the state’s growth leaders, and having a natural constituency with all the military installations in the area, one would have thought it was prepared for healthy growth. Alas, with the Virginian-Pilot being only a shadow of its former self, there are no media reports on the size of its incoming class this fall. Continue reading

JLARC Report: More Than Just “Mo’ Money”

Photo credit: Va. Dept of Education

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) released a major report last month on the Commonwealth’s K-12 funding formula. The responses were predictable.

On Bacon’s Rebellion, Jim Bacon dismissed the report as a cry for “mo’ money.” Democrats in the General Assembly seized upon the report and its findings as more ammunition in their fight against Governor Youngkin’s effort to cut taxes further.

It is true that the report concludes that the state needs to provide more funding for K-12. However, the report is much more than that. In the report, JLARC documents serious deficiencies in the formula that is used to calculate funding for K-12. It then proposes some significant changes that could be made that would improve the funding system. The report deserves a deeper look on this blog than it has received. Continue reading