Tag Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Crazy about Guns

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

It’s going to be a fun G.A. session. Here are some quotes from the rally yesterday at the Capitol in opposition to Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw’s bill to outlaw assault weapons:

Retired engineer from Fairfax County:  “And without semi-automatic rifles, there is no way, not a chance in the world, that the free citizens of Virginia can actually combat tyranny in this state.”  [Does he actually believe that a tyrant could/would be able to seize power in Virginia?] Continue reading

Time to look at the Tobacco Commission again

The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC) has again demonstrated that the legislature needs to re-examine its operations and, perhaps, overhaul it altogether.

First, a little background. TRRC was established in 1999 to revitalize Virginia’s tobacco region and compensate tobacco farmers for the decline in tobacco production. Funding for these activities was to come from the Commonwealth’s share of the Master Settlement Agreement between 46 state attorneys general and large tobacco manufacturers. Through a complex “securitization” of half of its future settlement payments, the amount available for TRRC was capitalized at $1 billion. In 2032, the MSA payments will resume. Continue reading

Raise My Tax, Please

Photo credit: WDBJ 7

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The voters in one of the most conservative and rural parts of the state recently acted contrary to stereotype and voted to raise their taxes.  Furthermore, that action was made possible by legislation sponsored by their Republican delegate in the General Assembly

Halifax County has been wrestling for several years with the issue of replacing the county’s lone high school. The general consensus has been that something needed to be done, either renovation or replacement. The daunting question was the projected cost: $88 to $99 million, depending on the option chosen. The county already had committed (under court order) to incurring substantial debt to substantially renovate the courthouse.  Therefore, it was felt that the current tax base could not support the debt needed for the high school project, without a substantial, and politically unlikely, increase in the tax rate. Continue reading

Tuition-free college?

It seems that the Northam administration is poised to propose actions that will address two of the concerns expressed in this blog—lessen the cost of higher education and help the middle class  In the tradition of well-timed leaks on budget proposals, the RTD reports today that the administration is considering some form of a tuition-free program for community colleges.

Although no final details are yet publicly available and those details are likely still being thrashed out in the budget development process, the basic outline seems clear. For low-income and middle-income students, the state would cover the difference between the total cost of tuition and any available federal aid. There would probably be some conditions attached to such assistance, such as the student committing to work in a public-sector job or in a “high-priority” field. Continue reading

The Issue of Guardianship and the Contribution of a Newspaper

Ora Lomax with a picture of her husband, William, who was committed to a nursing home against her wishes. Photo credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

On Sunday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a remarkable article. It was remarkable both in the amount of space the newspaper dedicated to it, 5½ whole pages, and its subject, guardianship, a subject about which little is known by the public, but that could affect anyone.

The publishing of this series of articles illustrates the continuing value of newspapers. The RTD invested a lot of resources into this story. It was a year-long investigation in which staff combed through the records of hundreds of guardianship cases originating in the Richmond circuit courts. They examined all the public documents related to those cases. They created a database with all the relevant data from those cases. They also looked at some guardianship cases filed in Henrico and Norfolk circuit courts to see how such cases were handled in different jurisdictions. They interviewed dozens of people and attended guardianship hearings. No other media for the general public could, or would, dedicate this amount of resources to a single topic. Continue reading

No Surprise Here

Speaker-designate Eileen Filler-Corn, Fairfax. Photo credit: CNN

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Both the RTD and Washington Post today reported on the new Speaker-to-be’s first committee chair appointments. (This is one of the real powers of the Speaker of the House of Delegates.  He/she gets to make all committee appointments, including the chair of each committee.)  The Post was a little more muted, but from the RTD’s headline, “3 members of  Va. black caucus to lead House panels”, one would have thought the appointments were a surprise and part of a Democratic plan to give special perks to the black caucus. The chairman of the black caucus even weighed in by praising the “historic appointments.”

What would have been surprising would have been not appointing those members to the chairmanships.  Each one is the Democratic delegate with the most seniority currently on the committee.  So far, the new Speaker-to-be (herself certainly far from what a traditional Speaker has been) is going with tradition.

Inmates Need Costly Medical Care, Too

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In the most recently completed fiscal year, the general fund cost to provide medical care to Virginia prison inmates was $221.6 million.

That is a lot of money by any measure; it exceeds the entire budget of all but a few state agencies. However, despite its size, it does not get much public attention.

Like the state budget, medical costs threaten to consume the DOC budget.  The FY 2019 expenditures constituted more than 18% of the agency’s general fund budget. Each year, the budget request for additional funding for medical services is at the top of DOC’s list. Its FY 2019 appropriation for medical services exceeded its FY 2017 appropriation by $34.8 million. For the upcoming biennium, the agency has requested an additional $21.8 million in the first year and $28.3 million in the second year. Continue reading

A Budget Cut that Should be Made

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Just to show that I am not the “tax and spend” liberal that some people may think I am, I am proposing a significant budget cut for the Governor’s office to consider in its effort to satisfy all the demands it is getting for the upcoming biennial budget. That budget item can be summed up with one numeric phrase: 599.

Long-term observers and participants in Virginia government and politics, such as Jim and Steve, know immediately what I am talking about. The 599 program provides financial aid to local governments with police departments. The program’s appropriation for the current fiscal year is $191.7 million. Its name refers to its enacting legislation: HB 599, passed by the 1979 General Assembly.

The HB 599 program should be repealed and its funding used for more pressing needs of the Commonwealth. There are several reasons for this conclusion: The rationale for the program was flawed from the beginning; the underlying distribution formula is unknowable; and the funding cannot be tied to its original, ostensible purpose, the support of law enforcement. The remainder of this post will be used to substantiate these claims. Continue reading

The Game of Budgets

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There is lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on in this blog and by the administration over the upcoming budget. Although there are some big-ticket budget items, that is nothing new; there always are. Even if the Democrats gain a majority in both houses, I don’t think there will be a tax increase. The doom-and-gloom scenarios don’t take into account a couple of issues related to revenue. First, the legislature last Session extended the sales tax to internet sales. Second, the legislature opted to conform the state’s tax code to the changes in the federal tax laws recently enacted by Congress.

Those changes, plus the good economy, are bringing in the revenue. The Secretary of Finance has reported that total revenues in September were $367 million more than the previous year’s September. On a fiscal year basis, general fund revenues to date are 8.2% higher than the previous fiscal year; the forecast was for an increase of 1.2%.  This additional revenue will not be available to the Governor and General Assembly for the crafting of the next biennial budget, but they portend a healthy increase in the revenue forecast for the next biennium, which can be used in budget development. Continue reading

Prison Sunshine

Solar panels at Haynesville Correctional Center                                                             Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Corrections

The Virginia Department of Corrections is getting further into solar energy.

The department has recently completed the construction of a five-acre solar farm at Haynesville Correctional Center.  The correctional facility is a medium- security prison in Richmond County, near the town of Warsaw, in the Northern Neck region of the state.

According to a DOC press release, the solar farm is a 852.72 kW photovoltaic system consisting of 2,508 photovoltaic modules.  DOC estimates that it will produce 16% of the prison’s electrical needs, resulting in an annual savings of $120,000. Continue reading

Why Can’t I Have My Cake And Eat It Too?

Sometimes the tensions and contradictions in our public discourse are summed up with stunning simplicity.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has been running a series setting out the answers of candidates for local office to a set of standard questions.  Today the spotlight was on Hanover County.

The answers of a long-time incumbent on the Board of Supervisors struck me. First, he asserted, “I’ve never voted for a tax rate increase because I think we should only spend within our means.” OK, fair enough. I will let that one go. But, in answer to the question of what issues appear to be the most important to his constituents, he replied, “In my district, people don’t want more housing. It would mean having to pay for more schools and public services. People are also concerned about the lack of broadband and internet service.”

Don’t he and his constituents realize that they don’t have broadband and internet service because there are not enough houses in rural areas to make it worthwhile for cable companies to provide that service? If they don’t want any more houses, then how do they think they are going to get broadband? Should the county subsidize expanding broadband to those areas? Oh, that’s right. They don’t want to raise their tax rate.

— Dick Hall-Sizemore

More SOQ Money

The other shoe has dropped on the budget requests for K-12.  The Department of Education has told the Senate Finance Committee that it will cost approximately $300 million per year over the next biennium to “rebenchmark” the Standards of Quality.

This amount would be in addition to the $950 million needed annually to finance the proposed changes in the SOQ proposed earlier by the Board of Education.  (I summarized the policy changes in the SOQ being proposed by the Board of Education in an earlier post.)

The rebenchmarking process is a technical one in the sense that it involves no new policy changes in the SOQ.   The rebenchmarking  uses updated data for numerous inputs into the SOQ calculation.  The most important ones are prevailing non-personal costs and support positions, salaries, and student enrollment.  If you are feeling especially wonky, the 45-page PowerPoint presentation, with detailed graphs can be found here.

SOQ Examination

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has been a lot of commentary in recent posts over the state Board of Education’s proposed changes in the Standards of Quality, with a $950 million price tag. Rather than focusing on the total price tag and one component of the proposal (equity fund), it seems to me a more productive approach would be to look at each component and evaluate it separately. (The detailed descriptions of the items can be found here, the first item under “Action/Discussion Items.)

Before delving into the details, there are several considerations to keep in mind:

  1. The Board of Education can only propose changes to the Standards of Quality. The General  Assembly has the last word.
  2. Any new funding associated with any changes in the SOQ will be in addition to the amount needed for “rebasing.” This is the biennial exercise in which the SOQ funding is adjusted for changes in student enrollment and general increased costs.
  3. Educational funding is not my field of expertise. I am endeavoring to summarize what is proposed, based on the BOE document, and add my two cents’ worth for certain issues.

Continue reading

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Dick Hall-Sizemore

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

Disregard that Law

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Well, Virginia made the national headlines again last week and over the weekend.  This time it was over the requirement that couples applying for a marriage license list their race on the application. And Attorney General Mark Herring was the hero, saying that, despite what the law said, the couples did not have to do that.  (NYT, WP, RTD, as well as all the networks).

On the face of it, the state could make a case that gathering information about the race of people getting married serves a legitimate purpose by providing data for state demographers and sociologists. But, because “race” can be a vague concept and applicants self-identify their race, any data collected has become meaningless. Apparently, each county can compile its own list of categories from which applicants choose.  According to newspaper reports, Rockbridge County had a list of  approximately 200 “races”, including American, Aryan, Hebrew, Islamic, Mestizo, Nordic, Teutonic, Moor, and White American. Continue reading