Tag Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

An Alternative College Ranking

Coinciding with our discussions here on Bacon’s Rebellion about higher education, I just received the annual Washington Monthly issue with its college rankings.

The Monthly takes a significantly different approach to ranking colleges and universities than does the U.S. News and World Report. It identifies the aspects it feels are important in making a college or university “good.” After establishing those qualities, it uses quantitative measures to rank each school.

The three basic qualities, or functions, if you will, are: Social Mobility, Research, and Service. In its methodology, these qualities are weighted equally. To come up with its overall rankings, the magazine uses the following quantitative measures: Continue reading

Exercising Your Second Amendment Right

Interesting scenario:  You are doing some shopping in Walmart. Alarmed by the recent nationwide shootings, you are carrying your recently legally authorized concealed handgun. A man walks in, carrying an assault-style rifle and a handgun strapped to his side, along with several magazines of ammunition. This also is legal in Virginia. What do you do?

  1. Say hello to your fellow gun-carrying customer
  2. Ignore him
  3. Pull out your handgun and confront him
  4. Shoot him because he is obviously a threat

Here are the laws governing this situation, which you may or may not know as you are trying to decide what to do: Continue reading

Recidivism Revisited

Sussex I State Prison

As has been noted in previous posts on this blog (here and here), the latest three-year recidivism rate of offenders released from the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) was the lowest in the nation. In fact, DOC had the lowest rate in the nation for the last three reporting periods.  DOC can justly be proud of this record.

Nevertheless, a closer look at the data reveals some troubling trends.  Before delving into this data, in order to understand the data and ensuing discussion, there are some terms that need defining and clarifying: Continue reading

Speaking of Mental Health–Virginia has a Crisis

The Commonwealth is experiencing a crisis in its mental health system.  The situation is the result of some positive initiatives of the General Assembly, coupled with the legislature’s reluctance to provide the funding needed to deal with the results of those initiatives.

The crisis is an acute shortage of mental health treatment beds. Around the first of this month, the Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) warned “there will be times over the July 4th holiday weekend when there will not be any open staffed beds at any of the state hospitals.”   And the July 4 weekend was not an aberration. The state’s adult mental health hospitals operated at 98 to 100 percent capacity in May and June. One day this month, the two hospitals that treat elderly patients had more patients than beds.

The state has reduced its mental health bed capacity in recent years, going from 1,571 beds in June 2010 to 1,491 beds in FY 2020, a reduction of five percent.

During that period of decreasing bed capacity, the General Assembly took two actions that have resulted in a significant increase in mental health admissions. Continue reading

Weldon Cooper Revisited

 

In a recent post of Steve’s, members of this blog got into an extended discussion of the methodology used by the Weldon Cooper Center at UVa. to evaluate the effect of tax incentives, specifically its projecting the “impact of raising income taxes by the amount exempted.”  As promised, I contacted a senior executive at Weldon Cooper whom I know and asked for some clarification.

His answer was fairly lengthy, so I will quote key portions and try to summarize his position:

“The answer to your question is that every dollar spent has an opportunity cost.  As you point out, one way the opportunity cost can be measured is the value of the best alternative way you could have spent the money.  Another way is the cost to the economy of extracting a marginal dollar from the economy with a tax instrument….Every tax has some cost in terms of consumption foregone.”

“One cost of a tax is that it might cause some firm or some person to choose to be elsewhere.  This is not a ‘conservative’ idea.  It is just a standard result of microeconomics.  But we must not lose sight of the fact that how the money is spent is important as well.  People and firms value public safety, education services, infrastructure, clean environment, good administration and all the rest.  These things are not free.”

He objected to the characterization in BR of the Weldon Cooper method as “dynamic scoring”, saying, “this is incorrect and is a politically charged assertion.  It doesn’t make us ‘conservative’ to account for opportunity cost and [the effect on the economy of extracting a marginal dollar with a tax instrument].”

In summary, he asserts that any fair analysis must take account of all the effects of government spending.  On the one hand, “every tax has some cost in terms of consumption forgone.”  On the other hand, taxes are used to provide services to citizens that can be best provided by government, rather than the market.

Hall-Sizemore take:  I was off-base in my earlier characterization of the Weldon Cooper approach  as being an “assumption that, were it not for the incentives, those revenues would not have been needed. Thus, there was a ‘tax increase’ needed to produce the revenues.”  It is, in reality, a way of measuring the opportunity cost in terms of the effect of the marginal cost of raising the funds.  It also is a way of consistently comparing different types of economic development incentives.

Actually, balancing of opportunity costs occurs annually in the budget process.  Both the Governor and the legislature do it.  Either the legislature or the executive could determine that the projected revenue was in excess of what was needed to provide a good mix of services in an efficient way and therefore propose reducing the tax rate, rather than expand services.  (Those issues dominated the discussion in last year’s session.)  More often, the opposite is the case—the “needs” and the “wants” of the agencies exceed the amount of projected revenue and the executive and legislature decide that the opportunity cost should be borne by the government.  Thus, the marginal cost to the economy of raising taxes takes precedence over the cost of foregoing expansion of existing services or initiating new ones.

JLARC and the Virginia Cloud

Facebook data center in Henrico

Some years ago, the General Assembly made considerable use of the time between sessions. There were special study commissions that met fairly frequently, as well as meetings of subcommittees of standing committees. For various reasons, that does not happen much now. As a result, the legislature has struggle with tough issues, with little time for research and reflection, during the crowded regular sessions.

More and more, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) is filling the void, providing the legislature with analyses and background on a number of thorny issues. This is a positive development.

Originally, the primary function of JLARC was to conduct regular, thorough analyses of agency operations. Gradually, that function has evolved to consist of (i) ongoing oversight over VITA, VRS, economic development incentives, Virginia529 (college savings plan), and Cardinal (the state’s new accounting system); (ii) several annual reports on state spending; and (iii) specific topics referred to it by the legislature or taken up on its own initiative.

This year the agency has one of its heaviest study loads ever. In addition to the ongoing oversight and state spending studies, the workload includes studies on community services board funding, implementation of STEP-VA (reform of the state’s behavioral health system),  the Office of the State Inspector General, VITA’s new infrastructure, Office of the Attorney General, gaming in the Commonwealth, Medicaid expansion, Workers’ compensation, and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Continue reading

Density as an Answer

It seems that our leader, Jim Bacon, is on the cutting edge of new thinking about how to address the rising cost of housing.  (Of course, this is no surprise to BR readers.)  An article in yesterday’s New York Times describes how planners, economists, and environmentalists across the country have begun to advocate more density.

The target of the critics is detached, single-family residential zoning. “It is illegal on 75 percent of the residential land in many American cities to build anything other than a detached single-family home,” the authors contend. They created maps, included in the article, depicting the residential area within many cities (and some suburbs) that is zoned for detached, single-family residential units. (There are no Virginia localities shown.) There are real contrasts. In New York City and Washington, D.C., only 15 percent and 36 percent, respectively, of the residential land is zoned for detached, single-family homes, whereas in Minneapolis and Charlotte, N.C., the percentages are 70 and 84, respectively. Cities in the western part of the country have even higher percentages restricted to detached, single-family units.

Some areas are taking action. Minneapolis has recently ended detached, single-family zoning; Oregon is considering legislation that would allow options as dense as fourplexes in larger cities and duplexes in smaller cities; and Seattle has upzoned six percent of its single family-zoned land. As expected, there has been strong opposition from homeowners in these areas. In the California legislature, such opposition has stalled a bill that would affect local zoning statewide.

It is remarkable how much effect small changes could make. According to the authors’ analysis, “Over time, if just 5 percent of the largest single-family lots in Minneapolis — lots of at least 5,000 square feet — converted to triplexes, that would create about 6,200 new units of housing, according to UrbanFootprint [a software program]. If 10 percent of similar-sized lots in San Jose, Calif., added a second unit, the city would gain 15,000 new homes.”

It may be time for policymakers in Virginia to begin looking at such changes.  As for me, I am glad I bought my detached house with a yard, small as it is, thirty years ago.

Constitutional Officers–The Solutions

As I indicated in an earlier post, I will propose some alternatives to the elected constitutional officer system currently in place in Virginia. Commenters to that post have already suggested the same solutions I will set out, with the exception of one office.

Treasurer and Commissioner of the Revenue—abolished, with each city and county authorized to establish a finance director, whose office would perform functions of both the treasurer and commissioner. This one is the most obvious of all the alternatives.  Each local government should have total control over its finances.  The funding for the new office would come from local coffers.

Circuit court clerk—appointed by the chief judge of the circuit court. This position is the administrator  of the court and it is logical that the judge make the appointment.  This is the same method used to fill the position of district court clerk.  The state would pay all the costs of operating these offices.

Continue reading

Constitutional Officers–The Problem

Our recent discussion of the primary elections and an incidental comment by Steve Haner were the catalysts to get me to develop a posting that I had been mulling over for awhile. The system of elected administrative officers established in the Virginia Constitution for local governments needs to be abolished.

These officers, called constitutional officers for obvious reasons, and their primary responsibilities, are:

  • Circuit court clerk—responsible for the administration of the circuit courts: preparing trial transcripts, handling jury lists, preparing orders, etc.  The office is also the depository of the locality’s land records (deeds, liens, etc.) and wills.
  • Sheriff—responsible for law enforcement in many localities, administration of the jail, provision of courtroom security, and service of legal processes.
  • Commonwealth’s Attorney—chief criminal prosecutor.
  • Commissioner of the Revenue—property assessor and processor of income tax returns
  • Treasurer—collects tax and other state and local revenue and deposits funds into appropriate accounts; invests funds of local government

All officers are elected for four-year terms, except the clerk, who has an eight-year term. The Constitution requires that each city and county have these officers, although it also provides that localities can share officers and that localities can abolish the offices, if approved by referendum.   Continue reading

What is Going On?

Can someone from Northern Virginia please tell me what is going on when almost a million dollars is being raised in each of two primary contests for Commonwealth’s Attorney?  I can understand the money being raised, as reported by VPAP, in the primary for chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.  That is a political position and there are four candidates.  But, the money being raised for Commonwealth’s Attorney, a supposedly nonpolitical position, with only two candidates in each election, is astounding.

The Waters Increased Greatly upon the Earth

Over the past decade or so, as I traveled with my family to Sandbridge Beach, I watched in amazement, and a touch of disbelief, as large, upscale houses sprouted from the landscape that was once flat, treeless farmland.

The development was Asheville Park.  It was approved in 2004 for 499 homes on 474 acres. The construction slowed noticeably during the 2008-2010 downturn, but then picked up.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit, deluging the area with rain. Asheville Park became impassable for days and homes and cars flooded. Incredibly, “All of this area was approved for rezonings without looking at stormwater,” according to Barbara Henley, a member of city council. (She was not on the council when the development was approved.) Of the 35 proffers associated with the approval, there was no mention of stormwater and how to control it. Hurricane Matthew demonstrated that the pipes and outfalls were too small and a retention lake was shallower than planned, leading to flooding.

The residents of the development have been up in arms, demanding that the city take action. After all, these were homes for which they had paid several hundred thousand dollars and being flooded was not supposed to be part of the deal. The city has come up with a long-term plan to alleviate flooding, estimated to cost $35 million. The immediate fixes will cost $11 million. The city has reached an agreement with the developer in which the approved number of houses will be reduced by 44 and the developer will donate land for the construction of a retention pond by the city. In addition to a retention pond, the work will include the construction of a gated weir and a pump station. Finally, new building permits will not be issued for the next phase of the development until specific parts of the drainage system are fixed.

There is not much else the city can do about Asheville Park. The developer still has the right to construct more than double the number of houses currently there. However, the city has obviously learned from this experience and is taking steps to take sea level rise into consideration when evaluating future developments. Continue reading

Ain’t No Negatives Here

In the recent past, the website of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) featured a prominent dashboard or scoreboard showing the cumulative number of jobs “created” since the beginning of the current administration.  Governors used these numbers when touting their economic development programs. It did not matter that these were jobs projected, not necessarily available or filled, or that some of those jobs would never materialize.

I was reminded of this scoreboard by a story in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch about a printing company in Henrico closing, with a resultant loss of 240 jobs.  My counterpart at DPB who handled VEDP’s budget and I used to have a standing joke about the VEDP jobs scoreboard. Whenever I would point out a company closing or downsizing, especially at the beginning of the Great Recession, or a corporation moving out of Virginia and ask whether VEDP was including those job losses in its calculations, he would laugh and reply, “Oh no, Dick, we don’t include the negative numbers!”

It is a welcome sign that the “new” VEDP does not engage in this misleading boosterism.

Staying Within the Debt Capacity

I am following up on an earlier post discussing the capital budget recommendations of the Governor and the Commonwealth’s debt capacity. Jim Bacon’s recent post discussing Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne’s worries about increasing debt also dealt with this general issue.

Guided by Secretary Layne, the Governor’s introduced budget was relatively conservative in its capital provisions and the authorization of $568.4 million in additional tax-supported debt. As predicted in the earlier post, the General Assembly came under a lot of pressure to add to the package and responded accordingly.  The final budget bill, signed by the Governor in early May, authorized the issuance of an additional $1.1 billion in state-supported debt.

The major projects added by the legislature were the replacement of Central State Hospital ($315 million), a top priority of the Governor; “renewal” of Alderman Library at UVa ($132.5 million); and demolition and replacement of Daniel Gym at Virginia State University ($82.9 million). Also included in the introduced and final total packages was $248 million, primarily for Virginia Tech, which was tied to the Amazon deal.  Including the authorizations provided by the 2018 General Assembly, the 2018-2020 Appropriation Act authorized the issuance of an additional $2.1 billion in tax-supported debt. Continue reading

Tourist Storm Protection

According to a story in Saturday’s Virginian Pilot, Virginia Beach is slated for more beach widening this summer.  The total cost of the project is $22.6 million, with the federal government providing $14.7 million (65 percent) and the city of Virginia Beach paying the remaining $7.9 million.

The newspaper article says that this project is a “part of a long-term plan to protect the commonwealth’s shoreline from storms.”  That sounds like a worthy idea, especially in this era of sea-level rise.  But, let’s not kid ourselves.  This project is not about protecting the shoreline or about resiliency, the buzzword of the day.  After all, if one is going to protect the shoreline and make it more resilient to stronger storms, one would not try to do so by putting down a substance that will start washing away the day after it is put down.  The owner of one of the ocean front hotels stated quite plainly the real purpose of the project:  “…having  a wide beach is important, not only for safety, but for what we’re selling to our guests.”

I do not have an objection to spending public funds to enhance a tourist attraction of the Commonwealth.  After all, tourism is one of the state’s largest industries.  The Virginia Tourism Corporation reported that, in 2017, tourism accounted for $25 billion in domestic visitor spending, supported 232,000 jobs, and brought in $1.7 billion in state and local tax revenue.

I do have an objection to who is providing the funding for the beach widening.  Continue reading

Dumping, Again, on the Lowest-Paid Folks

A recent article in the Washington Post highlights an issue I alluded to in my recent post on government outsourcing  functions.  To summarize:  The Alexandria school superintendent’s budget proposal called for eliminating 30 custodian positions and outsourcing the jobs to a private company.  (The system already contracts with private companies for custodial services in many schools.  This proposal would have completed the outsourcing.)  The reason for the proposal was budget savings.  After a lot of blowback, the superintendent relented some, proposing that custodians who had worked for the school system for at least five years could keep their positions during the next school year.  That left 10 custodians facing the loss of their jobs.

This sort of outsourcing is common at all levels of government.  In Richmond, the custodians for state buildings are not state employees, but work for a company that has contracted with the state to clean the offices.  The same is true for security guards at the entrances to state buildings, with the exception of the Capitol Police. Continue reading