Tag Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Stay-at-Home Costs vs. Health Benefits

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

There is a fierce debate going on in this country.  One side is anxious to ease the restrictions imposed on the population in an effort to slow the spread the coronavirus and “open up the economy.” The other side, concerned about a resurgence of the disease and related deaths, wants to go slower.

Underlying this debate is the question of the economic damage resulting from the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.  The President says, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”  Many commenters on this blog voice the same sentiment.

Implicit in these arguments is the assumption that, at some point, the cost to the economy outweighs the value of the lives lost. No one really wants to admit this because that would be putting a value on human life, which is morally anathema. Continue reading

A Servant Leader

Bill Mims, Associate Justice, Virginia Supreme Court

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Bill Mims is one of the treasures of Virginia government. Currently, he is an associate justice of the Virginia Supreme Court. His prior service includes representing Loudoun County in the House of Delegates and the State Senate and serving as Attorney General (appointment).

He is known widely throughout the state for his talks on servant leadership. I had the privilege of hearing him speak on this subject twice. If I have another chance, I will eagerly take advantage of it. If you have such an opportunity, it will be well worth it if you seize it.

I bring him up here because, in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch,  he offers some wonderful thoughts on how to deal with the pandemic. This offering is in the paper’s Faith and Values weekly feature.

Mims is a frequent contributor to this feature.  For a sampling of his writing, here is one on mercy and one on servant leadership.

“The Dog Ate My Homework” Does Not Work for VEC

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Employment Commission has been inundated with unemployment insurance claims. Virginians seeking to file claims have been frustrated at not being able to get through to the agency with their questions and by delays in receiving payments.

All of this was the subject of a meeting and presentation to a Senate Committee on Tuesday as reported by the Daily Press. As has been speculated by Steve Haner in his comments on this blog, the Unemployment Trust Fund is in the hole. According to a presentation by the VEC to the Senate Committee, the trust fund balance has gone from $1.5 billion at the beginning of FY 2020 to a projected -$500 million.

None of that is too surprising. What did intrigue me, however, was an excuse often made by agencies — antiquated technology. A VEC spokeswoman explained that it was put into place in 1985.  As far as the VEC is concerned, that excuse will not suffice.

The 2004 Appropriation Act provided VEC almost $21 million to “upgrade obsolete information technology systems.” Two years later, the 2006 Appropriation Act included language authorizing VEC to utilize $51 million in federal funds “to upgrade obsolete information technology systems.” That identical language was included in every Appropriation Act since then. In a 2020 budget decision package submitted to the Department of Planning and Budget, VEC said that the upgrade “is scheduled to be completed prior to the end of fiscal year ending June 30, 2021” and offered to return $3.2 million of the appropriation.

There may be good reasons why it has taken VEC more than 15 years to upgrade its information technology systems. At the very least, VEC owes the General Assembly an explanation. Going further, JLARC should investigate this delay. Unemployed Virginians deserve better than a shrug and the modern version of “the dog ate my homework.”

“People Have Stopped Buying Automobiles”

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

That is how Aubrey Layne, Secretary of Finance, summed up his explanation to the House Appropriations Committee of April’s 15% drop in transportation revenue

All of the major components of the transportation revenue were down in April, but the biggest danger sign was in the motor vehicle sales and use tax. That source is the largest single state source of revenue for the highway maintenance and operation fund and the second largest source for the transportation trust fund. Its revenues in April were down 41% compared to April a year ago.

Despite the sharp drop in April, the year-to-date transportation revenues are still running 5.6% higher than for the comparable period last year, and significantly higher than the 3.3% decrease that had been forecast. However, the Governor’s stay-close-to-home policy, continuation of extensive telecommuting, and social distancing will likely bring the total transportation revenue below last year’s total. Revenues should pick up after July 1, when the increase in the gas tax becomes effective, although the increase will likely be less than was forecast in the session.

Juggling the Revenue

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Jim Bacon mentioned in an earlier post that the state’s revenues for April were $700 million less than in April of last year.  I was surprised that there were no cries of outrage from readers and dire warnings of the state running a budget deficit. I was also surprised that I did not detect any signs of panic on the part of the administration.

After I dug into the details and thought about them for a while, I realized that, for reasons to be set out later, the state is in position to finish this fiscal year in the black. It is next year that has the administration worried.

Total general fund revenues for April 2020 were 26% lower than those for April 2019, leading to the $700 million decrease. Although total General Fund (GF) revenue year-to-date was higher (1.4%) than the comparable period in FY 2019, 3.1% growth for the year is needed to meet the forecast. In summary, the state revenue growth rate through April was less than half what was needed to meet the forecast. Continue reading

A Founder Warned Us; We Did Not Heed the Warning

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Being retired and staying at home, I have now embarked on a long-planned project—reading the debates of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, as reported by James Madison and a few others.

I have only just started, but it is fascinating already. Many of the issues they discussed and debated are still being tossed around today, including on this blog. One speech I read recently particularly fascinated me.

The subject was whether the members of the first house of Congress should be elected directly by the people. Elbridge Gerry of Massachussetts (he of gerrymandering fame) was opposed to the direct election. Part of his argument, as reported by Madison, went this way:

“The people do not want virtue; but are the dupes of pretended patriots. In Massts. it has been fully confirmed by experience that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one on the spot can refute.”

Elbridge Gerry was obviously a man ahead of his time; he foresaw the rise of social media and warned against it.

Virus? What Virus? Ain’t No Virus Here!

Virginia Beach, May 16
Photo credit: Virginian Pilot

A Visit to Our Rebellion’s Home

Bacon’s Castle, Surry,Va.

Preservation Virginia will present a virtual tour this afternoon of Bacon’s Castle.  Here is the description of this Virginia historic landmark:

Bacon’s Castle is the oldest brick dwelling in North America and was once the home of Arthur Allen, a prosperous merchant and planter, and his family. Allen’s Brick House earned the moniker “Bacon’s Castle” in 1676 when several of Nathaniel Bacon’s men occupied the home for four months during the uprising that became known as Bacon’s Rebellion.

The tour is at 2 p.m.  If you are interested, here is the link.

It’s a Crisis! Let’s Scam the Government!

Image credit: Daily Texan

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

In a post yesterday, Jim Sherlock cited a report by NPR that the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) is in the process of finalizing contracts with private labs to expand COVID-19 testing. I hope that Jeff Stern, director of the agency, is not being pushed to conclude these contracts too hurriedly.

The last time that happened, with the state facing an oncoming Hurricane Florence, Virginia entered into a no-bid contract for $31 million to set up three emergency shelters. When the hurricane turned and largely missed the state, those shelters ended up being used by about 50 people. To be fair to Dr. Stern, his agency had warned the Governor and the General Assembly the previous year that the state had inadequate emergency sheltering provisions in the case of a major hurricane. On the other hand, a post-hurricane review contended that less expensive options had been available to meet the meets of an evacuation of Hampton Roads. Continue reading

Juicy Supreme Court Arguments on Tap Today

For those of you who might be interested, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on cases involving access to Trump financial documents. The arguments will be held by telephone and will be available for the public to listen to live.

First up will be two cases (consolidated) dealing with whether Congress can have access to Trump private financial records. Next will be a case in which the District Attorney in New York has subpoenaed Trump’s accountant for his financial records in connection with a criminal investigation.

Oral arguments will begin at 10 a.m.  They can be heard on any of several news outlets. I use C-Span. Just go to its website and click on the applicable Supreme Court link. If you do this before 10 a.m., be patient; nothing happens until the Supreme Court clerk activates the call and calls the Court to order.

U.S. Supreme Court Oral Arguments

The COVID-19 crisis has upended many traditions.  One such upended tradition is the live broadcast of U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments.

The Court took some time off in March and April, postponing oral arguments.  Now, it has resumed them, but the members, most of whom are in the “vulnerable” stage, are conducting the arguments by telephone conference, which are being made available to the public.

The format for these telephone conferences is not as free-wheeling as regular argument. Rather than jumping in somewhat willy-nilly with their questions, the Justices are called on in the order of seniority by the Chief Justice, who also enforces time limits. But, unless you are willing to take a chance on waiting in line for hours at the Supreme Court Building when the Court resumes its normal method of hearing oral arguments, now is your chance.

There are two arguments on schedule for tomorrow. One deals with the religious objection to being required to provide contraceptive coverage in insurance plans. The other considers whether the prohibition of robocalls, specifically for campaign donations or to “advise” on political issues, violates the First Amendment.

The hearings begin at 10 a.m. and can be heard on several news outlets.  I used C-Span.

Getting Out of Prison Early

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

As part of the response to the novel coronavirus crisis, the General Assembly accepted amendments to the budget bills for the current year and the upcoming biennium, proposed by the Governor, authorizing the Department of Corrections (DOC) to release early from incarceration offenders with less than a year to serve on their sentences. This authorization will be effective as soon as the Governor signs the caboose bill.

DOC has released its early release plan. The plan is fairly detailed, laying out the criteria for eligibility for release and the internal procedures to be followed by DOC in implementing the plan. This post will summarize those elements of the plan that are most relevant to the general public. (The full plan can be found here.) Continue reading

COVID-19 in Prison

Deerfield Correctional Center

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The latest DOC report shows an increase in the number of offenders testing positive for the novel coronavirus. There were a total of 147 incarcerated with a positive test, with nine of those in a hospital, compared to 116 and 8, respective, in the prior day’s report. Central Virginia Correctional Unit, the women’s minimum security unit in Chesterfield, showed the most increase, 23. The cumulative total of positive reports has increased from 139 to 170.  Fifty-three staff have tested positive.

The most worrisome aspect of this latest report is the occurrence of a positive test of an offender in the Deerfield complex for the first time. Deerfield Correctional Center is the facility in which DOC houses its geriatric and assisted living offender populations. It is not clear from the report whether this was an offender housed in the main facility or in the work center, which is a minimum security facility for female offenders and is a separate building from the main prison. Continue reading

A Break from COVID — Gambling

Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Governor is in a tug-of-war with his Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly. The objects of their contention are the so-called “skill games” (also sometimes called “gray machines”).

The skill games are video games now found in numerous truck stops and convenience stores that offer a cash prize to the winners. The opponents of such games have denounced them as illegal gambling. One Commonwealth’s attorney has charged the distributor of such games for violating Virginia law. The games’ distributors contend they are games of skill. Continue reading

Stop Gap Budget Amendments

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Not surprisingly, the Governor did not try to re-write the budget in the reconvened session. There is just not enough information available now regarding the extent to which state revenues will be affected by the economic downturn brought on by the novel coronavirus. Using the process set out in the Appropriation Act and implemented several times in recent years, the re-rewrite (with major cuts) will happen next fall.

The Governor used his proposed budget amendments to accomplish several objectives: increase the amount of general fund cash available to address revenue shortfalls; freeze spending on his and on General Assembly initiatives; allow additional spending to proceed in specified, de facto mandated areas; and give himself and agencies administrative flexibility in dealing with COVID-19 situations. Continue reading