by James A. Bacon
The Internet, pundits long predicted, would emancipate people from the necessity of living near where they worked. The connectivity provided by cell phones, laptops and broadband would allow people to plug in at home…. or even while lounging by the pool or on the beach. It was a nice fantasy, but telecommuting never lived up to its potential. Far from freeing people to live in the bucolic countryside, the logic of the Knowledge Economy impelled more people to the city. A new theory emerged: that the clustering of knowledge workers led to such huge gains in productivity and innovation that it outweighed any lifestyle benefits to telecommuting long distances. The bigger the labor market, the greater the pull.
Now Hamilton Lombard, a demographer at the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group, has been so bold as to suggest the dynamic might be shifting again. New Census Bureau data, he writes in the StatChat blog, suggest that over the past three years “the places Americans chose to live are becoming less connected to where their employer is based.”
What’s different all of a sudden? Perhaps the tighter labor market. Lombard suggests. As certain sectors of the economy experience labor shortages, employees have more bargaining power. He doesn’t say this, but I’ll throw it out there for consideration: Instead of pushing for higher wages, perhaps more people are using that bargaining power for more control over their work-life balance.
Whatever the reason, the impact of the increasing work-from-home phenomenon is potentially profound. Outside of Virginia’s major metro areas themselves, the regions that seem particularly effected are the Shenandoah Valley and the Chesapeake Bay. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
No question: The Holocaust was one of the defining events of modern history. An estimated six million Jews and five million others (Poles and Roma, mostly) died under the Nazi regime’s genocidal programs. No question: Ignorance of the Holocaust among American youth is startling and dismaying. A 2018 survey of Millennials found that 66% could not identify the Auschwitz death camp. No question: Virginia schools need to incorporate teaching of the Holocaust and other genocides into their history curricula.
But does Virginia really need a Holocaust and Genocide Advisory Committee?
Does Virginia really need to develop, as called for in HB 916, a “robust model curriculum and teacher training module” to provide instruction on the Holocaust and other historical genocides for the purpose of providing “anti-bias education for public school students in the Commonwealth?”
Under the bill introduced by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Alexandria, the Advisory Committee would go beyond just teaching about the Holocaust. He envisions a broader initiative in which case studies and instructional lessons in public schools would explore the Holocaust and other genocides “in the context of how lower levels of hate, ridicule, and dehumanization” led to wider acts of violence. Anti-bias education also would provide “tools for responding to different forms of racism, bigotry and discrimination,” and explore “slavery and other forms of historical dehumanizing injustice.”
Wow. I guess Virginia’s public schools aren’t politically correct enough. Now we need a formal program of indoctrination in which legislators not only dictate which subjects to teach but how to teach them. Continue reading
Can this thing be weaponized?
Since posting my previous post, I’ve been thinking about Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to declare a state of emergency to keep a lid on the upcoming gun-rights rally. I’m sure it was not a decision lightly taken. The Governor is in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation — criticized by one side for clamping down on the rights of law-abiding citizens, but subject to even worse criticism, if gun violence breaks out, had he failed to act. I get it.
Here’s the thing. There’s a lot of hysteria surrounding this issue. The media has played up crazy, unsubstantiated rumors and worrisome threats circulating in extreme right-wing social media. But deranged right-wingers are not the only people who are capable of over-reacting. What, exactly, is the menace that Northam sees? Were the worrisome words trash talk designed to impress other right-wing nut jobs, or is there legitimate reason to think the people intend to act upon them? Obviously, it is better to err on the side of caution on such things. But do the threats rise to the level of a state of emergency?
Northam could help himself if he held a press conference featuring a Virginia law enforcement officer in charge of evaluating the threats. Who, specifically, are we worried about? Name organizations! What are we afraid people might do? And perhaps most importantly, how are the measures associated with the state of emergency tailored to deal with those threats? For example, Northam has mentioned worries about an attack by drone. How does squatting on gun rights protect people from drone attacks? Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
So, Governor Ralph Northam yesterday declared a state of emergency that bans the bearing of firearms on stat property from Jan. 17 through Jan. 21. In justification, he cited plans by tens of thousands of gun-rights advocates to gather in Richmond in protest of gun-control legislation under consideration by the General Assembly.
Stated Northam in a prepared statement: “Available information suggests that a substantial number of these demonstrators are expected to come from outside the Commonwealth, may be armed, and have as their purpose not peaceful assembly but violence, rioting, and insurrection.”
Rioting and insurrection? Really. Them’s strong words. The Washington Post has written of out-of-state groups coming to Virginia to form posses and militias, as well as reckless and unsubstantiated rumors spreading on social media. The newspaper also referred vaguely to “threats” made against Northam. According to Virginia Public Media, Northam has said officials have heard reports of “out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.” He said they “are coming to intimidate and cause harm.”
Question: If specific hate groups have been identified, why aren’t they being targeted by law enforcement? Also, wouldn’t it be helpful to notify the public who they are? Why the need to deprive everyone, including law-abiding citizens, of the right to carry arms onto state property?
Update: According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Northam claimed that “armed militia groups” plan on “storming our Capitol” and “weaponizing drones.” That’s a lot more specific — and alarming — than the intelligence I cited in other media reports.
Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell Jr. president of Liberty University, needs to dial down his rhetoric. Speaking on a Lynchburg radio show, he predicted a backlash of local law enforcement authorities against gun-control legislation from the General Assembly, reports the News & Advance. Presumably referring to legislators, he said, “I think they’re going to be faced with civil disobedience, not just by citizens but by police officers. And I think it’s what they deserve.” Continue reading
To hear podcast click here.
Peter Galuszka, Virginia journalist and contributor to Bacon’s Rebellion, appears in this WTJU podcast on how the General Assembly works. Peter talks about the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in submitting boilerplate conservative legislation to the legislature. His remarks begin around the 8:00 mark.
Roanoke Memorial Hospital: $300 million expansion thanks to Medicaid
by James A. Bacon
A year after Virginia enacted Medicaid expansion, it’s still too early to tell what impact the initiative will have on public health, medical economists tell Virginia Business magazine. But one thing seems clear enough. The program is injecting enough money into the healthcare sector that major health systems say they have the confidence to embark upon major expansion projects.
Roanoke-based Carilion Clinic is moving ahead with a $300 million expansion to Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Fairfax-based Inova Health System is spending a similar amount, $300 million, to upgrade its Loudoun County hospital. Bon Secours Virginia Health System has announced plans for $119 million in improvements to its Chesterfield County medical center. And community health centers are either opening or expanding in Southern and Southwest Virginia.
One big question I had about Medicaid expansion is the impact it would have on hospital profitability — and what the hospitals would do with the money. The Virginia Business article provides some clues. Continue reading
Del. Delores McQuinn. Photo credit: Richmond.com.
Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, has submitted a bill, HB 1541, that would raise taxes in Central Virginia by 2.1% on wholesale fuels (about 7.6 cents per gallon of gasoline) and 0.7% on the sales and use tax to fund regional transportation projects.
The taxes would raise an estimated $168 million a year. Fifty percent would be returned to the localities for projects that would “improve local mobility,” including roads, sidewalks, trails, mobility services, or transit; 35% would go to a Central Virginia Transportation Authority; and 15% would be dedicated to mass transit in Planning District 15.
McQuinn said the dedicated funding is critical to improving access to public transportation, especially for low-income residents who have no other way to get to jobs or amenities in the region, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Said she in a meeting with leaders from four localities in the region: “Transportation has become to me almost a civil rights issue.”
A civil rights issue? Wow! I always thought of “civil rights” as ensuring that all Americans enjoyed the same constitutional and legal protections. Now, it seems, the concept of civil rights has expanded to the idea of redistributing income from motorists and consumers, many of them low-income themselves, to trendy priorities favored by urban white elites under the guise of helping minorities and the poor. Continue reading
Artist’s rendering of Pamunkey casino in downtown Norfolk.
by James A. Bacon
The population of the Pamunkey Indian tribe, which traces its lineage to Powhatan and Pocahontas, numbers about 200. Most members live on or near their 1,200-acre reservation north of the James River. Among other ways of making a living, they operate a shad hatchery, produce traditional pottery, and cater to visitors in their museum. For the most part, from what I can gather, they enjoy a working/middle-class standard of living. I have come across no evidence of any wealthy Pamunkeys. But if the General Assembly legalizes casino gambling this year, the tribe would strike it rich.
In 2016 the Pamunkeys won federal recognition as an Indian tribe, a status that entitles them to all manner of benefits not available to other Americans. A veritable industry has grown up around these entitlements, the most visible of which is the development and operation of casinos. Running casinos is not a skill set that Pamunkeys have acquired on their reservation. Nevertheless, the tribe is pursuing development of a casino on Norfolk’s waterfront in a project originally pegged at $700 million. Although the project has since been scaled back to $200 million, that still averages out to an investment of $1 million per Pamunkey.
News reports provide few details on how the little tribe proposes to finance the casino. But going to go out on a limb and suggest that the Pamunkeys are not putting up the equity for the project themselves. Just as the Eastern Band of Cherokee are backed by a major developer in their proposal to build a casino near Bristol, so, too, do the Pamunkeys have sugar daddy. According to news reports, that backer is Franklin, Tenn.-based billionaire Jon Yarbrough. Continue reading
Eric Williams, superintendent of Loudoun County public schools, has proposed a 10.8% increase in the school system’s local funding. The sum includes a $6 million “investment effort” to address equity concerns, reports Loudoun Now.
The initiative would create a “supervisor of equity” position to report to the recently created “director of equity,” and create a team of a supervisor and three instructional facilitators to “focus on equity and culturally responsive instruction.” Two teachers will be hired to bring more diversity to gifted education programs. Five positions will be empowered to reduce discipline proportionately (by race) and decrease use of hateful speech and racial slurs.
Here’s a prediction: That $6 million will be a total waste, as measured by educational outcomes.
Note: This chart corrects an error that appeared in the e-mailed version of this post.
The English Standards of Learning (SOL) pass rates for major racial/ethnic groups in Loudoun County and for the state as a whole appear above. Continue reading
The mouse that
by James A. Bacon
As the General Assembly considers a host of issues that could have devastating consequences for Virginia’s business climate — tax increases, $15 minimum wage, repeal of the right-to-work law, a death tax, trial lawyer-friendly anti-discrimination legislation, and the list goes on — the business community has been remarkably quiet.
Once upon a time, when business spoke — like in the old E.F. Hutton commercial — Virginia listened. Now, it seems, business isn’t speaking, and nobody’s listening.
The silence of Virginia’s business community struck me when reading a Roanoke Times op-ed today in which Terry Durkin, vice president of public policy for the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, expressed muted reservations about the minimum-wage and right-to-work bills. Whoah! Where did he come from? When’s the last time I heard from anyone in the business community who wasn’t bleating about safe, non-controversial topics?
Source: Tax Foundation
by James A. Bacon
Once upon a time, the Commonwealth had an “estate” tax (paid by the estate of a person upon his or her death) like many other states, but changes in federal law effectively repealed it in 2007. There has been no serious move to reinstate the tax in Virginia until this year. Now Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, and Del. Vivian Watts, D-Alexandria, propose to reimpose the tax with exemptions for closely held businesses. (See Hans Bader’s description of the tax here.)
It’s hard to know how seriously to take the prospect of a death tax in Virginia. Are Surovell and Watts off in left field, all by themselves, or is there quiet by widespread support for their idea? We’ll find out as the 2020 General Assembly session rolls on. In the meantime, it’s not too early to begin discussing the pros and cons of the tax.
I acknowledge that the death-tax debate cuts many ways. As a libertarian-leaning conservative, I am uncomfortable with the idea of an aristocracy of wealth perpetuating itself through inheritances. But I’m even more uncomfortable with the idea of social-engineering zealots deciding who gets to keep their wealth, and how much they get to keep. Those moral questions are interesting but, to my mind, secondary to the practical, real-world impact on wealth creation and the generation of tax revenue here in Virginia.
Here’s the bottom line: As long as the United States is a federal system of 50 states, the states will compete to attract wealthy people, the jobs they create, and the tax revenues they generate. A death tax in Virginia would incentivize wealthy residents to relocate to states that have no death tax. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The Richmond Times-Dispatch has posted a front-page story today exploring all the reasons why Virginia needs to increase its K-12 education spending. Student achievement on standardized tests are declining. School facilities are crumbling. Racial/ethnic disparities persist. And then this factoid: State inflation-adjusted spending per student is 8% lower than before the Great Recession. Mo’ money is needed for reading specialists. Mo’ money for smaller class sizes. Mo money for schools with low-income students. Mo’ money for teacher pay. Mo’ money for English-as-Second-Language students. Mo’ money for everything.
The article quotes spending advocates as arguing that even the $1.2 billion in added biennial funding recommended by Governor Ralph Northam is not enough to meet K-12’s voracious needs. Says Caroline County teacher Rachel Levy: “The governor’s budget proposal for education is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately, it’s not sufficient.”
Northam comes across as the voice of fiscal reason. “Would we like to do more?” he is quoted as saying. “Absolutely. But we have to live within our means. Education will continue to be a top priority for us, but you can’t make up in just one year.”
Nary a dissenting voice was seen. The article contained not one hint of a whisper of a suggestion that maybe $1.2 billion was excessive in any way, or that there might be other ways to view the educational budget. The debate is entirely between the moderate Left and the far Left. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
To obtain press identification cards granting regular access to the Virginia State Capitol, journalists are asked an assortment of questions such as birth date, driver’s license number — and race. Democrats now in charge of the legislature say they’ve never heard of the race requirement, and critics say it is a reminder of the state’s segregationist past, reports WAMU.
The Capitol Police say asking for the racial identifier is part of a “standard background check,” but some are drawing a link between the requirement and Virginia’s 1924 “Act to Preserve Racial Integrity” and other vestiges of the Jim Crow era.
“I think it’s another manifestation of what we need to get rid of in the state of Virginia,” said attorney Victor Glasberg, who represented three couples suing for the right to get marriage licenses without stating their race. “It’s old Jim Crow [law] that has yet to be thrown out.”
“That question is on so many things. Marriage licenses, birth certificates, driver’s license applications. It’s unnecessary, but no-one ever thought let’s change it,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. “Why do we need to know what race a member of the press is?”
Good question. Why do we need to ask peoples’ race — not just for journalist credentials and marriage licenses, but for any purpose at all? Virginians want a color-blind society, don’t they? Well… don’t they? Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
To get a handle on how progressive (to be clear, I use “progressive” as a synonym for “leftist”) Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed two-year budget is, consider the following.
If Northam’s agenda is adopted, Virginia’s middle class will pay higher gas taxes, higher cigarette taxes, higher income taxes, and higher electric rates. That doesn’t include higher charges resulting from a new hospital tax last year, nor does it include higher college tuition, any of the proposals (such as an inheritance tax) proposed by emboldened Democrats in the legislature, higher who-knows-what-else is squirreled away in the budget, or ideas just hanging fire like the Transportation Climate Initiative.
What will the middle class get in return? Virtually nothing, unless you count expenditures on programs meant to benefit the public at large such as the environment, rural broadband, education, and workforce development. The majority of spending programs are targeted to help lower-income Virginians — and various Democratic Party constituencies who mask their self-serving agendas as benefiting the poor.
Going down the list of initiatives listed in Northam’s State of the Commonwealth address, we find: Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
In his State of the Commonwealth speech yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam outlined his proposals for hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending initiatives. Needless to say, it was impossible during such a high-altitude overview to provide a detailed explanation of the thinking behind each program. In most instances, he posited a “need,” proffered a government “solution,” and moved on. But in one intriguing instance, his $145 million program to make community college more affordable, he delved deeper.
There are two big barriers that hinder “non-traditional students” (those whose parents did not attend college) from completing their community college degrees, the Governor said. One is cost, and the other is life itself.
Here’s an example. At Reynolds Community College here in Richmond, a majority of students are people of color. The college looked at “retention rates” — who starts a degree program and then goes on to complete it. They identified students who started one academic year and didn’t come back the next. They asked why didn’t these students come back.
The answer is really important. The facts showed it was not academics that kept them from coming back. In fact, these students usually had earned a 3.1 grade point average when they left school.
These students enrolled in a degree program — trying to get a skill, so they can get a job, and provide for the people they love. They set a goal. They worked hard. They performed well, but they dropped out. Why? They left because life got in the way. The car broke down. Or the baby got sick. Or they lost their job. Just trying to get ahead. And then life hits you.
There’s a lot going on in that statement. Let’s unpack it. Continue reading