How “complete streets” helped revive a small town. Hopewell, best known for its kepone spill in the James River, is nobody’s idea of a progressive community. But perhaps it should be. The city of 22,000 is leading the way in designing bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly “complete streets,” writes Greater Greater Washington‘s Virginia correspondent. Three years after City Council committed to boost the health of its population by encouraging walking, outdoor recreation and nutritious food, its streetscape improvements have won a designation as a Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) platinum standard community. The shift to walkability has coincided with the creation of 25 new businesses downtown and 70 new jobs. Said Evan Kafman, executive director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership: “Hopewell is one of those cities in which 10 years ago not many people had much hope for the future, but following Main Street and complete streets principles have changed the city in a way few people thought possible.”
Richmond’s fare skipper problem. By one measure, Richmond’s transit system is doing great: Ridership is up 15% since the launch of the Pulse Bus Rapid Transit system in June 2018. But lax enforcement on the transit line has lost revenue for the cash-strapped system, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The transit system, GRTC, cannot even quantify how prevalent fare skippers are. “Without an accurate fare evasion rate, GRTC may be unable to assess the severity of fare evasion and its financial impact,” states a new report from the Richmond city auditor. GRTC estimates that riders who evade the $1.50 fare account for 12% to 14% of the Pulse’s 5,400 average daily ridership. On paper, then, fare skippers account for some $360,000 a year in lost revenue. But who knows… if forced to pay their fares, how many would bother to take the Pulse in the first place?
Metro, Union strike contract deal. The Washington Metro has agreed to a four-year labor contract with its largest union. The transit agency will give up its strategy of privatizing some operations in exchange for… what… well, that’s not exactly clear, According to the Washington Post, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld moved to privatize several Metro operations in order to contain expenses and stay within a 3% cap on the annual growth in subsidies negotiated as a condition for a boost in financial support from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. ATU Union Local 689, with about 800 members, has been on strike, shutting down or reduce Metrobus routes used by about 8,500 riders daily. Continue reading
First Lady Pam Northam at a preschool in Warrenton. Photo credit: Washington Post
by James A. Bacon
Add another initiative to the ever-spawning list of new spending proposals facing the General Assembly in 2020: Governor Ralph Northam wants to spend $94.8 million on expanding early childhood education for poor Virginia children.
The primary justification offered for spending more on public pre-school is that other states spend more. If these articles in the Washington Post and Richmond Times-Dispatch are any indication, Northam provided no evidence — beyond his intuition — that the added spending would do anything lasting to advanced his stated goal of leveling “the playing field.”
“Where we end up in life has a lot to do with where we start,” Northam said in a statement. “Every child should have an equal opportunity to build a strong foundation, and early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make in our children’s health, well-being, and future success.”
First Lady Pam Northam, who has made early childhood education her cause, added this: “Ralph and I with our backgrounds — pediatric neurologist, pediatric occupational therapist originally and then as an educator — saw firsthand every day in our practices how little brains grow exponentially in those first years and how critical that window of time is.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The paucity of developable sites and buildings resulted in Virginia communities being eliminated from consideration for at least 65 projects totaling 19,000 jobs and $5 billion in capital investment over the past three years, according to Virginia Economic Development Partnership President Stephen Moret.
Of the 466 large suites available for development as factories, distribution centers, call centers and other job-producing businesses, only 30 are classified as Tier 4 or Tier 5, meaning they are ready to compete for big economic development projects, Moret told the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board Monday. Only two sites — one in Hampton Roads and one in the Roanoke/New River Valley region — qualified for the highest level of readiness.
In Moret’s analysis, site development is one of the four drivers behind site location decisions, along with workforce characteristics, supportive business climate, and quality of life. Virginia has historically under-invested in site preparation compared to states with whom it competes for manufacturing and distribution/logistics investment.
by James A. Bacon
Bacon’s Rebellion predicted that the change of political power in the General Assembly from red to blue would bring a raft of proposals for tax increases and revenue enhancements.
Because the General Fund is expected to see healthy revenue growth in the next biennial budget, I speculated that the Northam administration and its legislative allies would be restrained in their quest for new money, most likely pushing for sources that were either too opaque to understand (such as changes to tax deductions in response to the federal tax law) or too fragmented and obscure for anyone to notice. But it looks like I was wrong (hardly for the first time). According to WTOP, Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine suggested yesterday that the state could raise gas taxes next year.
Without a change to increase the gas tax or some other transportation funding source, the administration projects a decline in funding for road construction and other projects. In a development that takes absolutely no one by surprise, it turns out that fuel-efficiency improvements in Virginia’s automobile fleet are cutting into gasoline tax revenues. Continue reading
Source: America’s Health Rankings
by James A. Bacon
Virginia has improved from 20th place last year to 15th place this year among the 50 states in America’s Health Rankings compiled by the United Health Foundation. The report cited the Commonwealth as one of three states that “made the largest improvements in the rankings since 2018.” (See the Virginia health profile here.)
Virginia strengths: a low crime rate, a low percentage of children in poverty, and high immunization coverage among children. Since 2012, smoking has decreased from 20.9% of adults to 14.9%. Air pollution has decreased, and so has infant mortality.
Virginia challenges: a low rate of mental health providers, low per capita public health funding, low meningococcal immunization among adolescents. Drug deaths are up, frequent mental distress has increased, and so has the rate of chlamydia.
Overall, the story is a positive one. To what does the Commonwealth owe this improvement? Continue reading
Todd Gilbert, House Majority Leader and soon-to-be House Minority Leader: GOP must learn to appeal to suburban voters.
by James A. Bacon
So, the Republicans have wrapped up their annual “Advance” — a retreat at the Omni Homestead resort in Bath County. And if reports of the two newspapers that covered the event are to be believed — one from the Washington Post and one from the Roanoke Times — GOP leaders have absolutely no clue how to become competitive statewide.
Attendees do agree that they got shellacked in the November election, and they share a vague sense that they need to increase their appeal in the suburbs. But their only hope at this point resides in the conviction that Democrats will over-reach with Trump Derangement Syndrome in Washington and enact California-style legislation in Richmond. If voters get buyer’s remorse, they might start voting for Republicans again.
But you can’t defeat something with nothing, and there is no indication in either news account that Republicans gave much thought to what they stood for, other than not being insane. Continue reading
Source: Virginia Public Access Project
The final money tally is in, and it looks like more money was spent on House of Delegates elections in 2019 than any election in Virginia history. That was a nearly 42% increase over 2017, which itself was a record, according to data published by the Virginia Public Access Project. Democrats raised $38.2 million in the current election cycle, and Republicans raised $28.6.
Clearly, more money is better than less money when you’re running an election campaign. But having more money is no guarantee of victory. Del. Tim Hugo, D-Centreville, led the pack with $2.1 million, but he lost the election in a blue tide that swept over Northern Virginia.
Judging from anecdotal evidence, I suspect that a lot of the money was wasted. There is only so much spending that a media market can productively absorb. In my senatorial district, a showdown between Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, and Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, In the final days, we were deluged with direct mail pieces. I read the first few, but after a while, the mailers went straight into the trash.
A logical question to ask: Is campaign spending out of control? Should we restrict campaign donations? Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Virginia schools soon could have a new set of regulations governing the use of seclusion and restraint of students. The regs are awaiting approval by Governor Ralph Northam, an official with Virginia’s department of special education and student services told lawmakers Wednesday, as reported by VPM news.
The state needs standards for the use of these disciplinary methods, elaborated retiring Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, because there are no standards now. Bell, a retired high school special education teacher, championed the legislation requiring the Virginia Board of Education to restrict methods deemed “unsafe.” The board voted in July to ban the use of prone, or face-down, restraint in July.
No one wants teachers and staff using disciplinary methods that are unnecessarily harsh or potentially harmful — even to quell students acting violently. However, someone needs to think through the implications of these regulations in a school environment were emotionally unstable children are being mainstreamed. Virginia’s dominant media outlets don’t talk about this issue. Thankfully, we have Bacon’s Rebellion, and Bacon’s Rebellion has the Internet.
For a peak at the likely unintended consequences, look to Oregon…
by James A. Bacon
Five years ago, Rolling Stone magazine plunged the University of Virginia into turmoil with its infamous article, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” Though totally discredited, the story prompted intensive soul-searching by a campus administration primed to believe in the existence of a “rape culture” at the university. As documented in the latest edition of Cville magazine, the university dedicated considerable resources to address the problem of sexual assault.
The university adopted a Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence, instituted outreach and training programs, developed a system for reporting and tracking sexual assaults, hired a full-time Title IX coordinator, and beefed up its Equal opportunity and Civil Rights office staff. Counseling & Psychological Services nearly doubled its staff. The Women’s Center received more funding, hired trauma counselors and set up counseling hotlines.
But a curious thing happened. The incidence of sexual assault isn’t improving. Indeed, in 2018 the number of reported “rapes” leaped to 28 from 16 the year before. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
This 1956 law, enshrined in Chapter 59 of the Acts of the General Assembly, is a dead letter, rendered irrelevant by judicial rulings, others laws, and history, but it’s still on the books:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no child shall be required to enroll in or attend any school wherein both white and colored children are enrolled.
“The Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law,” commissioned by Governor Ralph Northam, identified this and 97 other Jim Crow-era laws still lurking in the state code. The governor has committed to repeal the racially discriminatory language. You can view the report here.
“If we are going to move forward as a Commonwealth, we must take an honest look at our past,” said Northam in a press statement. “We know that racial discrimination is rooted in many of the laws that have governed our Commonwealth—today represents an important step towards building a more equal, just, and inclusive Virginia.”
States the report: Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
A new study, “The Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap,” has identified six strategic technology clusters exhibiting the greatest potential for Virginia’s economic growth. The report, conducted by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, is not prescriptive — it does not offer legislative recommendations. Rather, the report identifies fruitful areas for collaboration between education, industry, government, and economic developers.
The most promising areas for focused research and economic development include:
- Life and health science
- Autonomous systems
- Space and utilities
- Agricultural and environmental technologies
- Data science analytics
Collaboration should take the form of aligning investments in R&D, talent development, industry engagement, capacity building (such as venture capital), and marketing/advocacy for the purpose of globally competitive industry clusters. Continue reading
Virginia Business magazine has named Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, as its 2019 business person of the year. The recognition is richly deserved. In less than three years, Moret has overhauled the badly dysfunctional VEDP, directed the effort to capture Amazon’s HQ2 project, restored Virginia to a top ranked state for business climate, and launched several initiatives that should improve the state’s economic competitiveness even more in the years to come.
The magazine has an excellent profile in its current edition, telling the story of his upbringing in a small Mississippi town, his winning a Louisiana State University scholarship by playing the trumpet, his contributions as a senior member of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s administration, and then his move to Virginia as chief economic developer.
The only insight I would add to the Virginia Business profile would be to note the breadth of Moret’s interests. The VEDP has a narrow scope: recruiting out-of-state corporate investment to Virginia (with a side job of promoting foreign trade). Moret, quite rightly, understands that the key to attracting corporate investment is building and retaining human capital. He also comprehends the role of university-centered innovation ecosystems in driving economic growth. Weaving together the strands of corporate recruitment, workforce development, and higher-ed, he has emerged not only as the leading practitioner of economic development in Virginia but its most visible and articulate theoretician.
Source: Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
by James A. Bacon
Every three years the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development administers standardized reading, math, and science tests to representative samples of 15-year-olds from dozens of countries — 79 in 2018, to be exact. Despite a decades-long effort in the United States to raise standards, the performance of American teenagers has been stagnant since 2000, reports the New York Times. (Actually, math performance has declined slightly.)
Even worse, as the newspaper summarizes the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams, “The achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground.” A fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared that they had not mastered the reading skills expected of a 10-year-old.
The achievement gap, which is getting wider despite the expenditure of billions of dollars to close it, is a source of consternation — and a mystery — to the educators consulted by the NYTimes. “There is no consensus on why the performance of struggling students is declining. Could it be school segregation? Limited school choice? Funding inequities? Family poverty? Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Later this week the University of Virginia Board of Visitors will consider increasing tuition by 3% to 4% in the 2020-21 school year and jacking up fees between 3% to 6%. Here is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation showing the arguments and data that the administration presented the board in its November meeting.
As usual, the UVA administration blames tuition increases on declines in state support for higher education. “Responsibility for funding educational costs has shifted from the taxpayer to the student,” states one slide. “Increases in tuition have not kept pace with declines in general funds, leaving a gap of $3,648 per student in 2020-2021.”
While those numbers may justify tuition increases in previous decades — UVa bases its calculations on trends going back to 1990-91 — it overlooks the fact that between 2012 and 2018 (the latest year for which I could obtain data from UVa’s annual financial reports), state support increased by $20 million even while academic (non-hospital) spending increased by $511 million! (See support for these numbers here.) The state is to blame for higher tuition? Really? In what universe? Continue reading
Coal ash at Dominion’s Chesterfield power station. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch
by James A. Bacon
The cost of cleaning up coal ash at Dominion Energy’s old coal-fired power plants will run between $2.4 billion and $5.7 billion, the company said at a presentation to the State Water Control Board yesterday. Disposal costs could add $5 to the monthly bill of typical households over the next 15 to 20 years, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Dominion’s original plan called for consolidating and capping coal ash on site at its coal-generating plants. Environmental groups criticized the plan on the grounds that underground water migrating through the coal ash would pick up contaminants and pollute public waters. Under orders from the General Assembly, the power company now is looking at a combination of strategies that include recycling, on-site landfilling and off-site landfilling.
We are getting a clearer idea of how much the General Assembly’s coal ash mandate will cost, but I have yet to see an analysis of how much benefit will come from exceeding Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disposal standards. Continue reading