Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

How to Fix the Borderline Fraud of Surprise Billing

by James A. Bacon

Surprise medical billings are one of those things where people of all political stripes come to agreement. It sucks to go to a hospital within your health insurance network only to discover when you open your bill that an anesthesiologist, consulting physician or emergency room doctor at the hospital, unknown to you, did not belong to your network, and that you’ve been charged thousands of dollars more than you bargained on.

While loathing of the phenomenon knows no partisan grounds, solutions are remarkably hard to find. The General Assembly has been struggling over this issue this session, so far without success. This article in The Virginia Mercury describes three remedies being debated, each with their own pros and cons. I have a few thoughts of my own.

Surprise billing arises from the fact that insurance carriers compete by offering lower rates to customers who agree to stick within restricted provider networks. Hospitals, physicians, labs and other providers agree to charge less in exchange for getting preferential access to the carrier’s customers. It’s one of the few ways to make providers compete on the basis of price and lower costs, and not a strategy we would want insurance carriers to abandon. Continue reading

Discipline in Schools? Who Needs Discipline in Schools?

New discipline-free zone?

by James A. Bacon

Speaking of legislation that never made it out of committee in the past but now could be unleashed upon Virginia (see previous post), there’s HB 256, a bill that would modify the state statute on disorderly conduct so that it does not apply on school property or in school buses.

This bill, introduced by Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, and passed by the House in a 61-to-37 vote, continues the trend of undermining the ability of public schools to maintain discipline. Undoubtedly the bill’s backers can cite anecdotal examples in which disorderly conduct represented overkill. Perhaps school districts need to review such cases and adopt policies to prevent abuses. But that’s no reason to categorically deprive schools of a disciplinary option for preventing violence.

Let’s remind ourselves of the definition of “disorderly conduct”: Continue reading

The Beauty of Workers Cooperatives: They’re Voluntary

Equal Exchange workers cooperative in Bridgewater, Mass.

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Public Access Project has published a nifty list of bills that were killed in committee when Republicans controlled the General Assembly but have broken out to the House or Senate floor now that Democrats run the show. Most are dreadful, some are tolerable, and a few are even beneficial. One bill, HB 55, introduced by the General Assembly’s self-declared socialist Lee Carter, D-Manassas, is downright intriguing.

The bill would establish “worker cooperatives” as a category of cooperative associations. A worker cooperative is a stock corporation that conducts business for the mutual benefit of its employees. At least two-thirds of employees would be required to own membership shares, and members are entitled to one vote only. Profit would be allocated in proportion to the amount of work each member performed.

The House of Delegates passed the bill in a 62 to 36 vote. Yeah, it’s kind of socialist. No, it’s not my cup of tea. But if people voluntarily enter into such an association, what’s wrong with it?

That’s the beauty of a free society. People shouldn’t be forced to participate in the corporate, capitalist economy. I’m perfectly comfortable participating in such a society, but I can understand why other people wouldn’t be. And I think it’s great if we can create mechanisms —  be they hippie communes in the woods or worker cooperatives — that allow people to organize themselves to practice of business as they choose. Continue reading

Deer, Cars, Wildlife Corridors… and Coyotes

by James A. Bacon

Egads! Vehicle collisions with deer accounted for 61,000 traffic accidents, in Virginia in the year ending June 30, 2016, according to the Virginia Transportation Research Council. The hoofed critters contributed to one in six of all accident claims. And, judging by the number of deer carcass removals, the number of accidents may be under-reported. There are more deer-related accidents than alcohol-related crashes. As a menace to Virginia motorists — roughly 10,000 injuries and 200 fatalities a year — deer are second only to distracted drivers.

I first read the astonishing deer-collision numbers in a Washington Post op-ed by Richmond journalist (and friend) Steve Nash. Nash is a careful reporter, but so amazed was I by the magnitude of the problem, I had to double-check the data. It’s accurate.

Lawmakers have tackled drunk drivers, and they’re working on distracted drivers. But I can’t think of any laws the General Assembly can enact that deer are likely to obey. There are almost as many deer living in rural Virginia (an estimated one million), and they are even less inclined than the human inhabitants of Second Amendment Sanctuary country to hew to legal diktats handed down from the legislature. Continue reading

More Transparency Coming for Higher Ed?

by James A. Bacon

The General Assembly is considering three bills that would improve transparency and governance in higher education. If enacted, they would a add small measure of accountability to Virginia’s colleges and universities.

A better accounting of costs. HB 927, introduced by Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, would provide for the State Council 0f Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to collect financial data from public colleges and universities broken down by program and discipline. The data would include operational or instructional costs, General Fund and Nongeneral Fund revenue, and planned expenditures.

This would be fantastic. For years I have been calling for deeper analysis of the cost structures of Virginia’s public universities, and SCHEV is the logical organization to collect and examine the data. SCHEV is already doing some of this. For instance, right now it embarking upon a five-year review of the number of degrees granted and majors declared in different programs and departments. HB 927 would drill deeper.

Universities love to grow new programs but hate to shrink old ones. Continue reading

Lawmakers, Don’t Forget the Real Victims

Shaniqua Allen and Sharmar Hill Sr. grieve the loss of their 3-year-old son Sharmar Hill Jr. One of the toddler’s suspected killers was out on bond. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

by James A. Bacon

Newly empowered Democrats are pushing a wave of criminal justice reforms through the General Assembly with the goal of reducing the disproportionate number of African-Americans in incarceration. Some tweaks to the system are no doubt justified — every system can be improved upon. And, as Dick Hall-Sizemore reported yesterday, after a frenzy of activity early in the session, legislators appear to be slowing down to study some of the proposals more carefully.

The driving motivation behind these reforms is that the criminal justice system is fundamentally racist. Bringing about racial justice is a laudatory impulse. But justice for whom? A disproportionate number of violent crime victims also are African-Americans. Relax the rules too much, and we could well see a spike in the number of killings like that of 3-year-old Sharmar Hill, Jr.

Sharmar was playing last week outside his home in Hillside Court, one of Richmond’s infamous housing projects. He was shot and killed in a flurry of shooting. The alleged killer, Antonio L. Harris, had been arrested in November and charged with a carjacking. Two weeks after his arrest, he was granted bond and placed on home electronic monitoring. Friday, he was allegedly involved in another carjacking involving a Lyft driver. Previously, the 21-year-old had pleaded guilty to possession of heroin, possession of a sawed-off shotgun, and underage possession of a firearm. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: If It Walks, Tax it. If It Still Walks, Regulate It…

First they came for Uber… First the General Assembly decided to regulate Uber and Lyft after taxicab companies protested, then Airbnb after hotels protested. Now lawmakers are moving to regulate peer-to-peer car sharing after rental-car companies started griping. Roanoker Neil Aneja owns three automobiles that he rents out through car-sharing app Turo. As he explains to the Roanoke Times, “It’s like Airbnb for cars.” Car rental companies (and the local governments that generate taxes fro them) say Aneja isn’t competing on a level playing field. The motor vehicle rental tax in Virginia is 10%. Both sides have valid arguments. If there’s going to be a tax, it should be applied to car rentals across the board. On the other hand, why should the state punish individuals who want to make a little cash from their automobile assets? Does government have to tax everything? I rented a U-Haul van the other day. The rental agency advertised a $25 charge. By the time taxes and fees were added in, the final bill was more like $40. They get you coming and going.

Why do do-gooders hate poor people? Retired economics professor David W. Kreutzer has a great op-ed in the RTD on the subject of payday lenders. General Assembly do-gooders (HB 789, for instance) want to cap the interest rates that payday lenders can charge on their small, short-term loans, a measure that would put the lenders out of business. When states cap interest rates, the payday lenders leave. Where do poor people go when they need small, short-term loans? In states banning payday lending, pawn-shop borrowing is 60% higher than other states, and the rate of involuntary checking-account closures is triple. Writes Kreutzer: “There is no ruby-heel clicking or wand waving that transforms unbanked households into banked ones or increases anybody’s savings when rate caps shut down payday lenders.”

Your government is in the finest of hands: Christian Dorsey, Virginia’s representative on the Washington Metro board, has yet to repay a $10,000 campaign donation he accepted in violation of the board’s ethics policy. Dorsey, a Democrat who also serves on the Arlington County Board, said he is working on a wire transfer to return the money to a transit union that negotiates with Metro. Personal bankruptcy issues are making it difficult to fulfill his pledge, made three months ago, to return the donation. The ethics lapse, reports the Washington Post, follows the resignation of Jack Evans, a D.C. Council member, following revelations that he was receiving money from a parking company that did business with Metro.


No, Nigel, Vexit Is Not a Good Idea

Nigel Farage (center) speaks at Liberty University with Jerry Falwell Jr. (left) and David Nasser (right).

by James A. Bacon

I’ve been a Nigel Farage fan since I first viewed him on YouTube years ago. I cackled as the obscure British representative to the European Parliament hilariously skewered the bureaucratic officiousness of EU executives. Farage went on to become an international phenomenon, championing the Brexit movement, building the conservative UK Independence Party (UKIP) into a major political force, and challenging the sanctimony of British elites. His populist politics are similar to those of President Trump, although his personality, unlike the president’s, is tempered by amiability and wit. In other words, his demeanor is an asset, not a liability. I’ve often thought, if only Farage were American, we might have elected a different president. As it is, he makes periodic forays into England’s former colonies, including, most recently, Virginia, and shares his thinking in his own inimitable way.

Appearing at Liberty University yesterday, Farage made the case for “Vexit” — or the right of citizens of Virginia counties discontented with the direction of state government to break away and join West Virginia. “When local people want to make changes and change their structure of government, they should be able to do so,” he said at Liberty’s convocation, as reported by the News & Advance,

Farage’s comments followed the headline-grabbing offer by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice for Virginia localities to switch states. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. became the first prominent Virginian to endorse the idea. I initially thought Falwell was just engaging in political theater, but after Farage’s comments, I’m not so sure. Continue reading

Northam Budget Stiffs Online Students

Liberty University graduates from online programs — stiffed in governor’s proposed budget.

by James A. Bacon

While Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed 2020-22 budget lavishes tens of millions of extra dollars on higher education, it does cut back in one area — support for distance learning. Specifically, the budget would tighten eligibility requirements for the Tuition Assistance Grant to exclude Virginia students at private, nonprofit colleges and universities who take online courses.

Northam wants to bolster the TAG program, the purpose of which is to support private nonprofit higher-ed institutions based in Virginia, by increasing annual grant awards from $3,400 per residential college student to $4,000. But the budget would end support for Virginia students taking courses online. As it turns out, two institutions with the most biggest online enrollments, Liberty University and Regent University, have conservative leadership.

Last week Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr., one of the rare higher-ed leaders to openly praise President Trump, suggested that the Democratic governor was targeting Liberty for his conservative views. Liberty’s online enrollment includes about 2,000 Virginia students. Assuming the university lost $3,400 per student, the budget would impact Liberty negatively by $6.8 million. “The very people they claim to champion are the ones they are harming,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “Those who claim to be tolerant are usually the most intolerant.”

The Northam administration denies any political motivation. “The purpose of the TAG program is to help address and offset the cost of college, notably brick-and-mortar costs associated with attending college,” a Northam spokesperson told the publication. Continue reading

The Growing Clout of Virginia’s Solar Lobby

by James A. Bacon

It may be a while before the solar industry matches the clout of Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, but it has come into its own as a lobbying and political player. The new reality hit me forcefully when the Virginia Solar for All Campaign issued a statement applauding the advance of the Virginia Clean Economy Act out of committee yesterday.

“The House of Delegates is taking bold action on energy, advancing legislation that will create a clean energy economy, put Virginia on a path to 100% clean energy, and eliminate harmful carbon emissions to turn back the tide against climate change,” said Rachel Smucker, Virginia Policy and Development Manager for the Maryland Delaware Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (MDV-SEIA).

Distributed solar generation — small-scale rooftop and community projects — is a key component of the bill, which would mandate a 100% renewable electric grid by 2050. At present, distributed solar is capped at 1% of Dominion’s peak load forecast. Lifting that cap, expanding opportunities for Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), and mandating 100% renewable energy sources would open up multibillion-dollar market opportunities for solar companies.

The collection of logos seen above, representing members of the Virginia Solar for All Campaign, does not even account for all the solar players in the state. Continue reading

Right-to-Work Repeal Would Cost “Thousands” of Jobs, Says VEDP

Governor Ralph Northam at a recent announcement that an investment by Mack Trucks would create 250 new jobs in Salem, Va. Would Mack have committed to Virginia without a right-to-work law?

by James A. Bacon

The repeal of Virginia’s Right-to-Work law would result in the loss of dozens of economic development projects, “thousands” of manufacturing and supply-chain jobs, and $9 million to $25 million per year in annual General Fund revenue just from the state’s current project prospect pipeline, reports the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) in a fiscal impact statement for HB 153.

The bill, introduced by Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, with six co-patrons, would repeal the Right-to-Work law, which prohibits making union membership a prerequisite for employment. Virginia is the northernmost Right-to-Work state on the East Coast, and the law has been a pillar of the state’s economic competitiveness. Scrapping the law would have a particularly devastating impact on rural areas and small metros where manufacturing and supply-chain operations comprise a large part of the economic base.

As the fiscal impact statement explains, a state’s Right-to-Work status is a primary factor considered by company executives and site-selection consultants scoping out sites for corporate expansions. A 2019 survey by Area Development found that more than 70% of corporate executives and 78% of site-selection consultants indicated that it is “important” or “very important” for a state to have a Right-to-Work law. Site selection consultants have told VEDP that a change in the policy would impact Virginia’s competitiveness for economic-development projects, especially in the manufacturing and supply-chain sectors. Continue reading

Private Nonprofit Colleges Need to Adapt or Die

Virginia private nonprofit institutions with enrollment of 500 or more.

by James A. Bacon

With the college-age population expected to drop 15% between 2025 and 2029, Virginia’s 28 private liberal arts colleges are facing hard times ahead. And Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal to make community college free for lower-income students won’t help. The tuition gulf between private colleges and publicly supported colleges will get only wider.

Writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Phyllis W. Jordan, editorial director of the Washington, D.C.,-based FutureEd think tank, raises the alarm. The private colleges, many of which are located in small towns and rural areas, are economic anchors of their communities. If they fail, they knock out an economic underpinning of communities with few alternative sources of business activity and employment.

So, what’s the solution? Unfortunately, Jordan’s proposal — to match bigger state subsidies of public colleges with bigger subsidies for private colleges — is just plain awful. Subsidies replace one set of problems with a different set of problems. Continue reading

How Politically Skewed is Virginia’s Professoriat?

by James A. Bacon

How thoroughly dominated are America’s institutions of higher education by faculty and staff hewing to the left side of the political spectrum? In a survey of 12,372 professors, finds a new National Association of Scholars study, 48.4% are registered Democrats and 5.7% are registered Republicans. The ratio of Democratic to Republican donors was even more one-sided, about 95 to one.

The study breaks down the ratios for individual universities. Unfortunately, none are Virginia institutions because the Old Dominion is not one of the states that requires voters to register with a political party. So, I did a quick-and-dirty search on the Virginia Public Access Project database to list all public and private university employees who have donated $10,000 or more to either Republicans and/or Democrats over the past 20 years. (If someone wants to plow through the full universe of donors, not just the biggest donors, be my guest. I’ll be happy to publish what you find.)

The results suggest that Virginia higher-ed faculty and staff, though heavily skewed to Democrats, are less lopsided than the colleges and universities covered in the NAS study – a Dem/GOP ratio of only 3.5-to-one by dollars donated, and less than 3 to one in the number of donors. Continue reading

Taboo Views on Race and Higher Ed

Willfred Reilly

by James A. Bacon

The reason for the academic under-performance of African-American students in K-12 and college is a matter of contentious debate in the United States. The dominant narrative holds that African-Americans are held back by racism either overt or unconscious. Conversely, some hew to the view that genetic factors such as IQ are to blame. But to Willfred Reilly, a political science professor at Kentucky State University, the answer is neither: It’s the culture.

A single observation disproves both the racism and genetic theories, he says: Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean Islands in the United States are prospering. Says he: “All of these brothers from Africa and the islands do as well as whites do.” 

The culture of Africans and islanders differs from that of many African-Americans. “One of the biggest predictors [in educational outcomes] is how much you study. That’s 70 to 80 percent of it. The other is having a dad at home. If you adjust for hours studied and dads at home, there’s virtually no difference between the races.”

To Reilly’s way of thinking, the genetic view is pernicious. But it’s not terribly influential. By contrast, the view that blames all the problems of African-Americans on white racism — what he calls the Continuing Oppression Narrative (CON) — is far more entrenched and, at this point in time, more dangerous. Policies based on that narrative have unintended consequences that do considerable harm. Continue reading

Rural Broadband Projects Vary Widely in ROI

by James A. Bacon

Last week Governor Ralph Northam announced $18.3 million in Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grants to support 12 projects across the state. Leveraging $35 million in local and private matching funds, the projects will connect about 36,000 households, including thousands of businesses and “community anchor” institutions — an average state subsidy of roughly $500 per household on average.

Promoting rural broadband is a rare example of widespread bipartisan agreement in Virginia. Rural areas and small towns need high-bandwidth Internet access to compete for talent and corporate investment. That said, low-density human settlement patterns are expensive to serve with broadband, and the state has limited funds, about $35 million a year, to devote to this purpose.

Not all government-funded projects are created equal. Among the 39 applications submitted, some offer a better Return on Investment (ROI) than others. What’s the story behind these 12 winners? The governor’s press release doesn’t provide information beyond the size of the awards. But a number of local news stories provide additional details. Continue reading