Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

Mass Transit as the Newest Entitlement

by James A. Bacon

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has proposed eliminating all transit fares, and in a sign of how far left the City of Richmond’s political center of gravity has moved, his two main competitors in the mayoral race, Kim Gray and Alexsis Rodgers, support the idea.

The city suspended fares during the COVID-19 epidemic, which has coincided with a 20% ridership decline for the GRTC (Greater Richmond Transit Company). Stoney endorsed making the fare cuts permanent as he unveiled a new “equity office” in the Department of Public Works, which will also oversee initiatives relating to pedestrian safety, bike lane development, and transit planning.

Rodgers, who is running as a progressive, criticized Stoney, in effect asking what took him so long. Gray, the most centrist of the candidates, said she supports the free-transit model but added the caveat that she didn’t want to raise taxes or make cuts to other services to achieve it. “At some point,’she said, “this will require a budgetary reckoning.” Continue reading

Another Bust: $90 Million Spent on Industrial Megasites


by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission has invested $90 million to develop seven industrial “mega-sites” in Southside and Southwest Virginia, but so far only two sites have attracted tenants, reports the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) in a review of state economic-development incentives, “Infrastructure and Regional Incentives.”

The two “successful” megasites are Commonwealth Crossing in Henry County and Oak Park in Washington County. Together, they accounted for two industrial investments totaling $48.4 million and creating 260 jobs. (A third tenant is a state job training program.) Press Glass, a European glass manufacturing company, is expected to open a 280,000-square-foot manufacturing facility this year. Blue Ridge Beverage, a wholesale beverage distribution company, started production in 2014.

The megasites could accommodate 4,400 workers after 10 years and 22,000 at full build-out. Two sites are not yet considered business ready. Continue reading

Coal Severance Tax Credits Obsolete, JLARC Says


by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s coal tax credits are obsolete, cannot forestall the decline of coal mining in the state, and should be eliminated, finds the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission in a new report, “Infrastructure and Regional Incentives.”

The state provides two tax credits to encourage coal production: The Coalfield Employment Enhancement Tax Credit and the Virginia Coal Employment and Production Incentive Tax Credit. The two programs have saved coal companies and electricity generators $291.5 million in income taxes between FY 2010 and FY 2018, according to the report on the cost-effectiveness of economic development incentives. But the credits ranked at the bottom of JLARC’s list of incentives based on economic benefits per $1 million in spending.

The  coalfield credit is not needed because Virginia’s remaining mines are competitive with mines in other states based on a labor productivity basis (tons per employee hour), JLARC contends. The credit targeting electricity generators is fast becoming irrelevant when the state is moving towards a 100% renewable electric grid and phasing out its remaining coal-fired power plants. Continue reading

VCU Health to Launch Voter-Registration Drive on Hospital Premises

Image from a VotER voter registration kit.

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Commonwealth University Health System has informed employees that it will participate in the VotER Initiative to encourage patients to register to vote and vote by mail.

“A large body of research tells us that sick Americans are less likely to vote,” commences the communication from Sheryl L. Garland, chief of health impact for the health system. “This is especially true of individuals who also have significant social needs, such as a lack of stable food and housing. All to often, these voices are not heard when decisions that affect their health are made.”

The email explicitly tied the initiative, which will start today, to VCU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion: “VCU Health’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement states that ‘we will actively work to dismantle systemic racism and inequalities that may be entrenched in our health system.’ VCU Health’s participation in this initiative is a small but meaningful step toward fulfilling this commitment.”

According to the communique, VCU will place flyers in clinic waiting rooms and larger posters in high-traffic areas within the hospitals.  Continue reading

Media Waters Getting Colder and Colder

The shrinkage of newsrooms at Virginia’s commercial newspapers continues apace. Lee Enterprises, owners of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Daily Progress, and Roanoke Times, among other newspapers, have confirmed another round of layoffs.

The RTD has eliminated positions for a business reporter, a photojournalist, a multimedia content provider, and a sports producer. Meanwhile, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises has cut 10 copy editing and design jobs at the Roanoke Times as part of  plan to centralize page design. And the Daily Progress has lost two news staff, including a digital content coordinator, reports Virginia Business.

Also, disclosed Virginia Business, the Daily Progress‘ four-person copy desk in Charlottesville will be laid off in October as part of Lee Enterprises’ centralization of copy editing functions. While those important functions will continue to be fulfilled, there is no way that out-of-state copy editors can replicate the local knowledge of home-based editors. Continue reading

Qarni’s War on Meritocracy Gets Personal

Atif Qarni demeans activist Muslim mom as member of an anti-Muslim hate group.

by James A. Bacon

Wading deeper into the controversy over admissions policies at the elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni is now at odds with the school’s PTA and one of its more outspoken members, Asra Nomani.

According to the PTA, Qarni has falsely accused Nomani, whose essay on TJ admissions policy Bacon’s Rebellion published here, of being part of an anti-Muslim hate group. Qarni, according to the Associated Press, has barred the PTA and Nomani from participating in an upcoming “listening session” on the admissions controversy.

Qarni has organized a task force to study equity-and-inclusion issues at TJ and 18 other Governor’s Schools across Virginia. Racial bean counters are concerned that the magnet schools have insufficient numbers of African-American and Hispanic kids. The racial disparity is especially lopsided at TJ, a math and science school, where 70% of the students are of Asian origin. Nomani and other parents have argued that the admissions process is race-blind and based upon academic aptitude as gauged by a test. Rather than reduce admissions standards, they have argued, Virginia schools need to work on developing mathematical and scientific aptitude among blacks and Hispanics earlier in their educational development. Continue reading

The Homeschool Surge

by James A. Bacon

Home schooling has been on the rise in Virginia for many years. The number of homeschooled students reached nearly 45,000 in 2019; if homeschoolers were a school division, they would have comprised the seventh largest of Virginia’s 133 school divisions. Demographer Hamilton Lombard at the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia, expects the homeschool trend to continue.

There still are significant barriers to homeschooling, particularly the time commitment required by one or both parents, but other barriers are falling. Even before the COVID-19 epidemic, thousands of parents were making the switch every year, pulling their children out of school and educating them at home. COVID-19 likely will accelerate the trend by increasing acceptance of working at home and introducing many families to virtual learning. Writes Lombard in the StatChat blog:

Prior to the pandemic, Milton Gaither, who studies the history of education at Messiah College, observed that the best way to make sense of the explosive growth in homeschooling is to recognize that it is part of “a larger renegotiation of the accepted boundaries between public and private, personal and institutional.” This can been seen in the growing popularity (even before the pandemic) of other home-based trends, such as working from home, home-based healthcare, and even home birthing. Continue reading

Update: McEachin Calls for Special Prosecutor

Colette McEachin, Richmond Commonwealth’s attorney, has asked the Richmond Circuit Court to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether Mayor Levar Stoney broke any laws when using emergency powers to assign a $1.8 million statue-removal contract to Devon Henry, a campaign contributor.

Councilwoman Kim Gray, who is running against Stoney for mayor, requested McEachin to conduct the investigation. Last month the C.A. had declared that she had a conflict of interest on the grounds that Henry had previously made a modest contribution to her husband, Rep. Donald McEachin. The inquiry seemed stalled, but yesterday’s ann0uncement indicates that it could continue moving forward.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a Stoney spokesman said that an investigation “will find everything was done above board and appropriately. Only one firm was willing to do the work, considering the politically charged nature of it.”

Bacon’s Rebellion, which broke the story of Stoney’s conflict of interest, has uncovered evidence that the mayor did not follow all emergency-procurement requirements and that other municipalities, from Baltimore, Md., to Brunswick County, Va., have taken down Civil War statues for a small fraction of what Richmond was charged. You can follow the evolution of the controversy here.

— JAB

When Online Learning Works

by James A. Bacon

Trenell “Tre” Milana, a Richmond-area teen, has a number of learning disabilities including autism. His local school system tried mainstreaming him, but he couldn’t keep up with other students. Despite low grades, the system socially promoted him through the 6th grade.

“With the processing delay, you would tell him something and go onto the next subject, and then the next subject, and all the kids are keeping up but Trenell is still trying to figure out the first thing you told him,” his mother Latoya Milana explained to WWBT television. “When he was in mainstream he would fail; 50s and 60s from November until May.”

In 7th grade, the working single mom decided that something had to change. She enrolled Tre in Virtual Virginia Academy. He thrived. “I think he finished with all A’s and B’s in 7th grade,” she said. “That has never happened with him.”

Tre’s story reflects the experience of just one kid, and one should be careful drawing broader conclusions. With that caveat, permit me to make a few observations. Continue reading

Institutionalizing the Leftist Dogma on Race

by James A. Bacon

Last month Governor Ralph Northam announced the roll-out of a high school elective course on African American history. Sixteen school divisions are offering the course this fall.

Last year, the governor had directed the Virginia Department of Education, Virtual Virginia, WHRO Public Media, and a committee of historians to develop the course. Now complete, the course surveys African American history from precolonial Africa, the transatlantic slave trade, and American slavery through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights era to the present. States the Governor’s press release. “Students will learn about African American voices, including many not traditionally highlighted, and their contributions to the story of Virginia and America.”

That sounds anodyne enough. But this quote from Secretary of Education Atif Qarni hints at the ideological underpinnings of the course: “We can expect young Virginians to understand the enduring impacts of systemic racism only when they fully understand both the oppression experienced by African Americans and their significant contributions to STEM, the arts, education, law, and advocacy.” Continue reading

The Democratic Party-Public Union Symbiosis

by James A. Bacon

It’s Labor Day today, so I suppose it’s appropriate that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has disseminated a fund-raising email calling for recipients to join him in “fighting for working people.” By that, he means giving a “voice” and a “seat at the able” to Virginia teachers, firefighters, and other public-sector workers.

“Virginia public-sector workers will soon have the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively for things such as fair pay, adequate staffing, and safe working conditions,” says Stoney. “Please join me in standing in solidarity with our workers here in the City of Richmond.” While you’re expressing your solidarity, donate here.

Put another way, a vote for Stoney is a vote for the Big Labor/Democratic Party political symbiosis that is strangling the fiscal life out of blue states across the country. Let us refresh ourselves on a few basic facts. Continue reading

Still Chillin’

Wilber’s barbeque. Sunsets. Red wine. Farkle. Long, deep sleep. Early morning coffee. Sunrises. Not shaving. Long bike rides. Gnarly pin oak trees. Powdery sand. Squinting into the sunlit waves. Perspiration and sun tan oil. Cooling breezes. TV not working — no cable, no worries.

— JAB

Chillin’

Moonlight over Emerald Isle

Sorry to be out of contact, folks, but I’m chilling at the beach in North Carolina. After two other vacations were aborted, this is the first vacation the Bacon family has had in more than a year! (Curse you, COVID-19!) I’m sure the rest of the Bacon’s Rebellion crew will keep you entertained in my absence. And in case they don’t, I’ll be checking in periodically.

— JAB

McEachin Punts on Stoney Contract Inquiry

by James A. Bacon

Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Collette McEachin said Friday she will not investigate Mayor Levar Stoney’s awarding of a $1.8 million contract to businessman Devon Henry, a Stoney campaign contributor, on the grounds that Henry also donated money in 2011 to her husband’s 2011 state Senate campaign.

“Although the amount of money donated over nine years ago may not be significant and my husband is no longer in that elective position, it is incumbent upon me to maintain the public trust in this office and to avoid even the appearance of impropriety because of any actions taken by my office,” McEachin wrote to Councilwoman Kim Gray. An opponent of Stoney in the mayor’s race, Gray had called for an investigation into the circumstances of the contract award.

Collette McEachin, who is married to U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, also said that the state code allows only the governor, attorney general or a grand jury to order a criminal investigation of a local elected official, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Gray said she will continue speaking out. “I think that the people have a right to have full understanding of how this contract went out,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything this egregious.” Continue reading

Former Transportation Secretary Questions $1.8 Million Statue-Removal Contract

Brunswick County’s Board of Supervisors wants to take down this statue, but balked at paying $33,000. Photo credit: South Hill Enterprise

by James A. Bacon

Pierce Homer knows a thing or two about construction contracting and government procurement. He is transportation director for a private engineering firm. Previously, he served as Secretary of Transportation under Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. And before that, he worked for local governments in Prince William County and Galveston, Tex.  In sum, Homer has more than 30 years of experience procuring and building infrastructure in Virginia, both as a state and county official and as an employee of a private engineering firm.

He is also forthright about supporting Kim Gray, who is one of six candidates running against incumbent Levar Stoney for mayor of Richmond.

Homer has been asking some of the same questions as Bacon’s Rebellion. How is it possible that it cost the City of Richmond $1.8 million to remove four Civil War statues? That’s how much Stoney paid NAH LLC in a no-bid deal with a campaign contributor to hire an out-of-state firm, Smedley Crane & Rigging, a welder, and a consultant to remove and transport the statues of Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Mathew Fontaine Maury and Jefferson Davis.

His inquiries suggest that it could have cost no more than $200,000 to $300,000 to remove the statues. What, he asks, could have justified charging the city $1.8 million? Continue reading