Updates: Electoral College, Carbon Tax, Tax Reform

The benches along this sidewalk are still missing, having been removed for the gun rights rally. Can we have them back for next week’s February Thaw?  Please.

By Steve Haner

Catching up on several issues previously discussed, with links to the original posts:

Virginia’s 2020 Electoral Votes Still Ours to Award. Pending legislation to enact the National Popular Vote regime has now failed in both House and Senate committees, although nothing is really dead in this process until final adjournment in March.  The House bill died in House Privileges and Elections Friday, with three Democrats joining nine Republicans to reject. The Senate version was stricken at the request of the patron a few days earlier. The National Popular Vote is an interstate compact of states agreeing to grant their electoral votes to the presidential candidate with the highest national total vote, but it only kicks in once enough states to control the outcome have joined. Perhaps the idea of Virginia’s electoral votes going to Donald J. Trump, without regard to Virginia’s vote, finally occurred to some Democrats. But complaints about the Electoral College persist and so will this idea.

Secretary of Natural Resources on Transportation and Climate Initiative. Twice last week Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler faced questions from Republican legislators about the state’s plans with regard to the proposed interstate compact on fossil fuels used in cars and trucks. He downplayed it. “It’s a conversation, it’s not a regulation, not something that is binding on the Commonwealth, it is something that is being considered,” he told a House subcommittee. To call it rationing was “hyperbolic.” He told a Senate subcommittee earlier in the week that he hadn’t even read the Georgetown University report released in December that indicated the carbon allowances fuel wholesalers would need to buy translate into about 15- to 20-cent-per-gallon of fuel. Strickler did promise that final decisions on joining TCI would be made by the legislature, presumably in 2021 (and after the administration’s traditional gas taxes are all safely approved). At the administration’s request, however, the House subcommittee used a party-line vote to kill proposed legislation requiring General Assembly approval to proceed with TCI.

We’re Going to Keep Looking at Tax Reform. Promise. As the final two House bills with strong tax-reform overtones disappeared from consideration earlier this week (there are no good Senate bills on this topic), House Finance Chairwoman Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, promised to keep pushing. In impromptu remarks Wednesday in committee she expressed, as she has before, concerns about how regressive Virginia’s income tax code is, placing a relatively high tax on lower income workers. Ironically, this will become more evident as the minimum wage shoots up (my comment, not hers) and the state takes a healthy cut off the top. The final two bills were from Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, who sought to further increase the state’s standard deduction, and Del.Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, who sought to provide the $220 “conformity rebates” to 2019 taxpayers who lost them by filing late returns with authorized extensions. The Miyares bill was endorsed 5-2 by a Finance subcommittee but was tabled in full committee. Ware’s bill never got a proper hearing at all. He was given two sentences to describe it before a motion to carry it over to 2021.

Life in the New Tight Security Environment Settles In. After the initial rough start, the Capitol Hill and Pocahontas Building regulars have adapted. There is a new way into Pocahontas off Main Street just for legislative employees with badges, and the line at the back door off Bank Street is not too long (at least not if you show up at 7:15 am when I now do). The Main Street entrance for the lobbyists, press and public can be tremendously long still. Compared to prior years, the police presence remains heavy, and one is seldom out of sight of a uniformed Capitol Police officer or State Police trooper. There are foot patrols on all floors, police standing in and outside of packed committee rooms, and teams trailing legislative leaders. The cost, if ever captured, will turn out to be enormous. For the gun rights rally two weeks ago the popular park benches on Capitol Square were removed and have not returned. With the temperature predicted to hit the 70s in the coming week, it sure would be nice for the traditional “February Thaw” lunch in the sun beside that lovely sidewalk that rises toward the Washington Statue to have them back. Somebody call General Services.