Virginia, the Land Where New Ideas Go to Die?

graveyardby James A. Bacon

I can’t say I’m surprised that the Commonwealth of Virginia now faces a $1 billion shortfall in the next biennial budget. That’s what happens when economic growth decelerates rapidly, as Virginia’s economy has been doing since the federal budget sequester put the quietus on the great Northern Virginia economic boom. We’ve been flagging the warning signs on this blog for a couple of years now. Our economic growth model is broken. Virginia’s major metropolitan regions are under-performing. Sadly, no one is heeding the wake-up call.

Virginia has long relied upon the economic engine of Northern Virginia, which in turn relied upon the never-ending expansion of the federal budget. The glory days of federal spending are over. And while it is plausible to think that the Northern Virginia tech sector may reinvent itself — it’s got a lot of really smart people and a respectable venture capital industry — it will take years of private-sector growth to offset the loss of federal jobs and restore the region to its old growth path.

Meanwhile, the economic development model of downstate Virginia never evolved past the 1970s. The big “economic development” issue in the Richmond region these days centers on construction of a minor-league baseball stadium. A minor-league baseball stadium! How bush league can you get? Of all the causes to get fixated on. Of all the projects to propose dumping public money into. What a massive failure of imagination! Meanwhile, Hampton Roads pins its hopes on a widening of the Panama Canal to jump-start port growth and industrial development. The first mistake is counting on the Panamanians to keep their act together. It turns out that the canal may not open on time. The second is counting on the Virginia Port Authority to get its act together. The port is losing money and a VPA governance crisis has landed in the lap of the McAuliffe administration.

Downstate economic development efforts still are organized around the 70s-era triad of corporate recruitment, tourism and agriculture. Incredible! Corporate relocations have declined to a dribble, tourism of the type that Virginia has — history, mostly — is declining in popularity, and agriculture is not exactly a hotbed of wealth creation these days. Yet no one at the state level seems to have gotten the memo. I see signs here and there that Virginians are thinking about what it takes to prosper in a knowledge-intensive economy, but those initiatives are mainly local and limited in scope.

In my other blogging job, I track the rise of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) — the spread of ubiquitous devices, inexpensive wireless technologies, cheap data storage capacity, and numbers-crunching power — that represents the next great wave of innovation, institutional transformation and wealth creation across the world. People are talking about the IoT everywhere — everywhere but Virginia, it seems. One of the most exciting applications of IoT technologies is in the realm of “smart cities.” The concept is hot, hot, hot in East Asia, India and Europe but if anyone in Virginia is talking about it, the conversation has yet to make it into the public realm.

With very few exceptions (click here to read about one) Virginians aren’t even talking about smart cities at the most primitive level of cutting costs, much less more esoteric applications such as environmental monitoring, engaging the citizenry or guiding decision making in land use and infrastructure investment. Two days ago, California-based Silver Spring Networks paid $8.75 million for a small French company, Streetlight.Vision, which specializes in networking streetlights to conserve energy. Streetlight.Vision has installed systems in Paris, Copenhagen, Dublin, Miami, Oslo and Barcelona. The company claims it cut electricity expenditures for Oslo by 70%; 50% savings are typical. The previous week Royal Philips (formerly Philips Electronics) announced a deal to refurbish 300 street lights in Barcelona. Smart streetlights use energy-saving bulbs and they shine only when someone is walking or driving near them. The payback for public investment is incredibly high. What’s happening in Virginia? Nothing right now, although the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority reportedly has inked a deal with Philips.

Right behind street lights in the smack-yourself-in-the-face-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-earlier department is installing sensors to monitor pipes for water leakage. The rule-of-thumb is that municipal water systems leak 20% of their water! What a waste! Virginia Beach has spent inordinate effort and sums of money over the past two or three decades trying to lock up long-term water supplies. As an alternative, has anyone there tried installing sensors on the city’s pipes and fixing the leaks!

Earlier this month I profiled how San Francisco is using IoT technology to optimize the use of its on-street parking. A small horde of Richmonders descended upon Tampa earlier this year in search of good ideas and best practices. Has anyone thought of visiting SFPark? The Virginia Department of Transportation is increasing its commitment to Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) but the sum remains a pittance compared to dollars spent on roads and mass transit. And don’t even get me started on the topic of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and flipped-classrooms as a way to bolster the effectiveness of our schools and colleges!

As recently as the 1990s, Virginia seemed on top of the world. Northern Virginia’s tech industry had aspirations to rival Silicon Valley. Downstate metros were competitive in the quest for corporate investment. Virginians were doing great things. The future looked bright. Today, I see a state that’s run off the road and gotten stuck in a rut. The world is passing us by while we argue how to change the tire. We think small. Worse, we think the same way we did thirty years ago. As a result, our economy is under-performing and tax revenues are suffering. The looming budgetary crisis is not a one-time fluke. It is symptomatic of a state that has lost its mojo.

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38 responses to “Virginia, the Land Where New Ideas Go to Die?”

  1. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    I think, at least in implication, that its all NOVAs fault that the Virginia economy is falling apart misses the point.

    NOVA is the one thing that worked in the state economy, and during the good times we didn’t use those funds wisely enough to 1) attract diversification in establish zones where private businesses would find attractive connections with existing industries (that do more than just govt services) 2) a complete lack of any other areas growing at all.

    There are some businesses coming to NOVA that aren’t govt based, Amazon webservices, Volkswagon, SAIC after all does more than just govt work, Booz has expanded to enterprise services, etc. The problem being that growth hasn’t necessarily kept up with the loss in govt, and the rest of the state has declined in the meanwhile on all fronts.

    How we resolve all that? Dunno, perhaps we have to get used to returning to the pack and not being a leading state, but certainly nothing Richmond politics has done in the past 10 years has helped in anyway, if not outright leading to a brain drain by being as controversial and backwards as they have been known to be.

    Budget shortfall could be solved by ending this stupid waste of money like on freight subsidies via mega projects btw. Can save billions by ending them right now, and instead spend that money on the types of smart infrastructure in energy, and provide better grants to startups like NY state has been promoting recently. Theres no panacea, but we can certainly stop being stupid with the sizeable budget we do have/policies towards tech and tech workers.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      TE –

      I agree with your points although I didn’t see Jim Bacon blaming NoVa. People sometimes talk about company towns where a single company dominates the economy of the town. When the company struggles the town suffers. Virginia has been a company state for fifty years. And the company is the federal government. Given that we are the only state that prohibits the governor from serving two consecutive terms and given that we are one of the very few states where the legislature directly elects the judiciary without any outside guidance the group who deserves the blame for our economic mismanagement is clear – The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond has squandered a half century of opportunity. It is long past the time to throw the bums out.

  2. larryg Avatar

    My view is that we’ve been living high on the hog at the expense of other countries – and with the help of the internet- it’s caught up with us.

    We live in houses twice as large as most developed countries. We use 3 times as much gasoline and twice as much electricity – and what exactly do we “produce” from this excessive consumption of resources?

    I don’t really blame Virginia for choosing to suck at the teat of government – why not?

    and I’m not that convinced that the Corporate HQ of the Federal Govt is going to go anywhere else. Most of the Federal Agencies are going to continue to have a major presence in the DC area. Those fabled “cuts” are going to be to operations outside of Washington – AKA BRAC-style.

    and I’m not totally convinced that Hampton Roads will no longer build Navy ships… All the armed forces are going to downsize – ships that used to need 300 crew are going to have crews of 50… but they’ll still need that ship to be built…

    The problem with Jim Bacon is that he seems to be almost cheering on economic disaster at times… because it fits the “government is doomed to fail” conservative ideology.

    Americans are going to live in smaller, more efficient homes and we’re going to be driving more efficient cars – less miles… or in areas where cars are less needed or alternatives to personally-owned cars are available.

    I just don’t see things in gloom and doom ways. I see us as having problems, knowing that we do – knowing that we have to change – and …changing…not without some more “Detroits” on the way but America is a powerful land of opportunity and commerce and that’s not going to go away.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Virginia’s failure was failing to diversify its economy. Think Detroit. Having the Feds rain money was great but A LOT of people have been saying for years that it wouldn’t last forever. We did nothing to diversify during the good times.

      1. larryg Avatar

        the “govt” in Washington is not like one company or even an industry – like autos.

        It ranges from the Park Service to the USDA to FEMA to the military …

        and he way govt works these days – to i’s credit – it has smaller permanent staffs and hire contractors for projects with defined limits.

        this is not going to go away. we might close some USDA offices or post offices or military bases but we’re not shutting down the HQ of those agencies in DC.

        we need to focus more on the reality here – in my view.

        I WILL admit that North Carolina has done a far better job of diversifying it’s PRIVATE economy than Va but NC is just as jealous and protective of it’s military bases as Va is… they both more than willingly suck at the Federal Teat …

  3. Tysons Engineer Avatar
    Tysons Engineer

    I’d also add to this discussion that in fact the sky isn’t falling in terms of the economy, atleast statistically its not showing up

    Barely a blip. Sure its not growing like between 2005-2013 but why would one think that would continue forever considering we never had a significant employment issue between 2008-2010.

    This is budget insolvency, not economic insolvency. And to see why, you have to look no further than the prior administration that left a complete mess on our hands in terms of obligations to freight companies, transportation/land developer consultants, and tax breaks for the redskins and other organizations that brought ZERO jobs with them.

    Let this be a lesson on how some in the GOP only talk about fiscal solvency until they are in power, and then start using the treasury as their own personal piggy bank for pet projects and the elite connections. All are accountable for the budget shortfall, but under McDonnell, we had some seriously bad budget planning without any proof of economic development outside of us here in socialist NOVA under Governor job builder.

    1. larryg Avatar

      so I have a somewhat silly question here:

      what would happen – if cars in this country went to under 10K and people started living in homes that cost 100K or less?

      or perhaps more realistically – cars went to the size and scale that see in Europe/Japan and people living in apartments and homes more like we see in Europe/Japan?

      when we say this country is “going broke” – does that presume that we’ll prefer that outcome rather than downsize our individual consumption if it means staying solvent?

      It’ sort of like saying that we have “no choice” but to buy a house and car that we cannot afford, that we know we cannot afford – and we have “no choice” but to go bankrupt?

      yes… we did exactly that – during the last housing bust…

      but are we really THAT stupid as a people to go right back and repeat that behavior?

      Johnny is going to graduate with 30K in student debt… is he REALLY going to by a car and/or house that will end up putting him hundreds of thousand dollars into debt that will take him 50-60 years to pay off and after than he has no IRA/401K?

      I don’t think people are this stupid myself.

      1. virginiagal2 Avatar

        Larry, I think there’s a lot of interest both in small houses (both the Tiny House movement and the Not So Small House philosophy) and in house sharing. Not just for new grads, either.

        With smaller families, I think multi-generational households may be a trend that sticks even if the economy improves. Zoning rules seem to be changing to better accommodate older parents living with adult children, both in separate units (“granny pods”) and in in-law suites.

        1. larryg Avatar

          You know, part of what drives the zoning restrictions – ironically – is home ownership that treats the home as an “investment” and perceives more dense, less conventional housing to “degrade” the investment.

          It’s not govt per se – it’s govt responding to citizens who want the value of their “investments” ….. protection – by govt – the very same govt they blame for other things they don’t want…

          I’m convinced the govt-provided home mortgage and real estate tax deduction drive this mindset.

          and it’s impact is widespread from local zoning to lower Federal tax revenues – to federally-subsidized flood insurance to protect those “investments”.

          all of us that say we want less govt, getting the govt out of interfering with the economy, a balanced budget, more density, affordable homes, but want to keep these tax expenditures are – fiscal conservatives in name only – as well as hypocrites.

          all of these subsidies and tax breaks drive – the KIND of housing that people go to the exurbs for – once that kind of housing – single family detached is no longer affordable in the urban areas. Take away the tax deductions for homes and where is the benefit of moving to the suburbs? It’s still there but it’s not near the powerful incentive.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      TE –

      Your argument is a victim of the intentionally opaque financial flows in the state. The Imperial Clown show in Richmond goes to great lengths to hide the sources and uses of funds in the state. During the recession of 2009 there was a time when it seemed that the amount of money flowing from NoVa to other areas of the state for schools would decrease. Not reverse, just decrease. There was a huge hue and cry from all over the state about how the schools were going to fail and NoVa should keep paying more regardless of what the education funding formulas dictated. As I recall, McDonnell shorted the retirement fund to keep the funds flowing. Ultimately, the recession ended and the funds started flowing as usual.

      Now we face a structural issue which time won’t cure.

      Your argument is like saying “sure the patient is in cardiac arrest but 95% of his organs are working fine”. The sensitivity of the funds flow from NoVa – especially through the school funding formulas – is what makes this at least a mini – crisis.

  4. Breckinridge Avatar

    Jim — agree with your diagnosis, but your prescription has me howling in the aisle with laughter. Sidewalks? Street lights? That is how you want to see the state get out of this rut? First, it is a national rut, and today’s GDP data shows that. But Virginia is stuck in the old way of doing things, and is making none of the kind of moves needed to stay at the competitive peak, so we are no longer immune to the national data. Education, mobility, tax policy that draws investment — those are the long term keys. You are right the baseball stadium is backwards thinking, but you are dead wrong that Virginia should not be positioning to take advantage of the wider Panama Canal. But given your true anti-growth agenda, I would not really expect pro-growth proposals from you.

    1. Streetlights and water pipes are just the lowest of the low-hanging fruit associated with the Internet of Things. If we aren’t going after those, we’ll never go after the more complicated stuff like parking, traffic management, the grid and all the rest. The scary thing is, the conversation isn’t even taking place!

      Regarding the Panama Canal, yeah, we should be taking advantage of it to promote the ports. But we’d better not bet the store on it.

      As for having an “anti-growth” agenda, that’s just plain wrong. I’m saying we need to have a *different* kind of growth. The old ways worked for 40 years but they ain’t working no more.

      1. virginiagal2 Avatar

        But Jim, Virginia is doing innovative research and has leading edge companies – they just aren’t always calling it Internet of Things, which is sort of the New Trendy Way to hype it, rather than a new idea. A lot of the buzzy hype – MOOCs, Internet of Things – is about how to improve payoff for venture capital, as much as signs of increasing real innovation.

        See the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute,

        For that matter, check out and and

        Yes, this doesn’t often make the news. I would not assume the fault is lack of research and technology and new businesses using them – rather, it isn’t getting reported with much fanfare, in those cases where it gets reported at all.

        1. Virginiagal, Certainly, things are going on in Virginia’s universities. That’s not what worries me. What is happening in the sphere of state and local government? I’m open to the possibility that things are happening that just aren’t getting reported. VDOT, for instance, is doing some pretty cutting-edge things with smart roads. The City of Richmond is working with IBM on a decision-making framework. But I can’t think of anything else. I see nothing in the op-ed pages of our newspapers, which is the forum for people to discuss these issues. I hear nothing from our elected officials.

          1. larryg Avatar

            I think having the govt around – who heavily invests in technology – ought to provide Virginia with the perfect place for entrepreneurs to adopt military technology to civilian uses.

            I just point out one small thing – GPS.. that our “incompetent” govt did create… and has literally revolutionized our world – and almost all of it – from private development of a govt-created technology.

            NoVa is where many of the ideas get “pitched” to the Military an DARPA.

            but there is also some contradictory reasoning going on here – where we often talk about just how bad California is for business and how good Virginia is but where are the start-ups?

            Is it time for the critics of California to try to figure out why if they are so bad for business they beat the socks off of Virginia?

        2. DJRippert Avatar

          VaGal –

          Too little, too late. I’ve been working in the NoVa technology sector for 33 years. For the last 27 years, exclusively in the commercial (vs governmental) sector. If you want a blueprint for success look at Austin, TX. We have done nothing like what was done in Austin.

  5. billsblots Avatar

    Having lived here a couple of decades, and honestly not having paid too much attention to such things for much of that due to other time consuming activities like parenting, coaching, working, etc., it seems like every governor for 20 years has pounded his chest about how he made Virginia business friendly and the great economy he helped gin up. It appears to me that, although there is probably a kernel of truth to it, the main reason that Virginia’s economy (to the extent there is such a thing) has had good times and less-bad bad times is more due to the unfathomable amount of billions of dollars raked in from the other states and forked over to the federal government and its workers with an average $200,000 compensation package and consulting firms doing work for the government agencies at an hourly rate 3 and 4 times what they’re actually worth. This has turned Loudoun pasture land into tight lots of $1,000,000 homes where you can get a luxurious 20 feet of space between houses. Every Virginia governor’s inflated self-image as an economic savant has come at a high cost to the American taxpayer and his offspring who work at a fraction of the hourly rate that those ‘up-north’ do.

    1. larryg Avatar

      re: sidewalks, the panama canal and “different” economic development.

      jeeze – what happened to the rollback of job-killing regulation?

      pretty hard to try to balance alternate realities with realities, eh?

      ask Mitch McConnell who is telling Kentucky folks that he can repeal ObamaCare and keep Kentucky Connect…(an ObamaCare Exchange).

      this is sadly the state of many Conservatives today…with many issues.

      we’re going broke but we need government to spend money to build those sidewalks (or we never will) but forget those million dollar transit stops!

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      The last Virginia governor who had even a passing idea of how to build the economy was Mark Warner. Unfortunately, he came into power at the dawn of the dot com meltdown when economic development was nearly impossible.

      All the rest of the yo-yo’s spend way too much time trying to convince companies to “move” here and way too little time trying to convince companies to hire here. Of course, when amazon Web Services hires 500 people in Herndon it doesn’t garner the same political effect as when Lockheed Martin moves its 300 person corporate headquarters here. And The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond values publicity far more than results.

      1. larryg Avatar

        re: ” when Lockheed Martin moves its 300 person corporate headquarters here”

        now.. why oh why would a big company that makes all kinds of military-grade technology move it’s corporate HQ to NoVa?

        do you think it has anything what-so-ever to do with what Richmond does or does not do?

        come on DJ…. you know why SOME companies move to NoVa – they want to be next door to some of their very best customers!

        The military is going to downsize it’s numbers of personnel – in part because the nature of “boots on the ground” is changing but also because technology affords operational missions with far less personnel… drones is one example.

        that’s technology with a capital T and the military is usually on the fore-front of R&D and system engineering of technology – and once beyond DARPA – it’s usually on a per weapon basis with contractor support.

        NoVa should be a hotbed of technology companies – with a built-in customer base… no matter what Richmond does …

  6. larryg Avatar

    I should apologize to Jim. It’s not easy doing hundreds of posts on a wide variety of subjects without backing up over some points from time to time.

    but to be fair – sometimes when you write things that oppose govt.. and then write things that want govt to do stuff… it can sound contradictory.

    I just have a hard time understanding where Jim is on Government sometimes.. we have our share of bad govt but I think people forget that any people-powered enterprise – to include non-govt – businesses, etc – also have their share of “bad”.

    1. Larry, you keep on trying to saddle me with a binary view — government all good or government all bad. Check the guiding principles of Bacon’s Rebellion. Principle #2: “The vitality of the economy and well being of a community require collective action, either in the civic realm or in the governmental realm.”

      Admittedly, I hedge that with a lot of precautions. But I’ve always said there is a legitimate role for government. I am not an anarchist. I just happen to think that the legitimate scope of government is smaller than you do.

      1. Ghost of Ted Dalton Avatar
        Ghost of Ted Dalton

        Agriculture isn’t a hotbed of wealth creation…..hmmm, I think agriculture is humming right now.

        I’d also advise that you take a look at Charlottesville Tomorrow. Some good articles on land use in Cville/Albemarle. Cville has held four days of work on “streets of the future” this week. There’s been some interesting concepts thrown around. We’ll see if it comes to fruition.

        Virginia’s biggest problem? The same as the nation’s….the Republican Party. If you take off the GOP glasses, what you really see is a party of no. No matter how much they protest, about the only thing the Virginia GOP offers is a tax cut. That’s it. Just empty ideology. As you realize, that’ s inadequate in the 21st century. You’ve got to offer smart policies, not just the empty ideology that we get from today’s GOP. Anyone with an IQ of 100 or higher can’t take them seriously. The Dems aren’t much better, but at least a few of them have a clue about the failing economic development strategy in VA. I’ve noticed that the McAuliffe admin is trying out a few things in transpo and at least acknowledging that the state’s workforce development programs are failing.

        If the Virginia GOP was full of Jim Bacons that offer a compelling (and realistic) vision of the 21st century, the state would be much better off. Instead, the GOP in Virginia is about as useful as a Commodore 64…..stuck in the 80s just screaming “tax cuts” and “NO”! Their platform really amounts to “Get off my lawn!”

        1. larryg Avatar

          well.. they want their tax cuts but they also are cowards about tax subsidies and loop-holes.

          they keep blathering about – revenue-neutral tax-cuts – that they just continue to blather about.

          If you took away the tax-subsidies for employer-provided health insurance, the deduction for mortgage insurance and 401(k)s and deductions for State and Local taxes – we’d not have a deficit and we’d zero the debt in 5 years even with our grotesque military spending.

          The GOP are bigger tax and spenders than the Dems… if you take a hard look at what they won’t do – to cut the deficit.

        2. DJRippert Avatar

          The RPV is essentially useless. At the state level the Dems are clearly the grown ups in government. Nationally, not so much. The Obama Administration’s mindless pursuit of change for the sake of change in the middle of a recession proved that Barry wasn’t ready for the job. His constant revision of the rules of Obamacare have maintained a level of uncertainty that has helped to squelch the recovery. Meanwhile, the banks that were once too big to fail are now too big to survive.

          Obama may have had only the best of intentions. However, his lack of experience translated into an inability to execute and that has turned the US economy into an oscillation between recession and stagnation.

          We need new leadership in Richmond (legislature, particularly the House of Delegates) and in Washington (everywhere).

          1. larryg Avatar

            Obama BAD… bad bad Obama… in the midst of a discussion about Virginia’s economy and the GOP-led Imperial Clown show and Mark Warner who until McDOnnell did his gas tax thing was the biggest tax & spender in Va history – according to folks like TMT.

            jesus H Keeeerist… all roads apparently lead to Obama these days, eh?

          2. larryg Avatar

            re: ” Obama may have had only the best of intentions. However, his lack of experience translated into an inability to execute and that has turned the US economy into an oscillation between recession and stagnation”

            Obama can propose. Congress must approve. Congress can approve and sent to Obama for his signature or veto.

            nothing is coming out of Congress – whether it’s from an Obama proposal or their own.

            they’ve promised to do everything they can do disable any ability he would have to improve the economy – and at the same time have refused to do anything themselves.

            Obama has made dozens of proposals to create jobs – to fix our infrastructure – and every one has been killed -with no alternative other than 40+ ‘repeal’ votes – also with not one alternative.

            you can blame this on Obama but it’s fails the smell test.

            you’re basically saying that it’s Obama’s fault that he failed to convince Congress to do – anything – and make no mistake – it’s the GOP that is the blockade … the Dems have been ready and able to create jobs.

            now zoom to Virgina – where the same GOP is in charge of the General Assembly – and they get called the Clown Show.

            I would submit to DJ – that it’s the GOP in both places – State and Federal that refuse to create jobs… In Va, thousands of new jobs would come from the MedicAid expansion – and the money to pay for it – does not come from general revenues subject to the deficit and debt – but earmarked taxes – similar to social security – earmarked for one purpose – that Virginia citizens are paying for – and giving that money to other states.

            DJ argues for Democratic principles for NOVA. He wants the govt to spend money on things like trails and transit and highways… but somehow he manages to avoid putting the blame on those who refuse to fund – the GOP and the same GOP that refuses to truly get rid of subsidies and tax loopholes that could pay for these things.

            DJ is all over the map on this in my view. you can’t have it both ways.

            if you want a better economy – you have to be willing to prime the pump by making investments in infrastructure and health care that will, in turn, fire up the economy – create jobs and increase tax revenues.

            the GOP has failed to do – what they had no problem doing under Reagan and both Bushes.. they just refuse to do “anything” that will “help” Obama and that’s the God’s honest truth – from their own mouths.

      2. larryg Avatar

        so…we need the EPA to have clean air – or not?


        by the way, I’m ALSO not that big on government… I just think there are some things that govt has to do that won’t get done by the private sector

        and libertarian types tend to take for granted the things the govt does provide or has already provided… like public-rights-of-ways – every one of them taken from private property owners….

        I believe that one’s views ought to be self-consistent and not have contradictions … and that requires brutal honesty in the facts.

        If the private sector does such a good job – then every 3rd world country would be better than us and better than all the other uber-govt countries (OECD).

        it takes govt to provide public right-of-ways, commerce infrastructure, and protection of property rights ( to include clean air and water) and rule of law.

        when we say “minimal” govt – it seems to be very different things to different people.. my view is – if nothing else consistent in that regard.

        having said that – I support a regulated free-market – one that won’t allow things that harm people to be sold, one that requires that products actually deliver what they are advertised to deliver, drugs that are pure and are what the label says they are, gasoline that is 87 octane when it says it is, …

        etc, etc… we take all these things for granted but each one of them is a regulation…

        the tires on your car – do not blow out at 50 mph – not because the company want to have a “good” reputation – but because of govt.

        go to a 3rd world country and see how much you trust the drugs and the tires… or the roads.. or the air and water…. etc..

        I’m not pro-govt nor am I a big-spend liberal.. I’m the one who wants parents to pay for stuff besides core academics… toll roads… elimination of tax subsidies and expenditures… elimination of MedicAid to be used for nursing homes for people who own homes, increasing the price for Medicare to $500 a month for folks who have more in retirement income than many workers ( who are paying for Medicare for the elderly).

        and yet – I get called “liberal” here.. because I pragmatically recognize the need for govt… for things that Conservatives pretend we don’t need govt for.

      3. larryg Avatar

        re: ” But I’ve always said there is a legitimate role for government. I am not an anarchist. I just happen to think that the legitimate scope of government is smaller than you do.”

        my problem is – I do not know your position with an clarity and at times your views sound almost contradictory…

        If I really KNEW your philosophy – I could, with some reliability, predict your view on issues but I can’t very easily.

        something simple – regulation – and of course it’s all the rage now days to talk about just how damaging regulation is – from urban zoning to the EPA but I find you on both sides of this at times.

        you seem to support regulation when it comes to the Chesapeake Bay and you like the idea of clean air – but you won’t admit that regulation is what delivered it.

        I have no clue where you stand on the idea of individual mandates – way beyond health care – social security, auto insurance, etc..

        and you’re way better than DJ these days – he’s all over the map.

        just one recent issue – bike and ped trails – funded by government – funded by gas taxes in many cases… funded by the same govt that you guys rail against for being incompetent and wasteful… the Tea Party has no such qualms – their Conservative philosophy is actually much more consistent – they’re opposed – period. Bike and ped need to pay for their own facilities and that’s the end of it.

        so both of you at times sound like Tea Party types when talking about govt but then you support things that govt does – when you like those things.

        I get called a “leftist” here because I hold a fairly consistent position on the role of govt – not that different than yours when you veer left on things like trails and bike/ped infrastructure but then swing right on “restrictive” zoning..

        I do not believe there is a legitimate Conservative Smart Growth – because these days if we’re honest “Conservative” is an avowed enemy of government… on most things – including the Agenda 21 folks who are in the Republican Party – not outside of it.

  7. JohnS Avatar

    Before this thread devolves into accusations of racism and/or spats over what constitutes ideological purity I want to agree with Tyson’s Engineer: Virginia’s budget situation shouldn’t be conflated with assumptions about overall state economic performance.

    Virginia is still doing better than most states in terms of job creation. To argue otherwise requires supporting evidence, aside from the broad generalization that VA is too dependent on Uncle Sam and hasn’t appropriately diversified its economy. Let’s talk numbers- and in comparison to other states.

    1. larryg Avatar

      I don’t think it’s totally clear how any POTUS or Gov “creates” jobs in the first place.

      and Beyond the POTUS/GOV proposing to the legislature that they create a govt-funded program to hire people – like for the military or border patrol or to build a NOAA satellite or military weapon.. how non-govt-funded private sector jobs get “created” by what a POTUS/GOV proposes and the legislature approves.

      The Dems usually make no never-mind about this – they like the govt to spend money on thing like highways, bridges, schools, etc seeing them as ‘investments”.

      but on the GOP side – especially more recently – they are opposed to the govt doing that – except of course on the military…

      so the GOP believes that underlying conditions like regulations are the nexus for providing an “environment” for businesses to want to locate in.

      but the funny thing is the most powerful state in the union – economically – is one that uber-regulates – California and fast on it’s heels is Texas which claims to be much less regulated but their health care and education really sucks and to be fair California K-12 sucks too. (Massachusetts is the top state education-wise and actually ranks about 7th in the world).

      I think how well educated a state’s workforce is – plays a big role but Conservatives are not happy about that either.. they generally oppose things like PreK or HeadStart , want to have private schools that they purport to “help” the disadvantaged but the voucher help would pretty much deny those on the lower income scales from that option.

      Let me point out here – I’m not blaming .. I’m trying to lay out what I see as the universe of options in “creating non-govt jobs” and I think it is more of
      a thing about how one holds their mouth than a well-defined recipe – and it lends itself to philosophical left/right viewpoints.

  8. JohnS Avatar

    Texas is eating California’s lunch in terms of job creation, and has poached quite a few major employers from the Golden State. Honda being the most recent example.

    California has become too costly for business and is paying the price for it.

    1. larryg Avatar

      Texas has a ways to go… and despite the gloom and doom – California is still riding high… California is bigger than Russia, Italy, Spain, Canada, Australia and the countries bigger than California – mainly Euro countries are considered much less business-friendly than California.

      Hell all of them are welfare-states if you listen to some folks.

      The word on California is that they’re headed for disaster – we’ve been saying that for decades…

      I’ll believe it when I see it.

  9. policy geek Avatar
    policy geek

    Another example that supports Mr. Bacon’s argument is to look at the antiquated manner in which Virginia’s interstate highways are managed. This is important because the majority of out of state visitors are driving on the interstate, so first impressions of Virginia are made based on what people see on 95, 85, 81, and 64. A few examples of what an out of state visitor might see:

    1. Visitors will bounce from pothole to pothole. For example, the interstates in Hampton Roads are being extensively rebuilt after years of neglected maintenance.

    2. Visitors will see speed limits that largely date back to the late 1980’s when Congress allowed states to raise the speed limit in counties classified as rural areas. For example, a visitor driving east on 64 will have a speed limit of 70 on the two lane stretch from Richmond to Williamsburg, then 65 from VA-199 to Jefferson Avenue, and then will see the speed limit reduce to 60 just as the interstate transitions to an improved 8 lane highway that Virginia spent millions of dollars modernizing in the 2000’s. So the visitor will see that Virginia reduces the speed limit for a more modern, safer stretch of road. If our hypothetical visitor drives as fast as traffic is actually moving 70 to 75, he or she risks being ticketed by one of the many state troopers clocking drivers. An even more extreme example is that Virginia spent hundreds of millions of dollars improving 95 through Fairfax County from the Ocaquon to the Wilson Bridge. However, the speed limit remains 55 despite the massive improvements made to the road. But by and large, VDOT continues to maintain speed limits that are premised on an antiquated distinction between whether an interstate runs through a county classified as urban or rural. A more rational policy would be to evaluate the specific conditions of the road and how fast the majority of drivers are traveling and then set a speed limit based on that.

    3. Of course, speed limits become less important when our visitor gets bogged down in congestion. Admittedly, solving that problem is more challenging than the first two points I made.

    But my overall point is that a visitor from out of state gets a very negative impression driving on our highways and this makes it less likely that Virginia will get talented people from other states to relocate here. And it is especially tragic that VDOT could easily improve our Commonwealth’s image by updating a few speed limit signs. It would be a minimal cost, quickly implemented change.

    1. Interesting observations. Your three main points are all reasonable and defensible. The only part of your analysis where I would disagree is the extrapolation to the idea that our highways discourage talented people from locating here. Out-of-staters might be less than impressed by the pot-holes and frustrated by the speed limits, but I expect that many other factors weigh larger in any decision whether or not to locate in Virginia. That point aside, I welcome the fresh perspectives that I have not seen expressed on this blog before.

    2. larryg Avatar

      Virginia has the authority and ability to improve the condition of the Interstates beyond the funding provided by the Feds.

      So I’m not sure what the complaint is.

      I’ve traveled all up and down the East Coast from Maine to Florida and I think Virginia’s interstates are far from the worst and far better than some states (although 295 around Richmond is beat to heck and needs work).

      We do have major congestion but both congestion and better maintenance can come from tolling – which I totally support – because it truly is the best user fee… you use -you pay… it generates needed money, and it lets people make decisions about what is of value to them in mobility.

      but the billion dollar general revenue shortfall is not tightly connected to road funding (more so than it used to be now that the general sales tax provides 1/3 or more of the funding).

      toll roads are a fair way to repair and improve our major interstates – in my view and it places the costs on actual users – including out-of-state folks.

      as per my usual here in BR – i’m on board with complaints – but I also think for every complaint – we need at least one preferred solution.

      we cannot go forward just by compiling an ever larger list of what we don’t like. There are solutions for bad and congested roads. none of those solutions are what most of us think are wonderful – but they are the choices and if we are really serious about going forward – we have to choose .

      1. JohnS Avatar

        I think Florida takes the cake as far as having the worst highways along the I-95 corridor, due to long stretches of uneven lanes and the frequency of wrecks causing major traffic jams. Having traveled the route from New England to FL a number of times in recent years I would probably rate Virginia as the second worst. This is just I-95 and not counting I-85 which is in horrendous shape down in Southside.

        1. larryg Avatar

          I find Pennsylvania’s roads bad – especially the turnpike. South Carolina has some awful stretchs of I-95.. a problem with the joints..just beat my van all to hell.

          but again – nothing keeps any state from choosing to EXCEED the minimum standards that FHWA sets for condition and congestion.

          over and over – in this blog on a wide variety of topics – it frustrates me because it’s basically a blame game…. like something is wrong and it’s someone’s fault .. and that’s it.

          it’s almost as if “solutions” that require more money from those who complain is totally unacceptable.

          I don’t like paying more money either – but there is an old adage that still applies – “you get what you pay for” .. and while it’s true sometimes you pay more for less.. most of the time.. especially in the world of roads – we barely pay what it costs when you figure in inflation, the increasing costs of construction – and the much higher cost for right-of-way in areas where there is significant development.

          Bacon wants more precise ROI… and I applaud that but it’s a tough thing to do not only for roads, for schools, for law enforcement, for prisons, etc.

          I still support tolls. If you don’t like what you pay for – don’t pay for it again.

          that’s better than paying higher taxes and not getting “more” for them.

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