Virginia’s Let-the-Good-Times-Roll Budget

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

by Kerry Dougherty

We’re in a hell of a mess here in Virginia, folks.

Oh, other states are in trouble too. But how many of them saw their state legislatures go on a wild spending spree less than a month ago, even while the coronavirus was spreading across the globe? How many of them have governors who rashly extended economy-wrecking stay-at-home orders through June 10?

On March 12th Michael Bloomberg’s — oops, Virginia’s — General Assembly giddily approved a $135 billion two-year let-the-good-times-roll budget.

That plan included 16 different tax increases, including levies on cigarettes, hotels, gas and plastic bags. (Those taxes are expected to cost the average Virginian $500 a year. The feds are about to give everyone $1,200. Here in Virginia, a chunk of that will go in the form of tributes to the state. )

Lucky us.

In addition, state lawmakers voted to hike the minimum wage, give some state workers bonuses and all state workers raises. Government workers also got the right to collectively bargain so they could negotiate for even higher wages.

Then came the virus. And Gov. Ralph Northam’s extreme shutdowns.

Unemployment, loss of revenues and an end of tourism quickly followed. The governor ordered the beaches closed, essentially telling Virginia Beach that Memorial Day was cancelled even though new models predict the virus peaking in Virginia on April 20, more than a month before one of the biggest holiday weekends of the year.

Hundreds of thousands of Virginians are jobless and the longer the shutdown goes on the more likely it becomes that they will remain unemployed when the state finally reopens.

Between March 14 and March 28, 160,000 Virginians applied for unemployment benefits. The most recent numbers are unavailable but promise to be even harder to stomach.

State officials are befuddled. And they ought to be. How can they plan for the commonwealth’s financial future with no handle on revenues?

On Monday Gov. Ralph Northam said he was putting a “timeout” on the budget.

Lawmakers will be back in Richmond for a “veto session” on April 22 and “…Northam will ask the reconvened assembly to allow use of the money that had been planned for reserve as cash for the state’s fundamental priorities,” reported The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Northam will also propose amendments to restrict — but not eliminate — new spending proposed in the two-year budget according to the TD.

“Every item in new spending will have language attached to it that instructs state agencies they don’t have authority to spend it,” said the governor’s chief of staff Clark Mercer.

So the money — which may not exist — is allocated, but the agencies can’t spend it.

That’s an interesting sleight-of-hand.

One hopeful sign is that Virginia’s secretary of finance is Aubrey Layne, a smart, pragmatic politician from Virginia Beach. His skills will be tested in the weeks ahead.

“We’re not starting from revenues because no one can predict them,” admitted Layne to the Richmond paper. “We’re starting from what government has to do to serve its citizens and preserve the continuity of government.”

That’s bare-bone budgeting. The exact opposite of the orgy that took place in Richmond just a month ago.

Common sense says there are certain items that must be excised from the budget given the shutdown. But it will mean Northam standing up to the far Left in his party. Let’s see if he has the backbone.

The hike in the minimum wage has to go, for instance. According to legislation that was passed, the minimum wage is due to jump from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2021, eventually reaching $12 an hour by 2023.

That can’t happen. Jim Bacon raised the alarm weeks ago.

Northam expressed support for a higher minimum wage in his State of the Commonwealth address in January. The unemployment rate in Virginia was 2.7% at the time, the economy was growing, and one could argue plausibly that employers could absorb a doubling of the minimum wage with minimal disruption. But that was before anyone imagined the economic pain inflicted by the epidemic-containment measures.

Depending on how long Northam forces businesses to shutter, those enterprises that manage to survive will be struggling for months or years to make up lost ground. Demanding that they give unskilled workers a hefty raise in that climate borders on insanity.

Yet some of members of the General Assembly still cling to this fiscally irresponsible idea.

Then there’s the plastic bag tax; a bad idea from its inception. Taxes should be used to raise revenue. Period. Not as tools for social engineering. You want people to cut down on the use of plastic bags? Find a better way to encourage that behavior without taxing shoppers into submission.

In effect, this is a plastic bag ban. But supermarkets have now banned reusable bags because they’re unsanitary, forcing shoppers to use plastic. If the virus hangs around for 18 months, reusable bags will not be an option for at least that long.

If ever.

Many folks who are newly aware of how pathogens travel may cling to plastic bags once the pandemic is over.

Who could blame them? They’ll probably never shake hands again, either.

Finally, there’s the issue of pay hikes for state workers and teachers. Sorry, folks. Those can’t happen. You got paid while hundreds of thousands of Virginians were tossed out of work.

Count your blessings. Don’t complain.

This column was published originally at

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40 responses to “Virginia’s Let-the-Good-Times-Roll Budget”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The budget bill on the Governor’s desk appropriates more than $139 billion. The $135 billion number that everybody uses is still stunning, but is not “all in.” My WAG on where it will be when the smokes clears is $15-20 billion down, (general fund and non-general fund combined, even with the federal funny money). Not $1B per year, but more like $10B+ down in year one and a lesser number in year 2…..

    The reusable bags are not banned, at least not when I was last in the store, but the customer must pack them by themselves. Store employees won’t touch them.

  2. Atlas Rand Avatar
    Atlas Rand

    Our raises were always tied to revenue forecasts. We’re all well aware as soon as this hit there would be no raises. We’re all thankful for having jobs, but going years without even COLA raises is not right either. Thanks for the condescension.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Kerry is not a happy camper! And she still has some of that bratty kid in her!


    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      This bed’s too hard, and this one’s too soft. Hey, I want another choice.
      The stay-at-home wife of the well-to-do man.

      1. The stay-at-home wife of a wealthy man? Jesus Christ. I worked as a daily journalist for 42 freaking years. Those were often 60 hour weeks. I have a child with disabilities that I help support. Not that I owe YOU an explanation. This sort of begrudgery mixed with sexism is repulsive. Anonymity is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          kerry –

          I know it’s a zoo, but welcome to Bacon’s Rebellion. Thanks for your good work here.

          1. This anonymous troll follows me everywhere. Same envious, sexist shit every time. I must have stolen her boyfriend back in the day.

          2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            kerry, you just made my day!

        2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          That’s the approximate number of people in this country. Okay, 46 years in journalism — impeccable credential for how you always know what’s best for the other 359,999,999 in art, music, where to live, and government.

          As to anonymity, with that many people in just this country even with my mother’s maiden name, DoB, and SocSec# as a screen name, I wouldn’t be any less anonymous. It’s simple arithmetic, see.

          But look on the bright side, it gave you the comfort of creating a scenario in which I am the embittered one. Although, given your particular choice of scenario, it leads one to wonder if home-wrecking is a fantasy, a habit, or a hobby?

    2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      Having only read her stuff for maybe four years, I always thought she had all of the suburbia of Irma without the humor, and the political knowledge of Molly without the understanding and wit.

      1. Nancy Naive, we shut down personal attacks on this blog. It’s fine if you totally disagree with Kerry. But please address the points she raises with facts and logic, not personal put-downs. Thanks.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          re: ” not personal put-downs”.

          Are you SURE that you are applying this rule equally to all posters?

          I see quite a few “personal put downs” here – are you not?

          1. I’ve posted this graphic on several occasions, and will continue to do so to remind people to be civill.

        2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          Didn’t realize I was a troll. What’s worse, I was a cuckolded troll. Wait, what’s the feminine of cuckold?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Stick around Nancy_Naive… you kinda rocked some of them back on their heels and they felt they had to swat at you…

            keep em coming… 😉

        3. LarrytheG Avatar

          re: ” This anonymous troll follows me everywhere. Same envious, sexist shit every time. I must have stolen her boyfriend back in the day.”

          this did not merit a “reminder” on personal put-downs?

          got one uniform standard here?

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    The answer to Virginians is: “But Donald Trump. We aren’t Donald Trump, so trust us. And someday we’ll figure out how to get illegal immigrants to vote and then everything will be free except to the dolts in NoVA who will pay for everything and think they’ve improved their lives.”

    Stupid is as stupid does. Forrest Gump.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Fail to see how increasing taxes on cigarettes is fiscally irresponsible. It would save lives.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      It’s responsible especially as Virginia had the second lowest cigarette taxes in America. While libertarian theory should hold that people have the right to act stupidly it should not hold that personal stupidity must be funded by others. Smoking related deaths will far exceed COVID-19 related deaths in Virginia this year and far too much Medicaid, Medicare, etc spending goes to treating smoking related illness.

  6. djrippert Avatar

    Despite my revulsion at the state Democrats’ tax and spend spree in the last General Assembly session plastic bags are a pollution problem. They seem to catch the wind better than a sailboat’s sails. I kayak a lot and plastic bags fall just behind beer and soda containers as primary sources of pollution (as far as my very unscientific study goes). Maybe now is not the right time to tax plastic bags but we need to find some way of keeping them out of rivers and streams.

    Now, how plastic straws are a major issue to anybody is one hell of a question …

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      sound like a dang lily-livered do-gooder liberal by gosh!

      Let me get this straight. You want the GOVERNMENT to do something about plastic bags? lord o’mighty!

  7. djrippert Avatar

    By the way Kerry – which committee of our General Assembly do you have in the picture included with your post?

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      That’s the new reconstituted and renamed “Labor and Labor” Committee.

  8. djrippert Avatar

    Help America’s economy. Buy online! You can get your “My Governor is an Idiot” bumper sticker adorned with the seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia here:

  9. I”m sure if we fire all the diversity & inclusion officers at our state colleges, the budget would nearly balance itself. UVA’s diversity officer gets $349,000 a year…..

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      About 1/10th of the coach. OTOH, eliminate the 2% of the students that make up the athletic programs and you eliminate 20% of violent crimes and likely 50% of the need for the diversity & inclusion officers. End social Greeks and you eliminate the remaining 50%.

    2. So, you’ve eliminated athletics and social fraternities and sororities, i.e., recreation, so what’s left for a kid to do but — this?

      1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

        Novel idea, no?

  10. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    kls59 above says: I”m sure if we fire all the diversity & inclusion officers at our state colleges, the budget would nearly balance itself. UVA’s diversity officer gets $349,000 a year…..”

    This is the year America’s university scam is being fully exposed to the light of day. For more on this see Wall Street Journal today at:

    Here is a taste of that WSJ article:

    “…The Veil Comes Off

    Universities would be wise to hold on to every penny they can right now. As students learn online from home, for the first time many parents will see what their children are really learning—and conclude that sending them to overpriced universities isn’t worth the crushing debt.

    The American college campus has lost its way. What once was the breeding ground for new ideas has succumbed to the plague of groupthink. Students are charged thousands of dollars to be indoctrinated and accredited, not educated. If the universities owe us a refund, it has nothing to do with this pandemic. It’s because they lost their purpose.

    The jig is up. As parents lean over their children’s shoulders and see the inanities being taught, they will realize that there was little worth paying for in the first place.

    —Cooper Conway, Boise State University, political science” End Quote

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      As I noted earlier, this is exactly what a physician friend of mine predicted when we talked on the phone last month. Bye-bye- $70 K tuition. Hello unemployment line.

  11. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Oh the misleading statements–let me count the ways.

    16 tax increases–she only named four. What are the other 12? Why should we take her word that they actually are 12 more? Of the four named, two are local option–hotels and plastic bags. First of all, if your locality levies or raises a hotel tax, you probably won’t be paying it. Visitors will. (And I already pay a hefty transient occupancy tax to Virginia Beach each year.) As for the plastic bag tax–that’s local option, too. So, if you have to pay it, blame your supervisor or councilman, not the state.

    Government workers have the right to collectively bargain–Not all government workers, only local ones. And that is a local option, too.

    Memorial day cancelled, but the virus is projected to peak on April 20–When the Governor announced closing until June 10, the same model projected Virginia’s peak in late May. Now that the projected peak is earlier, and if it really does begin to wane after that, he can always back up the closing to late May and let people flood Virginia Beach on the Memorial Day weekend.

    Aubrey Layne–smart, pragmatic politician. This is the same Aubrey Layne that presided over the development of the Governor’s introduced budget that Kerry is so upset over. Just saying…

    As for the horror of a ban on plastic bags–the community just down the coast from you (the Outer Banks, you may have heard of it) actually banned the use of plastic bags some time ago. At least when I went to a WalMart in Nags Head last summer, my groceries were put in plastic bags and the workers there told them that plastic was prohibited. So, if the outer Banks can survive, I would think Virginia Beach could. After all, aren’t Virginians made of sterner stuff?

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      Bag tax… a joke comes to mind.

      Taxes should not be used for social engineering. Bet that tune would change if the LTCG&Dividend tax went away.

      That which benefits me is social progress. That which benefits others but not me is socialism.

      BTW, coronavirus lives on plastic for 2 days, on paper, 5 minutes to a day.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        re: ” Taxes should not be used for social engineering.”

        that IS a joke. the tax code is pock-marked with such stuff.

        Why is your mortgage interest deductible but not rent?

        Out of pocket child care and college tuition, are not only not taxed – the govt actually refunds to you the money you spent on these (capped).

        these are just a few – Both the Federal and State tax codes are chock
        full of “social engineering”.

  12. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I started the “16 tax increases” meme, (16 bills raising taxes actually) and was perfectly clear many were local option. I’m not even against them all. Kinda moot for a while. Like the budget growth theme I also hit on earlier this year – now we wait and see. But if you think the collective bargaining flood can be stopped at localities only, think again. It is an easy prediction that state employees will push hard for it next.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      You are responsible in your reporting. Others, unfortunately, are not. And not only were 4 of those 16 bills local option, they applied only to specific localities and were subject to approval in a local referendum. Such irresponsible reporting on Kerry’s part.

      1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

        Hey! Give ‘er a break. She’s a novice journalist.

  13. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Nancy-naive. You go girl!

  14. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    “The hike in the minimum wage has to go.”

    Yes, yes. It just has to go… no option.

    I cannot fathom why raising the minimum wage is such a object of irritation to the well-fed, well-warmed, well-housed, and the, well, just the well-aged. Not that Little Miss Can’t-be-Wrong ever worked for minimum wage, but had she done so, oh say, 50 years ago (46 years a well-paid journalist, ya know), she would have had almost TWICE the buying power with her $1.60/hr in 1970 than the $7 and change buys today.

    Just keeping up with inflation would put HER $1.60/hr at $11/hr today.

    Yes, yes, yes, it’s a “STARTING” wage, but why would we not give the same foot-up to our grandkids that we had? For 50 years, we’ve been slowly tying the upcoming generation’s shoestrings to the starting blocks and then bitching about how they just won’t keep up. (bet I can find it in the archives too)

    Yeah, but only some 2+ million hourly wage earners are at, or below, minimum wage. Only about 3% of the workforce. True. But 30% are below $11/hr. 30% of our grandkid’s generation are working for less than our generation’s (1970) minimum wage.

    Somebody ain’t keeping up ’cause somebody is holding the down, “The hike in the minimum wage has to go.”

  15. generally_speaking Avatar

    “That plan included 16 different tax increases…”

    You’re parroting or else you would name them.

    “So the money — which may not exist — is allocated, but the agencies can’t spend it.

    That’s an interesting sleight-of-hand.”

    Why is that an interesting sleight-of-hand? Please expand on this.

    “The hike in the minimum wage has to go, for instance. According to legislation that was passed, the minimum wage is due to jump from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2021…”

    I never imagined I would like in a world where we would see righteous indignation at the fact some people might see a $1.75 an hour raise. If a $1.75 an hour raise for your employees that you pay minimum wage cripples your business in 2021 then you have a terrible business model or are incredibly inefficient – or both.

    “Then there’s the plastic bag tax; a bad idea from its inception. Taxes should be used to raise revenue. Period. Not as tools for social engineering.”

    Congress and the States (as in both Republicans and Democrats) have used taxes as a way to encourage/discourage certain types of behavior that it sees as beneficial/detrimental to society. IRAs and 401Ks are an example. Pre-tax healthcare deductions are another. Taxes on alcohol and tobacco products are another.

    You just don’t like it this time because you love plastic bags or something? I can’t tell from what you wrote.

    “In effect, this is a plastic bag ban. But supermarkets have now banned reusable bags because they’re unsanitary, forcing shoppers to use plastic.”

    I’m sorry this upsets you, but plastic bags are terrible for the environment, and I’d rather not have plastic bags around polluting the environment for no reason. I went in to a grocery store that specifically does not offer plastic bags. They did have paper bags available for 10 cents a pop and then I realized I didn’t care about plastic bags anymore.

    “Finally, there’s the issue of pay hikes for state workers and teachers. Sorry, folks. Those can’t happen. You got paid while hundreds of thousands of Virginians were tossed out of work.”

    Every state worker knew that raises were contingent on revenue projections, as Atlas Rand said. Are you upset that people got paid for their work or something?

  16. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” “Then there’s the plastic bag tax; a bad idea from its inception. Taxes should be used to raise revenue. Period. Not as tools for social engineering.”

    if some do not like the word “tax” then use “fee” – as in the tire disposal fee you DO pay to properly manage tire waste.

    You see the same tax/fee when you have your oil changed- again to properly dispose of oil. No magic on doing it for plastic bags.

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