Your Legislature at Work

Judged by the volume of significant legislation passed, this has been a productive session for the House of Delegates. I have major quarrels with the transportation-financing scheme the House wants to adopt, as I have illuminated in numerous posts. But there are other bills that might actually do more good than harm. These descriptions come from a summary issued by the Speaker of the House at cross-over. (My comments in italics.)

HJ 18. Transportation Trust Fund. Marshall, R-Prince William). Passed 96-0. Locks up the Transportation Trust Fund by a Constitutional Amendment securing funds dedicated for transportation cannot be diverted and can only be used for transportation purposes. Remember the constitutional amendment for Transportation Trust Fund? Let’s hope the Senate sees eye-to-eye with the House and can get this passed.

HB 2314. Tolls on Interstates. Lingamfelter, R-Prince William. Passed 76-22 Allows the Commonwealth Transportation Board to impose and collect tolls for the use of any component of the Interstate Highway System, with the proceeds to be deposited into the Transportation Trust Fund and allocated by the Board. If this enables congestion tolls for the purpose of optimizing Interstate capacity and encouraging alternatives to Single Occupancy Vehicles, it’s a good thing. If it’s used just another revenue-raising tool, it’s a bad thing.

HJ 723. Eminent domain. Bell, R-Albemarle. Passed 67-30 Protects Virginians’ property rights by amending the Constitution to establish what constitutes a taking of private property for a public use in response to the 2005 Kelo v. New London case. Prohibits eminent domain use for economic development, increased tax revenue or job creation purposes. Eminent domain is justified when it’s for a legitimate public use; it’s a bad thing when used to increase the tax base — as in Kelo-style decisions.

HB 2954. Eminent domain. Bell, R-Albemarle. Passed 87-10 Safeguards individual private property rights by defining “public use” for eminent domain purposes, restricting it from being used to generate tax revenue. Same as above. I would note, however, that some private-property advocates say this bill does not do enough. I don’t know enough about the issue to have an informed opinion.

HB 2311. Charter schools. Lingamfelter, R-Prince William. Passed 90-8 Establishes Public Charter School Fund for the purposes of establishing or supporting public charter schools in the Commonwealth to stimulate the development of alternative public education programs. This falls far short of the major shake-up we need for public education, but at least it would introduce a modicum of innovation to our sclerotic system.

HJ 729. Universal Pre-K. Cox, R-Colonial Heights. Passed 92-4. Directs JLARC to study the effectiveness and performance results of the Virginia Preschool Initiative and evaluate the cost and effectiveness of universal pre-kindergarten programs. Subject Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s Universal Pre-K initiative to a little cost-benefit analysis before rolling out the idea statewide. Good idea.

HB 2623. Illegal immigration. Reid, R-Henrico. Passed 74-23. Prohibits illegal aliens from eligibility for in-state tuition rates at Virginia’s public colleges and universities. This will be denounced as “anti-immigrant,” of course. It’s not. It’s anti illegal immigrant. We can barely afford the welfare/medical/education net benefits we provide our own citizens. We can’t afford to make them available to anyone/everyone who makes it illegally into the state.
HB 2687. Illegal immigration. Reid, R-Henrico. Passed 62-37. Discourages businesses from knowingly hiring illegal aliens by making it an unfair employment practice to knowingly employ an unauthorized alien within the Commonwealth. If you’re going to crack down on illegal immigration, you can’t target only the illegals themselves — you have to shut down the people who hire them. As a bonus for the politically correct, this means you’re indicting people with white skin, not just people with brown skin.

HB 1710

. Saving the bay. Callahan, R-Fairfax. Passed 99-0. Provides new, innovative and flexible funding options for $500 million in grants for the installation of nutrient removal technologies at specified publicly owned water treatment plants as part of House Republican’s ongoing commitment to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Sounds like a good idea. Virginia needs to show flexibility and innovation in finding cost-effective ways to clean up pollution.

HB 2708. Electric restructuring. Hugo. R-Fairfax. Passed 98-0 Requires the electric utility provider to enter into an agreement to purchase any excess electricity generated by an eligible customer-generator upon the request of the customer. Excellent idea in the abstract. Key questions: Should customer-generators get paid retail or wholesale rates for their electricity? Why impose a 0.1 percent cap? One tenth of one percent is insignificant — that’s less than the increase in electricity demand Virginia experiences in one month. I acknowledge that we should proceed cautiously in order to maintain the integrity of the power distribution grid, but 0.1 percent seems awfully small.

HB 2198. Medical records. Nixon, R-Chesterfield. Passed 97-0. Facilitates increased and improved usage of electronic health records systems throughout the Commonwealth by requiring interoperability. This is way overdue. But it’s only a first step. The interoperability extends only to state agencies. The Commonwealth needs to convene a task force that sets standards (voluntary, perhaps) that would enable all health care providers to share medical records.

There’s a whole lot more — including some worthwhile pieces to Speaker William J. Howell’s massive transportation compromise bill, which I have described in previous posts — but these are the provisions that I deem worthwhile.

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21 responses to “Your Legislature at Work”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Let’s call the eminent domain constitutional amendment and bill by their real name: “The Slumlord Relief Act.”

    You cannot use eminent domain for economic development, increased tax revenue or job creation purposes. Then kiss Philip Morris new location in downtown Richmond good-bye; eminent domain was used to assemble the parcels many years ago.

    Blight removal? Ha! Under the amendment and bill, you could not condemned an extremely blighted, falling down property and sell it to someone for a mom-and-pop store or new restaurant. Oops. That’s economic development, increased tax revenue, and job creation. That is a no-no so the lawsuits from the protectors of property rights will follow. Solution, let the neighborhood rot so that the slumlord can continue to allow crack houses and crime.

    All the horror stories told by the proponents pale in comparison with the magnitude of benefit that the proper use of eminent domain has heaped upon taxpayers and society overall. Yes, there have been some abuses, but that’s for the courts to decide.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Why not let the folks in a blighted neighborhood decide if the proposed “public use” is something they want in their neighborhood?

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m a little confused as to what the Transportation Trust fund means when the money is coming out of the General Fund.

    What is it that is being “locked up”?

    Would the TTF essentially be getting what was decided to be allocated to them from the budget process?

    please explain.

  4. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Jim can you throw up a post about this story possibly?

    Area officials struggle to fit lid on growth

  5. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Maybe I’m getting a little mixed up with all these different transportation schemes.

    I thought the whole game plan behind the projects down here in Tidewater was to fund them through tolls and various taxes from the local area. That’s been the decade long plan from the local MPO. It’s what’s been put in the papers. And that’s been the implied intent of this new compromise the GOP dreamed up.

    Then I read HB2314. Why do I smell a rat?

    Do the good ole boys really want to start this war?

  6. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I thought Phil Hamilton got charter schools passed years ago – after years of work.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon:

    Why are you writing about bills
    approved only by the House of Delegates at this juncture of the current General Assembly session?

    It would seem to me bills approved by both chambers of the General Assembly signed by the Governor that benefit Virginia would be a
    more meaningful posting.

    Is it that Bacon’s Rebellion Blog
    has become a pr machine for the


    Rodger Provo

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Rodger, No, I am not a P.R. machine for the House (as you would know if you had read my recent post, “Subsidies for the Driving Class,” in which I blasted the main plank of the GOP transportation deal).

    But since you ask… I write about House press initiatives because the House makes it easy for me to track what it’s doing: The Speaker’s office is very diligent about pumping out press releases and bill summaries and distributing them to the press and to bloggers.

    I periodically check Gov. Kaine’s website, and I post material based on his press releases as well.

    The state Senate sends out a really useful news wrap-up daily, which I read every day, but it doesn’t do nearly as diligent a job of promoting its activities — or, if it does, I’m not on the distribution list.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon:

    Thank you for your response which
    indicates your posting is driven
    more by the House pr machine than
    the collective actions of the General Assembly and the Governor
    that will benefit all Virginian.


    Rodger Provo

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim Bacon:

    Thank you for your response
    which indicates your posting
    is driven more by the House
    public relations efforts than
    the collective actions of the
    General Assembly and the
    Governor that will benefit
    all Virginians.


    Rodger Provo

  11. E M Risse Avatar

    Anon 3:10 is right on.

    The only ones who really benefit are those who speculate in underdeveloped land.

    It is a nice trophy for some fear mongers but of little help for improving human settlement patterns.

    The only possible silver lining is that in a logical, results oriented democracy with a market economy, it might prompt some to start in earnest to work for a Henry George / Split Rate Tax.

    Of course, with a rational taxing system most uses of eminent domain about which property rights folks like to cite as horror stories would not exist.

    (Sorry for the late post, the Blog software would not give me a key to enter when this was first written.)


  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think what is lacking is a fair and equitable way of dealing with people who live/own property in an area that others either elected or developers would like to “improve”.

    One can ask why you would need Emminent Domain in the first place if the prospective buyers were willing to engage in a willing seller/willing buyer transaction.

    ED is a hammer used against people who insist on more money than the prospective buyer wants to pay.

    It can and is used against property owners of parcels that are not blighted or at the least there is a difference of opinion about it.

    Developers assemble properties ALL THE TIME – without ED.

    What is the justification to give them ED in the first place in the venture is a for-profit venture?

    Folks might want to notice that even VDOT has been guilty of this. Just this year a court ruled that VDOT was in err when it took a property and didn’t use it then offered to sell it back to the person they took it from for MORE that VDOT paid for it.

    So I go back to the firt thought.

    .. which is treating people in a fair and equitable manner.

    When property is truly blighted – the price offered is not enough for those who will be displaced to replace their housing for that amount of money.

    You’re essentially forcing them out of their homes without equivalent alternatives.

    This is so wrong that I can not believe anyone would support it for any reason… except perhaps those that can make a buck at the expense of the weak and disadvantaged.

    This whole Kelo thing would never have happened in a way as long as the predators only preyed on those unable to mount a legal challenge.

    It was when they started going after folks with financial resources that Kelo got into the courts.

  13. “Why not let the folks in a blighted neighborhood decide if the proposed “public use” is something they want in their neighborhood?”

    Why not let the owner of the property decide if the price offered for a “public use” is one he is willing to accept?

    Isn’t this the same argument I have been making about conservation as a “public use”?

    If the public use is that valuable, then why can’t the public afford to pay for it?

    OK, you have the problem of the slumlord hold out.

    Any suggetions?

  14. “Yes, there have been some abuses, but that’s for the courts to decide. “

    Some abuses amounted to more than ten thousand court cases last year.

    If it is true that “All the horror stories told by the proponents pale in comparison with the magnitude of benefit that the proper use of eminent domain has heaped upon taxpayers and society overall.” then why in God’s name can’t taxpayers and society offer a fair price that precludes the need to go to court?

  15. Larry, isn’t your last argument pretty much exactly what I have been arguing is happening to my wife’s property, except that she gets NO compensation?

    After twenty years of more or less enforced conservation easement, supposedly in favor of lower taxes, we are now faced with an 18 cent tax rate increase, on top of a 100% assessment increase two years ago.

    I haven’t done the calculation, but I think it amounts to a tax incrase that is more than double my salary increase over the period.

    TMT’s complaints don’t apply only to Fairfax.

    She has already lost her beach home and sixty acres to eminent domain, plus the incipient power line, and now this.

    She is essentially being forced out of her home without equivalent alternatives.

    And our elected representatives have told us they can’t wait to see it happen.

    But, as you say, it is all legal.

    Still doesn’t make it right.

  16. Please, let’s not go around on henry George again. By now, his ideas have been thouroughly discredited.

  17. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m pretty much opposed to ED as a first option for anyone for any purpose even VDOT and even other public purposes.

    The National Park Service used to use ED – for Shenandoah Park and they still can but almost all of their transactions these days are willing-seller/willing buyer.

    To this day – there is anger and rancor by those families whose ancestors live in what is now Shennandoah – because the transaction for forced and not fair.

    The only acceptable use of ED, in my opinion is when a majority of properities have been acquired WSWB
    (willing seller/willing buyer).

    For instance if 50 have been acquired and the project lacks a single property then ED could start.

    But it would be done by a jury of adjacent land-owners.

    The problem with appraisals is that they fail to account for what are known as secondary and indirect impacts that ARE tangible but almost never valued.

    For instance, NOISE or Visual, and ACCESS.

    VDOT and others are very, very adept at taking full advanatage of the law to benefit their financial bottom line. In fact, they will say that they are duty-bound to do so because the money to purchase the property is taxpayer.

    They’ll also assert that even though they slice parcels in half and build roads right through neighborhoods that the law does not allow them to buy “buffer” land – only land that will be “used”.

    But Ray is right… if the property is for the public then there is absolutely no justification that the selling assume the loss in helping to keep the bottom line for the taxpayer.

    One of the benefits of private entity WSWB approaches is that such entities might actually buy more land than they need for a project but the left-over land – can have substantial value if developed in concert with the primary land purchase.

    VDOT cannot doe this legally.

    Dominion CAN.

    If Dominion were forced to WBWS – they might reconsider the powerline because then THEY would own the land affected by it’s presence and the value of that land might be far less than it would be.

    In Dominion’s case – I do not understand for the life of me why they cannot utilize existing rights of ways for major roads for much of the line.. and then bury it where there are impacts.

    I think the reason they don’t want to bury it is because – not only the current cost – but the cost of adding capacity later.

    Folks should think about this.

    The powerline right of way.. may just be an initial foot in the door in terms of longer term additional infrastructure.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    Mister Hyde:

    Selfserving supporters of speculators have been trying to discredit Henry George for over 100 years.

    The concept of taxing the land, not the improvements inside what Dr. Risses call the Clear Edge is sound.

    Outside the Clear Edge, as Mr. Gross and others note, needs work.

    Anon Zeus

  19. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Outside the clear edge, you use reverse George. You tax the buildings and not the farm and forest land. If you can do a special tax district for Route 28, you can do one for Virginia farm and forest land.

  20. E M Risse Avatar

    Jim W

    Your are right on.

    The problem is that those who are the strongest supporters of Henry George are True Belivers and it is hard to get them to embrace Reverse Henry George outside the Clear Edge.

    Your solution solves the save the farm land and the save the farm family problem. It protects 95 percent of the land for Open Land uses. The only thing it does not preserve is the fantasy “value” of land that is in poor locations for functional urban land uses.

    That is why land speculators for over a century have tried to discredit Henry George. From bankers and “investors” in the 1800s to property rights (property values) advocates in the last half of the 1900s and into the 21st Century.


  21. JW:

    That is already what happens under land use: The buildings get taxed at a high rate and the land at a low rate.

    One unfortunate result is that some farms actually pay more taxes than they would without land use.

    There isn’t anything you can do to save the farm and the farm family without profits. Twiddling with phantasmagoria dual taxation schemes which haven’t happened for a hundred years, and which are prohibited by the state constitution isn’t going to cut it.

    There cannot possibly be any rational or logical way of justifying taxing the land and not the structures for one taxpayer and the structures not the land for another.

    Henry George was an uneducated drunken failure. He discredited himself long ago, and his ideas have mostly gone the way of the socialists that once supported them.

    What makes more sense is to forget about the land and buildings, both of them are capital situations, and instead tax only the income. That way you have some nexus between the value and the ability to pay.

    In my case the value of the farm structures doubled recently, but the farm income is still the same. Even assuming my residence and living expenses are paid with off-farm income, the situation of doubling the tax base on the farm with out increasing the farm income can’t continue and still have a farm.

    Theoretically, I could put up a bunch of greenhouses and move the whole farm indoors, there is nothing to stop me. I could put up a number of riding stables, with roads, water, and power running to each. I could even put bathrooms in them.

    But I can’t build a house.

    So, let’s get real here. If real commercial agriculture moved into this area there would be screams of anguish. And there would be a lot less unspoiled open space than now. It is those long distance commuters and hobby farmers that make this place what it is.

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