Tag: General Assembly
We would hope legislators would now focus on working with the Administration to help southwest Virginia communities shift away from their unhealthy dependence on coal mining and instead develop new, cleaner industries. The tens of millions of dollars that have been spent annually on coal subsidies could be much better directed to job diversification efforts. Unfortunately, legislators representing coal companies-that is to say, coal counties-have already vowed to reintroduce bills next year to keep the taxpayer largesse flowing. They have time; the subsidies won't actually expire until January 1, 2017.
It's been 20 years since Virginia began subsidizing coal mining via these two tax credits, bleeding the state treasury of more than $500 million in all. And it's been three years since the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) issued a critique of the various Virginia tax credits that included an especially harsh assessment of the handouts to coal companies. Yet instead of canceling the credits in light of the report, the General Assembly promptly extended them. Even Governor McAuliffe didn't actually try to end them completely this year. Legislators rejected his efforts simply to scale them back, leading to this veto.
So if we didn't get jobs for our $500 million, what did we gat? Most of the money has gone to enrich coal companies, but a portion went to fund the Virginia Coalfields Economic Development Authority (VACEDA). VACEDA's board includes coal executives, a fact which has served to intensify rather than lessen coal's hold on the area.
Millions and millions and millions of your federal tax dollars have been flushed down the Potomac only to be harvested by wiser state legislatures. What could have been a catalyst for not only broad medical service sector growth but also the survival of rural medical clinics and hospitals was set aside for base political posturing. This should have been a simple financial decision. Instead it was a cynical sacrifice of their voiceless, powerless constituents for the protection of their own political hides.
Let's consider the costs because they are not limited to those dollars passed on to other states. Some number amounting to just under 5% of Virginians are without healthcare coverage because Medicaid expansion has been denied. That doesn't mean they go without healthcare. In many cases it means they go without healthcare until there is a crisis and then an emergency room visit and expensive procedure are required. Who pays for that? You can make up all kinds of voodoo financial and economic formulas but the costs get passed to those who are covered in increased insurance premiums and/or copays and/or deductibles. And maybe more importantly, in scarcer medical service resources. Visit an emergency room for the Republican version of healthcare delivery in the unregulated free market. They simply don't understand that the risk pool is the risk pool. No one in America is denied care in an emergency and those emergencies are exponentially more costly than preventive care. Republican denial of coverage poisons the well that feeds the pool. Welcome to the Teapublican Utopia.
On the other hand, some number amounting to just under 5% of Virginians now have healthcare insurance through the Federal Marketplace established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That hasn't solved every problem but it goes a long way in that direction. While some are subsidized, these policies are not some government giveaway. They are a way Americans can take responsibility for their financial exposure. Republicans talk about individual responsibility in a vacuum. They like to preach about it but don't want to facilitate it. The fact is that 60% of bankruptcies in the United States involve medical indebtedness. Healthcare insurance builds a firewall between personal financial survival and insolvency leading to financial disaster.
But that wasn't quite the end of the story. Because by the end of the week, they also found that the groundwork they had laid with their lobbing, and their tenaciousness before the subcommittee, created an opening they would not otherwise have had.
First, the bad news, and plenty of it
Things started bleakly. The House Commerce and Labor Subcommittee on Energy turned back multiple proposals that would have benefited Virginia's small renewable energy and energy efficiency businesses, as well as their customers. Going down to defeat were bills to improve the renewable portfolio standard (HB 1913), create an energy efficiency resource standard (HB 1730), require a more rigorous study before utilities can impose standby charges (HB 1911), make third-party PPAs legal across the state (HB 1925), and enable an innovative vehicle-to-grid (V2G) project (HB 2073).
Delegate Toscano led a spirited charge against them that included a hard-hitting op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. But the coal companies whined in committee hearings, and Dominion's Bill Murray explained that the utility supports making coal cheaper, saying ratepayers would benefit. (Since the money comes out of taxpayers' pockets, and taxpayers are also presumably ratepayers, it's a little hard to follow this logic. If you want to get your money's worth, use more energy?)
No one but a few lonely environmentalists (like me) spoke up against the subsidies. Where are the clean energy businesses? Where is the Tea Party? Where are the people who actually care about the dire need for new industries and new jobs in southwest Virginia?
They certainly weren't being heard in the General Assembly. By mid-week it was clear the giveaway will continue, though perhaps with one welcome change. HB 1879, reported from House Finance on Wednesday on a party-line vote, for the first time limits the credit for companies that mine coal, restricting how much any given coal company can claim. However, the credit for those who burn coal is not limited and will actually be extended out to 2019, keeping coal's unfair advantage over other fuels. (Like, say, solar energy.)