Governor Terry McAuliffe has vetoed the two bills that would have extended Virginia's coal subsidies through 2019. It's a laudable act of fiscal responsibility, and surely no more than Virginia taxpayers had a right to expect in a time of tight state budgets. And yet it was also an act of courage in a coal state where mining companies have had far too much political power for far too long.
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.
Turns out they were right. There is a self-anointed death panel and it meets in this building. Recall they said that healthcare would be rationed? Now that they've managed it, they are quite proud of their accomplishment. What Republicans really relish is the surreptitious method: don't decide, just deny.
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.
More than a hundred representatives of energy efficiency and renewable energy businesses descended on Richmond Tuesday for Clean Energy Lobby Day. After meetings with legislators, many of them stayed to attend a critical subcommittee meeting where most of this year's clean energy bills came up for votes. And they came away with one overpowering impression: the only bills that can make it out of committee are the ones supported by the state's utilities, especially Dominion Power.
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).
This should have been the year to end more than two decades of corporate welfare for companies whose business model involves the destruction of Virginia's mountains. All the facts line up against the coal subsidies: the unremitting decline of coal employment since the 1990s, the waste of half a billion dollars that could have gone towards diversifying the southwest Virginia economy, the unfair advantage it gives coal over 21st century clean energy technologies that promise real job growth, and even all that anti-subsidy rhetoric from Republicans that ought to make them uncomfortable with crony capitalism and a blatant giveaway to a mature industry.
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.)
The cloak of silence surrounding intimate partner fatalities is nearly impenetrable. Details are buried with the victims. Family members deny evidence of abuse before their very eyes. But partners who have survived and healed provide a window on the methods and complexity of power wielded by their abusers.
What follows are stories told by women who could be your sister, mother, neighbor, or boss. These women came together in October at Charlottesville's Shelter for Help in Emergency to share their lives; to try to explain and describe how they were bound to their abusers, how they left, and how they continue to suffer though the healing process. Looking at them you would never know what is inside or be able to distinguish them from the staff at the Shelter. These are striking women who you know but who live secret parallel existences; hidden even from themselves.
The stories that follow are at once different and the same. One striking aspect of these is that the methods the abusers employ are from the same kit familiar to anyone who has studied child or elder abuse or, for that matter, financial exploitation of the wealthy in Ponzi schemes. They are just applied in different variations depending upon the situation and prey. If we recognize the tools in the toolkit, then maybe observing them being applied is the red flag to defend ourselves and others. This, as suggested in A Journey Into Intimate Power and Abuse, provides a perspective that hints a "healthy cynicism" is the necessary defense against any form of nefarious advantage.
All of these women were and are like any of us, reaching to achieve their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. What makes us vulnerable is how and when we assign trust. That vulnerability is an aspect of human commerce as is trust. Sociopaths leverage an intuition crafted from their own experiences to recognize prey and know how to "close the sale."
Note: The posters featured here line the walls of the conference room at the Charlottesville Shelter office. Like the stories that follow, there are no names displayed out of respect for the privacy and security of these survivors. (click to embiggen)
The EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan could reshape Virginia's energy future for the next fifteen years, and possibly permanently. If the state takes advantage of this opportunity, it will reduce carbon pollution, improve human health, save money for consumers, drive job creation in the fast-growing technology sector, and make our grid stronger and more secure.
If the state doesn't act, EPA will design its own plan for Virginia, ensuring reduced carbon emissions but without the flexibility the state would have by doing it for itself.
This presents a conundrum for Virginia's General Assembly, which is not known for embracing federal environmental regulations. The usual skepticism was on display on November 19, when the Senate and House Commerce and Labor Committees met in a joint session to take up the Clean Power Plan-or more precisely, to give utilities and the State Corporation Commission staff the chance to attack it.
At the conclusion of that meeting, the two Republican committee chairs, Senator John Watkins and Delegate Terry Kilgore, named three members of each committee-two Republicans and one Democrat from each chamber-to a special subcommittee tasked with deciding what kind of legislative action the General Assembly should take in response to the Clean Power Plan. Kilgore also named himself to the subcommittee, which now will take up any bills that Virginia legislators introduce related to the Plan.
This subcommittee has now scheduled its first meeting for December 17 at 1:00 p.m. in Senate Room A of the General Assembly building in Richmond. By law, all committee meetings are open to the public.
According to General Assembly procedure, before anyone else in the entire legislature can consider a bill, it will have to pass muster with these men. So who are these hugely important people, and what is the likelihood that they will seize this historic opportunity to make Virginia a leader in clean energy?
I've known Paul Reagan for fifteen years, as an official for Mark Warner, Jim Webb and now Terry McAuliffe. (Back in the 90′s, he also served on the Consumer Protection Commission, where I used to appear as an attorney). I regard him as one of the most honest and reputable people I've met in Virginia. Nothing he said or suggested with Senator Puckett has changed my opinion. I'll leave it at that.
Because, as we all know, people with long and distinguished careers in public service never wreck those careers and self-destruct by breaking the law. No, that never happens.
The next "thought" Senator Petersen rolled out was this:
The Puckett investigation is a road to nowhere and we're slowly getting there. While Phil's actions in resigning just before a key vote were wrong (in my humble opinion), that is a matter between him and his friends. It does not involve the U.S. Attorney. This is not "McDonnell Part Deux." There is nothing illegal about resigning from a public office to take a better-paid position, either with the private sector or with state government. If it was, then you could lock up a lot of people in River City right now.
It's true enough that people often leave good jobs for better jobs. Indeed, that used to be the American dream, to build a career by taking a series of increasingly challenging jobs, succeeding in them, and moving on to better compensated opportunities. That's not what Phil Puckett did. Phil Puckett tried to trade control of the Virginia State Senate for not one, but two six figure jobs with the state judiciary and the state tobacco commission--the first for his daughter and the second for himself. There is a strong possibility that this attempted exchange of influence might be a violation of federal public corruption laws. It stretches credulity to suggest that Petersen--by all accounts a talented attorney--does not understand that.
Delegate Margaret B. Ransone (R) represents the 99th District in Virginia's House of Delegates.
Delegate Margaret B. Ransone is the daughter of Ronnie and Shirley Bevans, who own Bevans Oyster Company, Kinsale, VA.
Delegate Margaret B. Ransone is an employee of Bevans Oyster Company.
Delegate Margaret B. Ransone sponsored HB 648 that changes the dimension of the containers used by oyster harvesters, reducing the minimum size from 2,800 cubic inches to 2,500 cubic inches - a 10.7% reduction. Because oysters are sold by the container, Bevans Oyster Company now sells 10.7% fewer oysters for the same price as before. Who benefits from this legislation?
Delegate Margaret B. Ransone sponsored HB 1092 , that prohibits localities from exercising eminent domain to condemn privately-leased riparian and general oyster planting grounds that are under lease from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). This means: If a locality wants to build a public pier or other public facility over an oyster lease held by Bevans Oyster Company, they are prohibited from doing so. Who benefits from this legislation?
Delegate Margaret B. Ransone had A. J. Erskine appointed to the VRMC. The VRMC regulates the taking and selling of oysters. Erskine is an employee of Bevans Oyster Company as well as a consultant to Cowart Seafood Company, Lottsburg, VA, a large oyster packer. Who benefits from this appointment? By the way -- a few months ago a driver for Cowart Seafood was arrested in Maryland for transporting under-sized oysters from Maryland to Virginia. Of the 188 bushels of oysters on Cowart Seafood truck, 187 contained undersized oysters.
Is this business as usual, or, is it conflict of interest??
Taking a break from a long weekend of supervising the writing of vetoes in the Governor's office, Paul Reagan stopped by the quarterly Central Committee meeting this morning. He shared some thoughts, getting an enthusiastic standing ovation from the committee members.
We vetoed the MIRC becaise it is a sham. It is nothing but an obstacle to Medicaid expansion.
We vetoed the Stanley amendment because it purports to restrict an appropriation the doesn't exist.
We vetoed $18 million worth of judges because they said that the Governor could not make those appointments if they are not in session. We're for those judgships. We can get the money restored, but they are not going to restrict the Governor's power to appoint.
We don't have money for a lavish new General Assemebly building when we don't have money for homeless people.
That said, Reagan bade farewell to a cheering audience of Democrats proud of a Governor who can deal with bush league Republicans. They may have just met the man we elected and they grossly underestimated.
"I think what we saw yesterday was a continuation of what the Governor has done from the very first moment that he got into office. And that is do exactly what he said he would do in his campaign; which was to restore integrity to government, fight for health care, and bring trust back into the state government."
We are no closer to expanding health care coverage in Virginia than we have ever been. Governor McAuliffe blames the tea party but that is too kind to the legislators who do not support expansion. They are either math challenged or corrupt, morally and/or ethically. The tea party provides obfuscation.
"There still is a House of Delegates which remains unmoved and unmoving on this issue." - Reverend John Peterson speaking at an Organizing Virginia vigil for Medicaid expansion just prior to the Senate joining the forces of obstruction
Hospitals and patients in Virginia have to live within the reality of the law whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the Affordable Care Act, explained John Peterson, Chairman of the Board of Augusta Health. So it is in all our best interests to find a solution that makes the law as workable as possible for as many patients and those who serve them as possible. $300 million in annual payments to Virginia hospitals were eliminated under the Affordable Care Act including disproportionate share hospital payments for treating the uninsured and cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates. Those Medicare reductions were to be offset by Medicaid expansion in the states.
Peterson outlined the effects of failing to expand Medicaid. Augusta Health provided some $25 million in uncompensated care last year and an additional $5 million in community benefits related to care.
Add to the names of history's traitors one Phillip Puckett. This former Democrat apparently made a deal to resign his Senate seat just to hand the majority to the GOP. In return he gets - no, not thirty pieces of silver, but a seat on the Tobacco Commission and a judgeship for his daughter.
Judges, you know, those people who are supposed to administer the law fairly, honestly and dispassionately? You might think that obtaining the job through such sleazebaggery would taint the rest of her career a bit.
Is this act of openly bribing a state official even legal? All I know is that if Republicans want to play such unscrupulous, hardball, no-holds-barred politics, the answer is not to respond by playing patty cake with them. If they are going to take power through dishonest means, just playing along is not the way to honor or maintain a democracy.
If they want a fight, let's give them a fight. Let's shout out our protest everywhere from social media to the streets. Democrats should boycott every institution rendered illegitimate by this dirty act, from the General Assembly to Mr. Puckett's daughter's courtroom.
Virginia was born when the people in this colony could no longer brook the tyranny of King George III. From that fight we gained democratic governance. Now we need to fight to bring that principle back.
It could have been about mental health or affordable care, but this General Assembly session accomplished favors for the former Governor and itself. John L. Brownlee must be silently gloating. His client will benefit from what turns out is the real Virginia Way. To heck with becoming Attorney General.
What the General Assembly accomplished was to provide tacit approval of almost every unethical act Bob McDonnell, or any one of themselves, committed, ever. Mr. Brownlee, a former U.S. attorney, is a more than competent lawyer and he appreciates that the omission of specific restrictions from the "ethics bill" allows him to argue that those activities are condoned.
Some may not remember, but Bob McDonnell's attorney aspired to statewide office. He was cut off at the knees by Ken Cuccinelli, a centrist by comparison. Turns out it is better to have lost and lived to join a very good law firm than to have won and become such a pariah that the only way to earn a living is to bleed the paranoid. It's unfortunate that we'll never know if Brownlee had the stuff to tango with Jonnie Williams. What we do know is that his defense of McDonnell will be that nothing McDonnell did was unethical, at least anything he is charged with, or it would have been included in the ethics bill passed by legislators with the benefit of hindsight.
What is even more unfortunate is that politicians that take advantage of the Virginia Way to fatten their wallets (or purchase personal automobiles with campaign contributions) will continue to thrive. Frankly, there's no luxury like that of candidates willing to subsidize their lifestyle with campaign funds that the state of Virginia treats as their own. And if elected to office, why hire a staff when no one can be more valuable on your staff than yourself? Where's any reasonable standard for behavior, path for remedy, or process to enforce/punish?
So, bravo General Assembly, you may have made John L. Brownlee's case winnable.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Commonwealth of Virginia gave to me ...
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh?
Keep the gold, pawn it off for cold hard cash, because on this Epiphany, the three magi would be better off bringing money, messaging, and mobilization to Virginia Democrats.
Campaigns are fought on battlefields defined by demographics, candidates, random events and other factors that may be out of our control. But once the battle has been joined, victory belongs to the side that brings the three M's: money, messaging, and mobilization.
Once upon a time, there was a wild and barbarous land called Virginia, ruled by a race of giant trolls named Republicans. This land also contained tiny dwarves known as Democrats, but nobody ever really tended to notice them.
The Republican trolls liked to do big, messy, smelly, destructive things, like chopping off the tops of mountains to turn them into coal fields, and covering their shores with oil rigs. The trolls liked to drive around in big vehicles known as pickups and SUVs.
One day, a particularly gruesome troll named Gilmore jumped on a rock to get all the others' attention and yelled three words: "No Car Tax!" He repeated it over and over, until all the Republican trolls were excitedly yelling the same words, waving their hands and jumping up and down. (Trolls are very good at repeating things.)
In this way, Gilmore became King of the Trolls and was able to greatly reduce the hated car tax on their pickups and SUVs, and encourage another favorite troll chant -- "Drill Baby Drill" -- to ensure that the messy, smelly oil fields continued to fill the land.
So, all was good in the land of Virginia, until one day the trolls noticed that the dwarves also drove cars, but theirs were smaller and used less gasoline. This angered the trolls, since it contradicted the "Drill Baby Drill" chant.
And so, the new King of the Trolls, named McDonnell -- a troll with unusually excellent hair -- jumped on a tree stump and started a new chant: "Green Car Tax!" Pretty soon, all the Republican trolls were waving their arms and yelling the same thing. So of course, there was a Green Car Tax imposed across the land, the oil fields kept flowing, and all was good in Virginia again.
It is possible that the Democratic dwarves may have said something on this matter, but as usual, no one paid any attention to them.
So, the moral of the story, boys and girls, is this: Trolls rule while dwarves get stomped on. Now shut up and go to bed. THE END.
It's time again for Richmond's favorite reality show, WORST BILL EVER! Excited Republican state Delegates and Senators are lining up today to try to pass the weirdest, dumbest, most cynical or just plain revolting legislation. Make sure to vote in the poll at the end of this post for the bill you think deserves the prize.
This round's contenders include:
- Del. Bob Marshall's "Funny Money" bill (HJ 590) -- Sideshow Bob is the Rocky Balboa of freaky legislation, and he never fails to disappoint. This worthy contender, to study whether Virginia should print its own currency, is one for the ages -- I encourage you to read it in full, while enjoying such lines as "WHEREAS, many widely recognized experts predict the inevitable destruction of the Federal Reserve System's currency through hyperinflation in the foreseeable future..." Needless to say, this bill has been approved in subcommittee.
- Del. Marshall's "Cold, Dead Hands" bill (HB 2340), which would prohibit state employees from helping to enforce new Federal gun laws. Whaditellya? Like Michael Jordan, Sideshow Bob never just takes one shot at the basket. Of course, this bill is too mild for our friends at the Virginia Gun Owners Coalition, who point out that it fails to include a provision to arrest Federal officials who themselves try to enforce Federal laws. Well, good point, but Rome wasn't brutally massacred in a day. This bill, needless to say, has been reported out of committee.
As millions of Virginians celebrate Easter Sunday, it's important to re-recognize the role that religion plays in Virginia's politics. In Virginia, religion has been used as an argumentative backdrop to kill commonsensical rights for homosexuals and women. This year's session of the General Assembly was only the latest round of religion as foundation for denying women fundamental rights to their own bodies and homosexuals their unequivocal right to marry as they see fit.
I'm not a religious person but I've never been one to bash religion or anyone who adheres to this religion or that. Like it or not, religion is here to stay in Virginia for some time to come. Maybe it's exactly how social life in Virginia should be.
But while some Virginians who consider themselves religious understand the importance of allowing all Virginians to share equal rights, there are some who don't. This latter group has co-opted religion to divide Virginians along the lines of first class, second class, and third class citizenship. Didn't the New Testament say we are all God's children?
The federal government is at it again, telling us Virginians how to go about saving energy, money, and the environment. At least, that's what Prince William County Republican Bob Marshall is saying.
Del. Marshall has introduced a bill (HB 66) in the VA General Assembly that would permit the manufacture and sale of incandescent light bulbs within the commonwealth after new federal energy standards go into effect. Because incandescent light bulbs are so inefficient relative to other bulbs in the market, the former would basically be taken off the market by lack of consumer demand. Isn't that what markets are supposed to do Del. Marshall?
This bill by Marshall comes as one of many anti-federal government bills being pushed by the wing-nut conservative House of Delegates who see the federal government as interfering with Virginia's choices, choices in the case of Marshall's bill to add unnecessary energy demands and expenses onto the taxpayers of Virginia.
With so much on the line for human and environmental health during this year's session of the VA General Assembly, Conservation Lobby Day comes as a much needed momentum booster to implement an agenda based upon reason and environmental health.
Conservation Lobby Day kicks off tomorrow at 9AM at Richmond Center Stage (600 E. Grace St.) and at 10AM at the Virginia General Assembly Building on 910 Capitol Square. The purpose of Conservation Lobby Day is to show your elected representatives as well as Virginia's lobbyists that you support environmental protection.
Even though Gov. McDonnell has signaled a call to continue the ban on uranium mining in Virginia in 2012, it seems clear that this is a political tactic drawn out by the McDonnell administration and Virginia Uranium Inc. to mollify the opposition and take away from the powerful arguments of those opposed to the unacceptably risky practice of uranium mining and milling.
The Chesapeake Bay requires appropriate funding to successfully complete Virginia's latest plans to clean the bay and its tributaries. One of the highest priorities will be sustaining the share of state surplus deposited into the Water Quality Improvement Fund.
Whatever issue you choose to come out and show your support for, make sure you come out! Our health and the future of our environment in VA depend on your active participation!
When you're the king of the hill, it's easy to tell everyone else not to fight like Gov. Bob McDonnell has suggested to legislators of the General Assembly. The Republican Party's position of dominance in both the legislative and executive branches gives these individuals a much easier path to shove through their draconian policies. What can the Democratic Party of Virginia do to quell the Republican Party's medieval policy agenda? Fight like hell.
I won't get into a lengthy discussion of what McDonnell refers to as the "Virginia way." Instead, the American way is giving each individual under the stars and stripes an opportunity to live a comfortable life. Unfortunately, the companies and lobbyists who write the Republican Party of Virginia's legislation usually don't think about "the people" or their interests. If the interests of Virginians and big business overlap, so be it. If they don't, oh well.
Civility is a laudable virtue, especially in politics. But the Republican Party only preaches civility when it's the biggest gun in the room, not when it's scrapping for its political lifeline.
It's big business over small business and the individual. It's unchecked pollution over human and environmental health. It's the hand of God over federal health insurance. It's the Republican Party over the Democratic Party if the latter lies down and "plays nice."
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