Sunday, August 8, 2021

Your (tardy) August 8th Sunday Summary ...

Dear Friend of TJI,
Meanwhile …
1.)  While we were on vacation last week (and yes, why this is late arriving in your inbox), the rest of the Jefferson team was hard at work for which we thank them profusely. Senior Fellow Steve Haner was particularly productive, reiterating his tax reform idea that Virginia should not tax income if Washington doesn’t (here). He also wrote a piece pointing out that the Department of Motor Vehicles is now only hiding 22 percent of the state’s gas tax, not the 26 percent he reported last year (here). Only another five and a half years and they’ll be up to date.
2.) The multi-tasking Haner also turned his attention to consumer energy issues, asking if you’re ready to spend $26,000 to eliminate all the gas appliances in your home (here) and reporting in Bacon’s Rebellion on a new tax that will appear on your Dominion Energy Virginia bills starting in September, courtesy of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (here).
3.) Not to be ignored, Visiting Fellow F. Vincent Vernuccio reported on the power labor union executives are exhibiting even before collective bargaining agreements are negotiated, exhibiting more influence than either voters or employees themselves (here). His column outlining potential dangers and concerns for local governments as they consider monopoly union contracts was published in the Charlottesville Daily Press here.
4.) Of course, the General Assembly also began its Special Session to consider how to spend “free” American Rescue Plan money and elect eight new judges to the Virginia Court of Appeals. Democrats kicked it off by canceling a 9:30 am meeting on campaign finance reform. And by holding an 8:00 am fundraising breakfast for lobbyists (only $500 per person, $1,000 for four!). The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports it here.
5.) In an unprecedented move, Democrats later met in secret to interview finalists for those Court of Appeals seats, the highest court in Virginia (here and here). Of course, one of these has been open for two years since Democrats in the House and Senate have been unable to agree on a candidate, and nothing will move forward unless only the Left comes to agreement. Republicans will be told the results later.
6.) Less than 72 hours before the Special Session began, House Appropriations Chair Luke Torian provided the spending plan for $4.3 billion in “free” federal funds. Among the lowlights: 
  •    $6 million for a monument at Fort Monroe;
  •  $250 million for school ventilation systems, but requiring a local match, thus leaving high poverty and rural school divisions out of the running;
  • $2.5 million in legal representation in eviction cases (small landlords who have gone without payment will not get this) and
  • An extension of the ban on evictions through June 2022;
  •  $2.5 million for Attorney General Mark Herring to provide “gun violence reduction projects,” while there was only
  •  $1 million for Law Enforcement Training;
  • $25 million for the Portsmouth Terminal because without it they can’t ship out heavy offshore wind components;
  • $1 million for hiking trails at a Fairfax County park; and
  • Authorization for the Governor to appropriate additional amounts in case they forgot anything.
7.) Republicans in the House offered some different priorities, but it took Democrats all of two minutes to vote it down. Among the provisions rejected were –
  •  Fully restoring the unemployment trust fund so small businesses would not face a huge covid-related tax increase in January;
  • Allowing the $250 million in school funding to be used for renovation not just ventilation and changing the formula to protect small school systems;
  • Providing a $500 per student grant to help students regain learning loss resulting from the pandemic, ensuring students will once again be reliant on doing more of what they’ve been doing which, in covid world, hasn’t been working;
  • Language ensuring students get a complete history education, but are not sorted by race or made to feel responsible for the failings of past generations.
  • Language establishing a Diverse Educator Scholarship Fund
8.) Over in “the other body,” members of the State Senate actually did make changes to the budget –
  • With support from Republicans, Democratic Senator Chap Peterson got an amendment approved requiring Department of Motor Vehicle offices to re-open for walk-in service within 30 days of the budget becoming law;
  • Peterson withdrew an amendment requiring all state workers to return to their offices, but succeeded in an amendment requiring the state to file a detailed report on how many employees are working remotely or in their offices (Imagine! Actually knowing where your staff is!)
  •   Freshman Senator Travis Hackworth’s amendment replaced a $1,000 bonus for sheriff’s deputies and regional jail officers with a $5,000 hazard pay bonus for three years to match the amount proposed for state police troopers. 
  • Senator Emmett Hanger’s amendment extending a12/5 percent Medicaid increase to providers of services to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities was approved.
  • Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax agreed with Republican Leader Tommy Norment’s motion to remove a provision Governor Ralph Northam inserted that would regulate financial contracts using the name, image or likeness of students at Virginia state colleges and universities on the grounds that it had no business being in there in the first place (a point our Steve Haner made over a week ago here).
9.) The House and Senate then went into Conference Committee, appointing a committee of 11 Democrats and three Republicans. Within 24 hours, the committee had re-approved the budget, including a) requiring the DMV to re-open in 60 days instead of 30, b) lowering Senator Hackworth’s bonus for sheriff’s deputies and regional jail officers to $3,000 for only one year, and c.) restored Governor Northam’s provisions permitting conditions under which student athletes might profit.
The budget will likely be voted on by the full General Assembly as soon as tomorrow.

10.)                The mask wars are back. Jim Geraghty makes the point in National Review that many Americans are beginning to feel jerked around with inconsistent proclamations from government officials, undercutting the argument for getting vaccinated (here).
11.)               Which, for many, is the best preventative. Developed during the Trump Administration, a new study demonstrates that the vaccines remain effective against the new variant, although less so – and that both hospitalizations and the seriousness of the illness is significantly reduced for vaccinated (here). Over at the Manhattan Institute, Heather MacDonald, author of War On Cops and Diversity Delusion, makes the conservative case that the vaccines work and are low risk (here).
Finally … Team USA won 113 medals including 39 Gold, edging out China. We are unabashed about it.
Chris Braunlich
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