Virginia’s Republican’s slavish adherence to “free market” ideology and unquestioning belief that the interests of business come before the interests of the people is rapidly leading the state and the people of Virginia down a path from which there may soon be no return. Nowhere is that clearer than in the vast difference between their legislative proposals and those of the Democrats.
Just compare the priorities of the House Democratic Caucus; to making voting more accessible, expanding economic opportunities, improve education, increase the availability of healthcare, promote public safety, and ethics reform. http://www.vahousedems.org/blog/house-democratic-caucus-2015-legislative-session-agenda
To those of the Virginia Conservative Caucus; whose agenda consists of limiting government and defending freedom, while giving lip service to making, jobs and economic opportunity, and protecting families. http://vaconservativecaucus.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/ConservativeCaucusAgenda%28012115%29.pdf
First, let’s take a look at the economic health of the Commonwealth. On one hand, the states unemployment rate continues to go down, but is still nowhere close to the states normal 2-3 % range which we saw prior to the Great Recession of 2007-08. According to Nobel economist, Paul Krugman, part of the problem is that we have a jobs deficit, where there simply aren’t enough people working in decent paying jobs, which in turn lowers the states tax revenues.
With Virginia having a significantly higher percentage of Federal employees than most other states, along with high numbers of Federal contractors, particularly in Northern Virginia and the Tidewater region, the state is relatively insulated from a reality which plagues most of the country. One where most of the new jobs being created are low income jobs, inadequate for covering the cost of living, let alone paying a wage that allows workers to thrive and prosper, and is just one aspect of the rapidly growing economic divide (aka inequality) that continues to tear our country apart.
While the nation was slowly recovering from the Great Recession, the Republican’s response to this slow motion crisis at both the Federal and state level, including here in Virginia was to cut, cut, and cut some more. And when that failed to achieve the desired effect, they shut down the government like petulant children with an economically damaging sequester.
Since Virginia has already cut all the way down to the marrow there are now two economic options facing the General Assembly; either continue cutting (along with increasing massive tax giveaways to connected corporations) or change course to one that would meaningfully improve the states economy and benefit all the people of the Commonwealth,
This week, the General Assembly, particularly the House has chosen the first option, following a clownish Alfred E. Neuman like approach of “what me worry?” In less than half an hour the House Commerce and Labor Committee killed 7 bills HB1987, HB1889, HB1990. HB1973, HB1976, HB2011, and HB2191 respectively, which would have curtailed the ability of payday and title loan companies to continue their usurious high interest rate loans that keep piling on debt even after borrowers made their monthly payments. http://www.dailypress.com/news/ politics/dp-nws-ga-open-end-credit-20150127-story.html
This committee which incidentally, our Delegate Peter Ferrell sits on, did such a perfunctory job of doing its job that lobbyists for the lenders didn’t even bother to testify for the first six bills, while Chairman Terry Kilgore, who at a couple points in the meeting loudly noted that the committee was familiar with the arguments, while disingenuously asking if anyone wanted to speak against the measures.
Democratic Del. David Yancey, figured that was progress, saying “The first time I tried, I couldn’t even get a motion. Last year, I got a motion, but no second. This year, at least they voted.” Later, in that meeting while Yancey was attending another committee meeting, the House Commerce and Labor Committee moved to kill one of his bills with no discussion, just a motion to kill the measure and a voice vote.
The committee also killed two bills which would have set higher minimum wages for Virginia’s workers, HB1512, which would have increased hourly wages to $15. 15 an hour, and HB1654, that proposed to increase wages to $ 8.00 an hour, along with measure requiring employers give people paid sick days HB2008 —— a bill HB1945 that would of granted leave from work due to domestic or sexual violence —— and finally one that would have increased the damages people can claim if they can prove they were paid less than others because of their sex. HB1823.
With the last bill, Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb said it would have no effect because discrimination cases of that nature are covered by federal law, an argument you will hear later when it comes to their reasons for not passing the constitutional amendment for the Equal Rights Act. Disingenuously claiming these bills were designed to embarrass Republican legislators when they run for election in November.
This is not to say that the Commerce and Labor Committee did nothing but say no , they did move forward 4 of their own bills, 3 “reforming” unemployment compensation, and Peter Ferrell’s bill HB1820 that “reforms” workman’s compensations.
Meanwhile elsewhere in the House, Chris Jones the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee says he is moving forward with a long overdue pay increase of at least 1 percent for state police and other state employees, and 1 to 2 percent for teachers and for state-supported local employees. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-house-budget-writers-react-to-rise-in-revenue-back-raise-for-state-workers/2015/01/29/99334b68-a7f1-11e4-a06b-9df2002b86a0_story.html There is currently no bill number for this proposal.
Jones said these raises would come from new sources of revenue which are up about 6.8 percent so far this year, with the total cost of the raises coming in around $ 130 million. According to his counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Walter Stosch, “We will probably be pretty close, in every discussion, the House and the Senate both wanted to do something for state employees, particularly state police,” who will also have approximately $ 4 million in overtime pay restored. http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/general-assembly/article_eb68096e-ff9d-5466-af3b-7a157f140ff9.html
If you look closely there’s a catch to this entire proposal, since Delegate Jones, and presumably most of his fellow Republican in their newly found sense of generosity to the states employees, also want to keep the tax credits for electric utilities which are still burning coal in place. Nor is this likely to be the only subsidy they have in mind.
Such resistance on this seemingly minor issue strongly indicates that he and his party have absolutely no intention of moving away from their cut and grow mindset. Expecting us to believe that they have somehow magically “transformed” themselves in the past few months away from their previous devotion to “tax cuts” for corporations and the rich into an enlightened state of being where supporting state sponsored corporate subsidies has become their path towards economic salvation.
Never mind the inconvenient fact that these subsidies would produce little in the way of positive economic effect for the Commonwealth, other than enriching the corporations receiving them. Especially with coal mining as an industry in Virginia and the surrounding region is declining rapidly due to the price of coal, which is being mined far more cheaply in Wyoming and Montana, the cost of any subsidies thrown towards direct mining would be negligible.
This subsidy is aimed squarely at the General Assemblies single largest political contributor, Dominion Power who coincidentally owns most of the states newest coal burning plants used to generate electricity in the state. http://www.virginiaplaces.org/geology/coalfired.html Look for more on this subject in the coming posts.
On the slightly less bad news front, at least this week, the Senate didn’t do as much harm on the economic front, with their only action being to kill Senator McEachin’s bill, SB722, a sexual wage discrimination bill similar to HB1823.