Other than ending a day early, in a token symbol of “efficient GOP governance,” the best news about the recently concluded General Assembly special session is that they finally passed a budget.
One that recent increases in state revenues, along with last year’s preemptive 5 percent spending cuts and a $250 million dip into the state’s unclaimed property holdings allows them to give university faculty at state colleges a 2.5 percent raise, state employees a 2 percent raise, and helps teachers in local school districts with a 1.5 percent raise, provided localities can kick in their shares. Reversing a statewide trend where wages have remained stagnant, eroding employee’s purchasing power and standards of living across the state. http://www.dailypress.com/news/ politics/dp-nws-ga-budget-story-20150224-story.html
News which is tempered by the Republican dominated General Assemblies ongoing refusal to include Medicaid expansion into the state budget, a situation which Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, say leaves“…a gaping hole in the budget that few people are talking about. The most important investment we could be making has been discussed the least: Medicaid expansion.”
He points out how the Republican controlled General Assembly is starting to grudgingly acknowledge the reality that uninsured Virginians are in desperate need of health care — and that the state has a role to play in providing them with those services. Citing their adding $6 million in new funding for free clinics and that it is trivial amount when compared to the billions Virginia could be using with Medicaid expansion.
The fact that many of our Republican legislators believe this is a solution, while simultaneously throwing away $4.4 million in tax dollars each day we go without expansion is something that should have the citizens up in arms. http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/commentary/northam-the-gaping-hole-in-virginia-s-budget/article_b81d3292-5de3-5e61-b95a-ce78e6524d19.html?mode=story
Such a small bore “nibble at the edges” approach towards addressing the Commonwealth’s long term economic and social problems has been the Republicans standard response for several decades, one that stems from the inescapable reality that most of our legislators are for all practical purposes extensions of their corporate sponsors, particularly Dominion Power.
Their passing bills promoting their master’s financial interests is accompanied by a shared ideological devotion to the notion that an unfettered and unrestricted free market will solve every problem, a simplistic approach which continues to be contradicted by decades of empirical evidence, and one that goes against the very principle of promoting the common welfare of all that this country was founded on.
Take for example, the many pro-Dominion bills which have passed the General Assembly and are now awaiting the Governors signature, bills which promote their free market at any cost mentality while pointedly ignoring two greatest intertwined realities facing modern civilization, energy consumption and global warming.
While Dominion may claim that they are acting in their customers best interest with their recent filling with the State Corporation Commission asking them reduce the amount of money it collects from their customers for their fuel costs. Charges they pass on to their 2.4 million customers without making a profit or taking a loss, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Dominion has known long before any of this legislation was ever introduced in the General Assembly that falling natural gas prices would be something that the SCC would be taking a look at, and that they would likely be ordering Dominion to refund those overcharges to their customers. http://www.richmond.com/business/local/article_e86f63e3-bee4-5164-947f-278640e5b439.html
So rather than give up any of the profits they made by overcharging their customers, they are effectively asking for another “bank error in their favor,” knowing full well that once this temporary rate reduction is over that the SCC will be unable to conduct any regulatory oversight of their base rates for the next six years. And Dominion will be able to levy additional surcharges when natural gas prices rise from their current rock bottom levels.
And they will rise, because Dominion’s long term strategic plan is to export even more of this countries natural gas to Europe, India and China. Once their pipeline along with other energy companies pipelines have been completed relatively little of this gas will be used for domestic consumption. Because the overseas markets are demanding it, your cost for gas (and electricity) will inexorably follow the economics of supply and demand to whatever levels energy companies like Dominion see fit.
Despite all the talk we’ve been hearing for decades about making this country “energy independent,” overall energy consumption in this country has remained relatively flat since the mid 1990s. Energy efficiency is why, and it is a major reason why US energy consumption per dollar of economic output has declined from 13,381 BTU’s in 1980 to 7,328 BTU’s in 2013 while our GDP has increased by nearly 50%.
While many of our energy company’s overseas customers, particularly heavy industries are nowhere as efficient as ours, or Western Europe’s or increasingly China’s, they will continue to demand huge amounts of natural gas to meet those needs.
While on one hand the burning of natural gas is widely thought to be far better than burning coal in terms of pollutants and reducing the levels of CO2 which contribute to the greenhouse effect and acidification of the world’s oceans. The methane extraction to energy consumption pipeline comes with many hidden costs that energy companies like Dominion would prefer stay out of the public’s consciousness.
Starting with their customers coming to conclusions like energy companies economic interests in profiting from these massive increases in overseas consumption directly conflict with their right to live in world which allows access to clean water, air and freedom from environmental extremes.
Previous BlueLouisa posts discussed how most the natural gas produced in this country and increasingly around the world comes to us via hydrofracking, a process which uses tremendous amounts of increasingly scarce fresh water, is known to cause earthquakes, and pollutes under water aquifers with toxic chemicals and radioactive substances.
Even worse, it leaks methane (CH4) a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 at virtually every point in the process; from high pressure gas bubbling up through the ground and water tables, at the well head, when being transferred to tanker trucks, and when it is being transmitted through pipelines. http://bluelouisaorg.fatcow.com/2014/07/15/fracking-releases-methane/
When you consider just how little effort on the part of the Federal, state or even foreign governments is being made to measure how much methane is being released from hydrofracking operations, a figure that doesn’t even take into the millions of operating and abandoned oil and gas wells around the world that are also leaking methane into the atmosphere. The mental image of an ostrich sticking its head in the ground is one that comes to mind.
In a world where the quest for greater profits are driving virtually every aspect of their decision making process, the energy, oil and gas industries along with their “regulatory captive” governments are operating under the delusion that they can continue to destroy the planet in order to enrich themselves and that somehow they will still have a world worth living in. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture
Such a need to maintain control their one sided economic system, is one of the reasons why Dominion instructed the General Assembly to write up bills which would ensure their ability to control the development of alternative energy sources, particularly solar. As a distributed energy source it represents one of the few alternatives to their model of economic extraction that gouges their customers at every opportunity, and is widely considered by the energy industry to be an existential threat to their ability to maintain this stranglehold. http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2013/03/22/utility-boss-faces-mortal-threat-from-solar/
This mindset goes a long way towards explaining why several states have followed the energy industries recommendations and have “outlawed” the ability of homeowners to “sell back” their surplus energy to the electrical grid, along with allowing energy companies to impose arbitrary user “fees” on solar panel owners which have nothing to do with energy usage. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-no-solar-20140810-story.html#page=1
As energy companies continue to pass their costs of doing business to their customers, all the while blaming it on things like the proposed EPA regulations on coal burning power plants, it will become increasingly clear to more and more people that the only way to deal with such delusions is to hold energy companies feet to the fire and use their demand (or even lack of in the case of home owners with solar panels) to force them to diversify and adapt new sources of energy which are not as environmentally harmful.
Speaking of a lack of a moral compass, this brings us to two bills HB2070 and HB2330 which passed General Assembly on the final day of the special session. Bills which will supposedly “reform” the General Assemblies standards of ethics along with the scandal plagued Tobacco Commission, bills which along with their companion bills, SB1424, and SB1440 are now sitting on the Governors desk awaiting his signature.
The back story behind the passage of one ethics bill HB2070 encapsulates the inability of the Republicans in the General Assembly to acknowledge that an ethics problem even exists and that a minimum they should put forth some token measures to try and shift public opinion.
During the last days of the General Assembly’s special session the Senate Republicans went out of their way to sandbag HB2070, claiming they needed “…more time to work on a bill they considered overly complicated.” A level of shameless foot dragging that was so bad that it prompted House Speaker Bill Howell to threaten to publicly shame them if they refused to pass this bill.
Saying the House would adopt a resolution for ethics reform just for their chamber, move to adjourn and leave the Senate hanging in the winds of public opinion “unwilling” to address the states ethics problem. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/virginia-senate-republicans-were-set-to-sink-ethics-bill/2015/02/28/05729c98-bec7-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html
In the case of the two ethics bills HB2070 and SB1424, a summary of a statement made by Senator Donald McEachin is particularly insightful. “At the eleventh hour, the General Assembly … passed ethics legislation. This initial step is certainly not sufficient but is, at least, an acknowledgment”… that there are … “some glaring omissions that I hoped we would address. Over the next year, I hope we will address these significant shortfalls and create lasting, comprehensive ethics reform and transparency for the sake of all Virginians.” http://www.bluevirginia.us/diary/12973/virginia-news-headlines-saturday-morning
While Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared this recently concluded legislative session as proof that “We can work together,” along with “I think we’re a model for the country,” which might be an apt analogy if the standard you’re comparing Virginia to is a corrupt third world country. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/va-assembly-agrees-on-bill-requiring-more-sex-assaults-be-reported-to-police/2015/02/27/b74d462c-be84-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html
Meanwhile the House Democratic Caucus released several statements about this session, summarized below, starting with “…the Republican Caucus hid many of their legislative actions under the table and away from Virginia voters, rather than focus on many issues Virginians care about.”
With Delegate Scott Surovell saying, “I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Republican Caucus of the House of Delegates chose to focus on allowing loaded shotguns in cars and facilitated concealed weapons permits for convicted stalkers and mentally ill Virginians instead of focusing on gun violence prevention and firearms safety...”
And Delegate Kaye Kory’s saying, “… I am disappointed that so many pro-women bills were killed under the table by the Republican Caucus. By repealing the invasive mandatory ultrasound, ensuring equal pay, and passing the Equal Rights Amendment, we could have sent a message that in a new Virginia economy, we ensure women have their rights protected to make their own healthcare decisions, are paid equally for equal work, and are guaranteed equal rights under the law. Instead, our colleagues across the aisle chose to kill these bills under the table.
Followed by Delegate Sam Rasoul’s comments that “Voters should be able to pick their politicians, not the other way around, and this legislative session our body failed to pass legislation that would allow for fair redistricting. It is very unfortunate our two Caucuses were unable to come together to ensure all Virginians have their voices heard in elections. I hope going forward, the General Assembly sees the need for fair redistricting, and works to achieve this commonsense, widely supported initiative.”
And finally Delegate Alfonso Lopez proclamation that “….the Republican Caucus chose to continue subscribing to the Tea Party science magazine of climate change denial,” killing bills which would have “…invested in clean energy infrastructure that would protect our environment while creating good jobs…” Instead, “….they passed under the table legislation which undermines the EPA’s clean air standards. www.bluevirginia.us/diary/12973/virginia-news-headlines-saturday-morning