Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

Are Virginia Colleges Deferring Maintenance?

Source: State Council of Higher Education for Virginia

According to calculations of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the replacement value of the buildings and grounds of Virginia’s public colleges and universities totals $12.2 billion. And according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), institutions should plan for an annual reinvestment rate of between 1.5% and 3.5% of that replacement value to offset wear, tear and depreciation.

The Commonwealth established a maintenance reserve program in 1982 to provide funding for facility repairs that are not addressed in the institutions’ operating budgets and are too small to quality for bond financing. Examples might be roof repairs, boiler and chiller replacements, or major electric system upgrades.

Over the past 10 years, the Commonwealth has chipped in about $75 million per year to the maintenance reserve program, according to a report (page 212) submitted Monday to the SCHEV Resources and Planning Committee. That contribution has fallen consistently short of the 1% guideline ($120 million this year) that SCHEV recommends. As of 2011, the cumulative shortfall had grown to $501 million, and this year the state kicked in only l$63.2 million for higher-ed maintenance. 

Instead of funding the maintenance reserve out of operating revenue, the state addressed the condition of colleges’ buildings and grounds by making two state bond issues for new construction. Those outlays did improve the condition of college and university buildings and grounds. But the effect since FY 2009, states the SCEHV report, has been to change the funding source for the maintenance reserve program from the general fund to bond proceeds.  “As a result, the state bond funding for new construction, renovation and deferred maintenance is constrained by the annual debt capacity.”

As Finance Policy Director Dan Hix reminded SCHEV at its monthly board meeting today, the state has little capacity this year to issue new debt without jeopardizing its AAA bond rating. While some money may be available for higher-ed capital projects, he said, it won’t be much.

The practical consequence of state funding policy, Hix said, has been to compel colleges and universities either to generate their own maintenance funds by raising tuition or to simply put off maintenance projects. He offered no estimate of the size of the deferred maintenance liability.

Bacon’s bottom line: The Commonwealth of Virginia is constitutionally mandated to submit balanced budgets. But as I have blogged in the past, there are many forms of hidden deficit spending. One is unfunded pensions. Another is deferred maintenance. I was unaware before today that there was an issue with the condition of colleges’ buildings & grounds. But I’m not surprised. Deferring maintenance is one of the oldest fiscal tricks in the books — I lay odds that the practice dates back to Nebuchadnezzer and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Given the stress of higher-ed finances, no one would be surprised that it occurs here in Virginia as well.

While we have a sense of how much the state has short-changed its colleges and universities, we don’t know how many institutions sucked it up and found the money to conduct needed maintenance projects, and how many put off the spending for the next guy to worry about. Perhaps that’s an issue that boards of visitors could dig into. If not, maybe the bond rating agencies will find the practice of interest. One way or another, Virginia’s higher-ed system could be building up a big hidden liability.

College Presidents Seek Winning Political Message

Heywood Fralin, chairman of the State Council of Higher Education, proposed creating a committee of college presidents and SCHEV board members, to address critical issues facing higher-ed in Virginia.

Virginia’s college presidents feel under siege, and they seek a political message that will resonate with citizens and the General Assembly

Fearful of eroding political sympathy for higher education, the presidents of Virginia’s public colleges and universities informally agreed this afternoon to cooperate in creating a council of presidents and crafting a message that will win support for preserving state and federal funding.

A recurring theme during the discussion at an annual meeting of the presidents with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) was that higher ed should emphasize pocketbook issues such as growing the economy and preparing Virginians for the jobs of the future.

“Everyone is concerned about economic development. A lot of those efforts are sputtering,” said Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia. “Every one of us has a business dean. We should lock them up in a room and not let them out until they come up with a plan.”

Virginia’s higher-ed sector needs to define its “value proposition,” suggested Gil Minor, a former SCHEV chairman, Virginia Military Institute rector and former chairman of Owens  Minor, a Fortune 500 company. “We don’t talk about the value of an education in Virginia.” Colleges need to tell the General Assembly, “Invest in us, and we’ll give you a payback.”

While the gathering acknowledged the need to do a better job of communicating, there were few illusions that higher ed will get a friendly reception by members of the General Assembly and the public.

“The public believes we’re creating Taj Mahals,” noted Heywood Fralin, SCHEV chairman.

“Significant parts of the General Assembly seems to have very little regard for higher education,” said Taylor Revely III, president of the College of William & Mary.

“We’re always seen in Richmond as having our hand out — we’re takers,” said Sullivan. “No matter how much we call it ‘investment,’ it comes out sounding like ‘spending.'”

An area of universal agreement was that cutbacks in state support to higher education over the years has forced public colleges and universities to raise their tuition, and that tuition levels have nearly reached the breaking point. While Virginia’s elite universities still may have leeway to increase tuition, several institutions face the prospect of losing students if their costs go higher. A decision by the Norfolk State University board to raise tuition aggressively on out-of-state students resulted in a decline in out-of-state enrollment from 30% of the student body to 11%, said President Eddie Moore. “I can’t let the tuition run away.”

George Mason University President Angel Cabrera framed the issue as bigger than just the Virginia General Assembly. Fiscal pressures are putting the squeeze on federal financial assistance like Pell Grants, and states across the country are cutting state support for higher ed. “We as a society have decided to invest less in higher ed and to shift the cost to families,” he said. “Of course, when the tuition bill hits the citizens, it’s not a lot of fun.”

The presidents identified numerous culprits responsible for rising costs and tuition levels at colleges at universities. State and federal government impose too many regulations. “Take the regulations that exist and slay 25% of them, and the world would continue to rotate on its axis,” said Revely with William & Mary. He compared the excessive government oversight to parents who try to regulate every aspect of their child’s behavior. “It doesn’t lead to good results.”

Potential cutbacks to Pell grants also are worrisome. About 30% of GMU’s students depend upon Pell, said Cabrera.

The higher-ed leaders also expressed concern about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) legislation in Congress. “We have Dreamers in every university in the state,” said Cabrera. “Two-thirds are in Northern Virginia.” Over and above the humanitarian principles at stake, the presidents worried about the potential reduction in enrollment and loss of revenue.

But the biggest threat to Virginia higher ed,  in the estimation of SCHEV members and presidents alike, is the steady erosion of state support to the public institutions.

“I think we’ll find that a lot of our priorities are the same,” said SCHEV chairman Fralin. “We have to talk more about tuition and what causes increases in tuition. … I believe that, when all the facts are disclosed, the colleges have done a pretty good job of controlling costs. But that’s not the message to the public.”

In the 2011 Top Jobs Act, the General Assembly set a goal for Virginia’s higher ed system to produce an additional 100,ooo degrees and certificates by 2030. It costs money to expand enrollment but “the additional monies have not been forthcoming from the Commonwealth,” said Fralin. Another example of the institutions are getting squeezed: The state encouraged colleges to build more buildings but has not provided money to cover their maintenance. “Tuition dollars go to maintaining these buildings,, which was not the plan at the time they were built.”

Fralin said it was time for another restructuring of higher ed in Virginia, on a par with the 2005 Restructuring Act, which theoretically gave colleges and universities more freedom from state oversight, including the ability to raise tuition, in exchange for more accountability for achieving state goals for higher-ed such as affordability and accessibility. The state needs to consider once-unthinkable options such as bolstering out-of-state enrollments in order to reap their big tuition payments, or creating a higher-ed reserve fund to smooth out volatile state contributions that make it difficult for colleges to plan. A third idea is to bolster ties with Virginia high schools to better inform grads — especially the 43% who never go on to college or community college — of the potential career opportunities that await them.

These things won’t happen, Fralin said, if SCHEV and the presidents meet only once a year. He proposed creating a committee of university presidents to address critical issues of common concern.

While NSU’s Moore and Old Dominion University President John Broderick pushed back on the idea of raising tuition aggressively — they’ve largely hit their limit — there was general buy-in for the idea of creating a president’s committee. No formal vote was taken, however, nor did anyone outline a structure for the committee.

Paul Trible, president of Christopher Newport University, thanked SCHEV for its emerging role in recent years as a “champion” of Virginia’s colleges and universities. “My colleagues appreciate the fact that you’ve been willing to become the advocate of higher education.”

But he issued a warning: “There isn’t going to be any more money in the next session” for higher ed. Medicaid will take the first claim on increased state funds, and K-12 education, whose standards of quality are mandated by the state constitution, will stand in line ahead of colleges and universities. If higher ed is going to do something, he urged, “Let’s stop being incremental. Let’s be dramatic. Let’s be bold.”

“I Love Mankind. It’s Just People I Can’t Stand.”

Counter protesters professing their love of humanity. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

On Sept. 9, 12-year-old Bethany Harper and her nine-year-old friend Solai Coleman were sitting on the front porch of their house on Fifth Avenue in Richmond. Bethany heard the crackling pop of gunfire, and a random bullet struck Solai in the hip.

“We had nothing to do with the transaction [that led to the shooting] Saturday, but they shot at our children” Bethany’s father Thomas told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We have a new rule in this house: ‘You’re not allowed to go beyond this line,’ he said, planting his foot on the front of the family’s wooden porch.

The number of killings in Richmond has surged this year, reaching 59 so far compared with 45 at the same point last year, which itself was the worst in a decade. Many victims are innocent bystanders. So far, the 2016-17 school year has seen 25 students in Richmond city schools shot, along with a one-year-old child of two students. Fourteen others were victims of aggravated assault or malicious wounding.

No one will hold a vigil for Solai Coleman. No one will protest the injustice of criminal actions that confine Bethany Harper to the inside of her home. There will be no marches, no placards, and no made-for-TV media spectacles. Apparently, black lives don’t matter when the killers are black. Black lives matter only when the shooter is white or a police officer. Or when when the sight of Civil War statues offend the sensibilities of those who view the world through the filter of white oppression.

The Times-Dispatch ran the article about Coleman’s shooting atop the front page of its Sunday edition. With no sense of irony, it published underneath an article about a Saturday rally around the Robert E. Lee statue that drew about seven pro-Confederate, heritage-not-hate types and a crowd of counter protesters estimated to be a couple hundred in number.

The counter protesters were incensed by the handful of neo-Confederates (most of whom came from out of state), just as they are incensed by the KKK, Nazis, white supremacists, President Trump, and “haters” generally. But neo-Confederates didn’t shoot Solai Coleman. Nazis didn’t shoot her. The KKK didn’t shoot her. Nor did white hate groups shoot any of the other 59 homicide victims in Richmond this year. Aside from occasional vigils held by victims’ family members and immediate neighbors, however, the social justice warriors have not ginned up much outrage or marched in protest of the black-on-black slaughter in Richmond’s inner city.

If the social justice warriors cared about real people instead of abstractions like “institutional racism,” which serve mainly to validate their sense of moral superiority, they would volunteer to tutor inner-city school children. Or befriend an adolescent through the Big Brother/Big Sister program. Or pound nails with Habit for Humanity to build affordable housing. Or ladle out soup in a community kitchen to serve the hungry. Or help felons build a productive life outside jail. But that takes real effort, sustained effort. And it’s not nearly as rewarding as virtue signalling to your peers how politically correct you are or venting about the evils of KKK/Fascists/Trump.

As an aside, I have to commend Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Police Chief Alfred Durham for making sure that the Richmond rally didn’t turn into another Charlottesville. They made it clear from the very beginning that violence would not be tolerated, and they worked to separate the protesters from the counter-protesters. By broadcasting their intent, they snuffed out interest in the rally by right- and left-wing radicals looking to bang heads and make headlines long before the event took place. Job well done.

Sometimes Schools Need the Carl Smith Treatment

Reader Larry Gross wants to know why John Butcher (aka Cranky) is always picking on the city of Richmond. In the previous blog post republished from Cranky’s Blog, John shows the yawning gap in educational performance between Richmond schools and schools statewide. The problem isn’t just that Richmond schools are educating so many kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. He breaks out the SOL scores of disadvantaged kids and non-disadvantaged kids and compares them to their peers statewide. There’s a chasm in performance for each, which suggests to John that something is amiss in the Richmond city school system, not the kids themselves.

Larry is displeased with the negative tone of John’s posts. He thinks people should use data to help schools improve, not to “castigate the current system.” He adds, “I continue to point to places like Henrico which is an affluent county with some of the better public schools in Va but also with an astounding number of schools denied accreditation or in danger of being denied accreditation. I’d like to see Cranky and Jim do some similar data-looks at Henrico to see if we learn anything… how about it?”

Wish granted. In the chart above, the two blue lines compare the performance of “non-disadvantaged” kids in Henrico school and schools statewide. The performance is almost identical: Henrico matches the state average.

The yellow/orange lines compare the performance of disadvantaged kids. Henrico exceeds the statewide margins by a narrow margin. There is no yawning chasm in performance, as there is with Richmond. That suggests one of two things to me: (1) the disadvantaged kids in Henrico and Richmond are different somehow, or (2) Henrico schools do a better job of teaching disadvantaged children.

I don’t believe that disadvantaged kids are much different in Henrico and Richmond. Henrico has schools with concentrated poverty just like Richmond does. Perhaps Henrico just does a better job of running its schools, even though it spends significantly less money per student than Richmond does.

Yes, I suppose someone could describe this as negative, scolding, harping analysis, but I don’t look at it that way. I can’t speak for John, but I’ll explain why I highlight his columns on this blog: You can’t begin to solve a problem until you properly define it. And you can’t begin to solve the problem of Richmond schools’ atrocious under-achievement as long as you define the problem as “too many poor kids” or “not enough money” or “decrepit, run-down school buildings you wouldn’t use as a dog house.” The more someone wiggles and squirms and tries to evade responsibility, the harder you have to try to pin them down.

I used to work for coal-industry entrepreneur named Carl Smith. Now deceased, he was president of the AMVEST Corporation in Charlottesville. (The University of Virginia’s Carl Smith Stadium was named after him). He could sniff out B.S. a mile away, and when someone tried to bluff an answer to one of Carl’s questions, Carl had a way of relentlessly pinning him down. Carl didn’t yell. He didn’t even raise his voice. He just followed up remorselessly with question after question until he reduced the dissembler to a quivering mass of jelly. Sometimes you’ve got to give schools the ol’ Carl Smith treatment before you can get to the root of the problem.

Update: Cranky has created an amazing spreadsheet that allows you, with a click of a single button, to reproduce the statewide/local comparisons between advantaged and disadvantaged students for 2016-17 SOL pass rates. Click here to download the spreadsheet, and select the jurisdiction you want to view as seen below. Cranky’s spreadsheet does the rest.

Ryan Selected to Lead UVa

The University of Virginia has selected a new president, James E. Ryan, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A former law school professor at the UVa law school, he has a strong ties to the institution, and he has an impressive background and resume.

Read more about his background here.

“The University of Virginia has occupied a special place in my heart since the day I first stepped on Grounds,” said Ryan in a prepared statement. “Returning here to continue playing a role in the extraordinary work of this University community is deeply humbling, and an opportunity that I will strive every day to honor.”

In explaining the section, Rector Frank M. Conner III and former Rector William H. Goodwin stated:

We believe that the next 15 years will be critical in determining the future of higher education in the United States and the role of the University of Virginia in that future. As a leading public institution, we fully embrace the public service mission that we have to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world to develop citizen leaders in all fields of endeavor and to contribute to the common good in solving the most challenging issues of our time. We know that Jim shares a passion for this purpose. We are confident that he is the perfect leader for this institution at this precise time in history. And we intend to support him in every manner we can in achieving our shared vision.

Neither Conner, Goodwin nor Ryan elaborated upon what that shared vision might be. In a five-minute video accompanying the announcement, Ryan stuck to personal ruminations and gave no hint of what the board expects him to accomplish. Stay tuned. Bacon’s Rebellion will do its best to divine whether the university sticks to its present course or sets out in a new direction.

The Long, Painful Slog to Resolving the Net Metering Debate

Graphic credit: SolaireGen

After a two-hour telephone discussion Thursday, participants in a “net metering” sub-group of the Solar Policy Collaborative Workgroup didn’t seem to agree on much other than which issues need to be resolved. But that represented progress of a sort toward promoting small-scale, distributed solar energy in Virginia by businesses, homeowners and nonprofits.

“These are very difficult and complex problems. We made a run at it last  year, and didn’t get there,” Mark Rubin, the Virginia Commonwealth University professor and mediator behind the policy collaborative, said at the beginning of the session. “From a process perspective,” he said at the end, “this has been a helpful, productive call.”

The solar policy group, which worked out compromise legislation enabling “community” solar in the 2017 session, tackled the net metering issue without success last year. Two-thirds of the way through the current year, the group still seems far from formulating a consensus on net metering. But the conference-call discussion Thursday, which included a diverse set of participants ranging from electric utilities to smaller solar developers and environmental groups, did at least illuminate the main fault lines of debate.

“Net metering” refers to the regulatory system governing how small solar power producers, usually businesses and households putting solar panels on their roofs, connect with power companies. Solar panels often produce more electricity than property owners can absorb during peak periods, and a policy question arises as to the terms and conditions under which they sell their surplus to the electric companies. Solar advocates say utilities should pay small producers the full retail rate. Utilities respond that (a) the full retail rate is higher than the wholesale price of electricity they can purchase on the open market, and (b) they should be compensated for maintaining the electric transmission and distribution grid that solar producers periodically draw upon.

Long a laggard in solar energy, Virginia now has a big pipeline of solar deals in the works, and environmentally conscious consumers soon will be able to purchase renewable energy developed by community groups and marketed and sold through the utilities. But most solar production is large scale generation in vast tracts farms owned and operated by the state’s electric utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power. Progress has been much slower for small-scale, rooftop solar for the masses.

The most intractable issue facing the net-metering workgroup centered on standby charges. While the impact of rooftop solar on Virginia’s electric grid is minimal now — less than 1% of the power supply — participants are looking 20 to 30 years down the road to when it could become a major contributor. If hundreds of thousands of customers generated most of their own electricity, cutting into utility revenues, other customers would be stuck with the cost of building and maintaining the distribution and transmission lines that even those with rooftop solar rely upon from time to time. To offset this erosion of market share, utilities want to charge solar businesses and households a stand-by charge amounting to several dollars per month.

Katherine Bond, Dominion’s senior policy adviser, noted that a minimum bill of $7 monthly would not cover the company’s costs.

Solar advocates and environmental groups counter that solar is cost positive — that solar has a value that benefits utilities. For example, solar panels emit no carbon dioxide emissions, thereby making it easier for states to attain regulatory goals. Also, peak solar production overlaps with peak electricity demand, reducing the need for utilities to purchase expensive, peak-load electricity on wholesale electricity markets.

These issues are all well known, as they have been hashed out in many other states. What’s not known are the particulars here in Virginia. Because each state has unique geography, solar exposure, and regulatory systems, cost-benefit numbers that might apply to California or North Carolina may not necessarily apply to Virginia.

Aaron Sutch, program director of VA SUN, expressed the view of many that he wants to see more data. “We really do appreciate a respectful dialogue,” he said. But he added, “We haven’t seen any data from the utility side on the issue of cost recovery. … This should be a data-driven process.”

Will Cleveland, a staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, agreed. “If you want stakeholder buy-in, present the data so we can see [that cost recovery] is a legitimate problem. It’s hard from an optics perspective to hear that you can’t share the data. It makes it hard for [solar] advocates to agree to any solution if the data isn’t provided.”

“I understand your point that you’d like it to be disseminated more broadly,” said Rubin, the lead mediator of the workgroup. Core members of the net metering sub-group have been exchanging detailed data. But due to the proprietary nature of the data, participants have been held to strict confidentiality. Perhaps, once a particular path forward has been chosen, it might be possible to share more detailed data, he added.

A related issue is the necessity of attributing a monetary value to the positive impact of rooftop solar.  It wasn’t clear from the discussion whether the electric utilities had any data to formulate an estimate.

The sub-group discussed other, seemingly less contentious, issues. No one voiced opposition to the proposition that anyone investing in solar energy today should be grandfathered, or protected, from changes in the law that would harm the financial return on their investment. Rubin said Virginia needs to create a “glide path” to a new system. “How do you go forward without hurting those people who have already committed to solar?”

Virginia to Prepare “Robust” Response to Amazon Project

The latest news on the great Amazon elephant hunt comes from Virginia Business magazine.  Managing Editor Paula Squires quotes Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership:

Virginia has a keen interest in the Amazon HQ2 opportunity. We are thoroughly reviewing the company’s RFP, which includes a formidable set of site-selection criteria appropriate for a company with Amazon’s scale and ambition. … VEDP is committed to working closely with Governor McAuliffe and Commerce and Trade Secretary [Todd] Haymore to prepare a robust response in concert with our economic development partners at the local, regional and state levels.

Update: The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 100 cities have indicated an interest in responding to Amazon’s RFP. (Hat tip: Rck Gechter.)

Supremes Say General Assembly Can Order Electric Rate Freeze

Virginia Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan.

In a six to one ruling, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly does possess the right under the state constitution to put limits on the State Corporation Commission’s ability to regulate electric utilities. As a practical matter, that means that the multi-year freeze in base electric rates for Appalachian Power Company and Dominion Energy Virginia will stay in effect.

The Old Dominion Committee for Fair Electric rates, representing major industrial customers, the VML/VACO APCO Steering Committee, representing local government, and Karen E. Torrent, a Dominion customer, had challenged the freeze, which they claim lock in electric rates at levels that otherwise would have required potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to customers.

While giving the General Assembly “wide latitude to determine the standards” that must be used in setting rates, argued the Old Dominion lawsuit, “The Constitution reserves for the Commission — and the Commission alone — the power to set electric utility rates.

By suspending biennial reviews and prohibiting the Commission from changing base rates (except at the utility’s request, on a temporary basis,” the plaintiffs argued, state code “unconstitutionally ‘fixes the base rates that a utility will charge its customers for a period well into the future, and deprives the Commission of any power to reduce or otherwise regulate those rates.”

In an opinion written by Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan, however, the court majority upheld the General Assembly’s primacy over the SCC. Under the 1902 Constitution of Virginia, the SCC did not enjoy constitutional authority to set rates — authority was bequeathed by the General Assembly. The 1971 constitution did provide constitutional authority to the SCC, but “subject to such criteria and other requirements as may be prescribed by law.”

The General Assembly has limited the SCC rate-setting authority at least twice before the 2015 rate freeze. In 1999, in enacting the Virginia Electric Utility Restructuring Act to introduce competition among providers of electric generation, the legislature capped base rates for electric utilities for seven years. In 2007 when the General Assembly ended the deregulation program, lawmakers required a rate hearing every two years and prescribed that the SCC could not order a rate reduction unless it found that the utility had excess earnings in two consecutive biennial reviews.

“We have repeatedly stated in other cases since the passage of the 1971 Constitution of Virginia that the Commission’s authority to regulate the rates of electric companies has been ‘delegated’ to it by the General Assembly under various legislative enactments,” McClanahan wrote.

Justice William C. Mims wrote a dissenting opinion: “I reject the premise that the rate-making authority granted to the Constitution is subordinate to the General Assembly.” The majority was wrong in this case, and it was wrong in previous cases when it upheld the same principle, he declared. “The General Assembly may impose standards and prerequisites the Commission must adhere to when exercising its power and duty to set rates. It does not mean that the General Assembly may suspend that power and duty.”

Do Americans Really Have “Antiquated” Views on Race?

Source: Center for Politics. (Click for more legible image.)

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has just published the results of a poll on Civil War statues and race. To my mind, the questions about the Civil War statues are the least interesting. Nationally, Americans say by a two-to-one margin to leave the statues alone, which tells us nothing that previous polls haven’t revealed. More interesting is the spin that the Center put on the answers to its questions about attitudes towards race.

While few Americans surveyed expressed direct support for hate groups like the KKK, Nazis and Antifa, stated the press release accompanying the poll, “it will be disturbing to many that a not insubstantial proportion of those polled demonstrated neutrality and indifference or, worse, expressed support for antiquated views on race.”

Large numbers agreed with the statement that “white people are under attack,” and disagreed that “nonwhites are under attack,” while a third of respondents agreed that the country needs to “protect and preserve its White European heritage.” Then the press release said this (the emphasis is the Center’s):

Fifty years after the United States Supreme Court struck down bans on mixed-race marriage in Loving v. Virginia, about one-sixth of respondents (16%) agreed with the statement that “marriage should only be allowed between two people of the same race” and an additional 14% neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement, while 4% said they didn’t know. In total, about a third failed to express tolerance of interracial marriage. Among whites, 17% agreed that marriage should be restricted to the same race, with 15% neither agreeing nor disagreeing. This was slightly higher than nonwhites (15% agreed, 12% neither agreed nor disagreed).

Moreover, it appears that those Nazis and Klansmen marching in Charlottesville (and perhaps this weekend in Richmond) have lots of closet sympathizers. Six percent of the 5,360 people polled said they strongly or somewhat supported the “alt-right,” another 8% white nationalism, and another 4% neo-Nazism.

Let’s deconstruct this analysis. First, it should be reassuring that despite the surge of identity politics in the nation, 80% of Americans said they “strongly agree” and 9% said they “somewhat agree” with the question that “all races should be treated equally.” I do find it disturbing that 11% disagree with this fundamental proposition or simply aren’t sure about it. I would like to know who those people are. Many would jump to the conclusion that anyone expressing retrograde sentiments must be racist whites. But the Center’s crosstabs don’t support that conclusion.

Whites are more likely to agree than other groups with the proposition that all races should be treated equally.

A related question is whether “all races are equal.”

Whites agree with the statement by a significantly larger margin than blacks — 85% to 68%. But what does that mean? If someone one disagrees, does that mean he or she is an old-style racist who believes in black inferiority? Does it mean that the respondent does not believe the races are treated equally? Or does it mean something else entirely? Given the ambiguity of the question, it is almost worthless.

How about the question that “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage?”

The tenor of the question invokes Klan and neo-Nazi rhetoric that Americans of European descent are oppressed… or whatever it is they whine about. But the question lends itself to a white variety of interpretations, as should be made clear by the fact that almost as Hispanics and Others (a group consisting primarily of Asians) agreed with the statement as did whites. I would conjecture that many who answered in the positive interpreted the question to mean that America must protect its “Western European heritage,” including everything from Christianity and the spirit of inquiry to democracy, free markets, human rights and the rule of law. Indeed, had I been asked, that how I might have interpreted it. Continue reading

Be Careful What You Wish For, Loudoun

Aerial view of Loudoun County near Washington Dulles International Airport. Would Amazon’s HQ2 beget more of this?

Loudoun County is going for it. An ad hoc committee has come together in the hope of landing the economic development deal of the decade: HQ2, Amazon’s second headquarter complex. “We will be very aggressive in going after this,” said Buddy Rizer, director of Loudoun’s Department of Economic Development. “I truly believe that we’re a contender in this.”

The Loudoun Times-Mirror has the story here.

Let’s hope Loudoun does a better job of exploring the ramifications of a mega-project like Amazon than it did the costs and benefits associated with the Silver Line! (Talk about buyer’s remorse. Loudoun is joining the Washington Metro club just as the transit organization seeks to dun participating states and localities billions of dollars for decades of inept management. Loudoun’s fiscal commitment to heavy rail service is bigger than its boosters ever imagined.)

Amazon has said it is looking for a location within a 30-mile proximity to a city center, with direct access to highways and public transportation options, including bus routes, Metrorail and train, and within 45 minutes of an international airport. As I opined recently, Loudoun has as good a chance as anyone. The county has all the required assets, it’s part of a metro region with the most highly educated workforce in the country, and it has a demonstrated track record of working with Amazon’s cloud-services subsidiary.

But Amazon is seeking massive incentives (as in subsidies and tax breaks), which will suck out much of the tax benefit to any locality hosting the technology giant. There are a couple of key points to remember.

It’s one thing to subsidize a company that helps put the unemployed and under-employed back to work, and another to subsidize a company in a fully employed metropolitan economy. In June, unemployment for the Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area was 3.9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is generally considered full employment, allowing enough slack in the system for a normal movement of people between jobs. However, unemployment in Loudoun and neighboring Fairfax County was 3.2%, which verges on labor shortage. Another neighbor, Prince William County, had 3.5% unemployment.

Where, then, would Amazon find 50,000 workers? Many would commute from other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, overloading already overloaded highways. And many would move into the region from outside the Washington region. It’s not clear that Virginia’s system of taxation can build infrastructure and provide the government services associated with routine economic growth, and that’s when everyone is paying the taxes.

If the dominant employer is not paying taxes, or only a small share of them, then one of two things will happen. Either state/local government will be unable to keep up with the demand on schools, utilities, roads, highways and other infrastructure, or it will have to raise taxes on everyone else. If a company employs one or two thousand, that doesn’t create a regional hardship. If it employs 50,000, it can create a fiscal crisis for the host locality. If it employs 50,000 while perpetuating the sprawling and fiscally untenable land use patterns still embedded in Northern Virginia zoning codes and comprehensive plans, it can bankrupt the entire region.

I’m not saying that Loudoun and Virginia shouldn’t bid for Amazon. The company could cement Northern Virginia’s status as the IT capital of the East Coast and, as a bonus, diversify the regional economy away from the federal government. But state and county officials need to go in with eyes wide open, fully aware of not just the benefits of landing Amazon but the costs.