Tag Archives: Stephen D. Haner

Things Legislators Didn’t Hear (Or Want To)

“It might have happened without this bill.”

“I think it was going to develop anyway.”

Both comments were made today about the prospect that Virginia will actually see 5,500 megawatts (MW) of new solar and wind generation installed within its borders in the next few years, the amount of new solar designated as “in the public interest” by Dominion’s Senate Bill 966.   The law takes effect July 1.

Photo credit: GreeneHurlocker. Your correspondent on the far right. Eric Hurlocker at the podium.

The comments came at a continuing legal education forum sponsored by Richmond law firm GreeneHurlocker PLC and attended by many of the key players in the legislative struggle over Senate Bill 966.  The discussion of the bill itself was a replay for most, but the follow up discussion of its likely impacts got interesting quickly.  The audience included legislative staff and several key players from the State Corporation Commission staff.

(The firm also distributed updated copies of its excellent summary of Virginia electricity regulation, reflecting the recent changes.)

That first quote above is from Francis Hodsoll, a former investment banker who is now CEO of SolUnesco based in Reston.  Hodsoll said his was one of up to 26 renewable energy companies that spent perhaps tens of thousands of hours negotiating with Dominion to bring more solar to the Commonwealth, and not just as special projects “ring fenced” for specific customers such as Microsoft or Amazon.

He noted that Virginia is the southern-most state in the renewable-hungry PJM territory, which is why several of the ring fenced projects are underway or in development.  But Virginia has only 56 MW of solar serving general customers and only those 56 MW have gone through the most rigorous SCC.  The actual legal weight of the phrase “in the public interest” on the SCC’s authority remains a source of concern for the solar developers, he said, but they are enthusiastic about the 2018 law.

Similar enthusiasm was voiced by the second person quoted above predicting that the solar developments were likely without the bill, Eric Hurlocker of the host law firm.  When asked to provide a letter grade to the legislation he gave it an A but was open about why:  the chaos and confusion it creates “will invigorate business.”  The crowd of lawyers listening joined in his laughter, but of course he wasn’t actually kidding.

Will Cleveland of the Southern Environmental Law Center, asked to provide the same letter grade, gave the bill an incomplete – or really “too soon to tell.”  He identified several “atrocious” elements in it, but clearly he hopes it does live up to all or a least some of the marketing hype about renewable energy and a modernized grid that supports further innovation and cost savings.

Matt Gooch from the Office of the Attorney General, careful to say this was his opinion and not that of Attorney General Mark Herring, said the bill earned an A from the utility and its stockholders, he gave it a C as a boost to the wind and solar industries, but added “the big losers were the customers, the people who pay for electricity.”

As everybody understood during the session and as was emphasized again today, the bill does not – does not – mandate the development of a single megawatt of renewable energy.  Nor does it force the SCC to approve any particular application.  The legislation used much stronger language elsewhere in the bill to dictate policy to the SCC on paying for underground power lines.

And nothing I heard today undermined my personal opinion that the pleasing green energy smiley face on the cover of the bill was nothing but a cover story for the violently anti-consumer elements buried in its bowels and its multiple enactment clauses.  To the extent you see more solar farms or wind turbines in Virginia, they were coming anyway.  The Northam Administration’s pending carbon regulation and the federal investment tax credits will have far more to do with that outcome.

The other big element of the bill popular with environmentalists was a requirement that the two major utilities invest about $1 billion (of ratepayer money) in various energy efficiency programs designed to reduce the demand for energy (see enactment clause 15 in the bill).  But Assistant Attorney General Gooch raised a good question about that, too.  Given that the purpose of these programs is to drive down demand, thus depriving the utility of revenue, will that lost revenue count toward the $1 billion of “cost” required?  Or will the utility be allowed to recover that lost revenue, profit margin included, meaning the programs might actually cost consumers $2 billion?

That was one wrinkle on this bill that was not noticed (or at least brought up) during the session. You can bet the chess grand masters at Dominion have gamed that out, but in the meantime Hurlocker’s expectation will be fulfilled:   chaos and confusion equals billable hours.

Florida Mounts New Raid on Virginia Carrier Fleet

U.S.S. George Washington arrives in Virginia for almost-cancelled overhaul (Huntington Ingalls Photo)

Here we go again.  Florida wants one of Virginia’s aircraft carriers. U.S. Sen. Mark Rubio, R-Fla., and others are apparently trying once again to authorize the Mayport naval base to make the improvements it would need to become home port for one of the eleven jewels of the fleet. Virginia’s congressional delegation is gearing up to fight off the idea for the third time in a decade.

In a recent joint letter they wrote that limited defense funds shouldn’t be spent on “a non-existent requirement and duplicative capability that will cost the Navy nearly $1 billion over 15 years.” Right now five carriers sail out of Norfolk and one is being overhauled in Newport News.

The official position of Huntington Ingalls Industries, parent company of Newport News Shipbuilding, will probably be no position. The line has been that the company builds and maintains the ships and where the customer chooses to park them is none of the company’s business. But expect the rest of Virginia and Hampton Roads to care deeply, because along with the personnel who serve on the ship there are hundreds more support jobs ashore, and all of the economic benefit created by those many thousands of sailors and dependents.

It is a little dance the Florida and Virginia politicians do, burnishing their images with the home folks. We are probably seeing another attempt because the White House has changed hands. You might think these are weapons systems vital to the world’s stability, but we all know they are also political boodle of the highest order. Michael Dukakis sank his chances in Virginia in 1988 by proposing to cancel two carriers.

The total cost of the upgrade to the Florida base to host a carrier full time would approach $600 million, given the special facilities tied to its nuclear reactors. This apparently would defend us against the dangerous naval threat posed by, what, Venezuela? Brazil? Cuba is within easy reach of land based squadrons. There is no strong argument for moving a carrier to Florida except to boost Florida.

Norfolk likely will lose a carrier one day but it will go to the Pacific. And when the Pentagon is ready to make that move, adding to the five carriers now based in California, Washington and Japan, Virginia’s political class needs to drop its objections. That will be based on sound strategic requirements, unless of course President Trump makes a Glorious Peace with Dear Leaders Kim and Xi.

There also remains a chance Norfolk will lose a carrier because the Navy stops building them or chooses not to overhaul one and puts it in mothballs instead, as almost happened to the U.S.S. George Washington (CNV 73, pictured above). Given the total cost of ownership of a carrier strike group, that threat will not go away.

Aunt Virginia Needs You (As An Election Officer)

The EPB! (Electronic Poll Book)

One of the sheets of paper taped on the wall in Richmond’s Maple Avenue Fire Station Tuesday was a recruiting poster seeking additional qualified people to become “one of the elite!”  Not Marines, not Green Berets or fire fighters – election officers.  Uncle Sam and Aunt Virginia need you for this job, too.

The various disputes in House of Delegates races last fall reminded me that I had always wanted to try working inside the polls.  For many years I was doing precinct work on the outside, taking care of the GOP signs and giving voters a handout or final harangue, and sometimes I watched the count process as a party observer.  That’s not happening in the Age of Trump so I wanted another way to get involved.

This year brought some certainty that I could keep the days of the primary and general elections free, so Tuesday at five a.m. I stumbled into the firehouse for my rookie effort.  Given it was an abysmal-turnout primary (GOP ballot only in Richmond) and the voters would be few and far between, it was a perfect practice run.  A few general observations:

First, I really would encourage you to try this assuming you are up to a 15-16 hour day with a good bit of time on your feet.  It is vital that people who respect the election process are conducting it, because it is still very hands-on and open to error.

Second, somebody needs to put in a bill that gives local electoral boards full powers of eminent domain for election days.  Finding the right locations with sufficient parking is also important as long as we continue one-day, in-person voting.   Yours truly failed in his morning mission of protecting a few parking spaces in the nearby public lot as reserved for voters, and suddenly there was only one space open.  I chased many non-voters out of it.  I’m semi-serious that a short term grant of eminent domain might help secure locations and parking.

Third, changing precinct lines should be hard to do and happen very seldom.  It breeds great confusion, and we had scores of voters complaining “but I’ve always voted here!” and “I never saw any notice!” when they were turned away.  The new electronic poll books automatically generate actual driving directions to the correct polling place, printed on a slip to hand to the unhappy voter.  That helps.

Fourth, it’s amazing how many voters remain unaware of which candidates match their districts.  That part of Richmond used to be in the Seventh Congressional District, Dave Brat’s district, and a few years ago was moved by court order to the Fourth District, now represented by Donald McEachin.  We had another subset of voters, larger than the group coming to the wrong poll, who wanted to vote in the Seventh District Democratic primary.  Some got all the way checked in before realizing they didn’t want to vote in the GOP primary.

This problem is on the voters, and to some extent on the parties who could consider at least one pre-election mailing to each registered household with that basic information.  We started stressing to people at the door that our precinct had no Democratic primary.  It will happen again in November because of the spirited race coming in that neighboring district.

Electronic poll books, paper ballots that are automatically assessed and counted by the voting machine, a new machine for the visually impaired which we didn’t need – the technology is great, but at the end of the day civility and humor and patience keep the flow moving and human eyes need to confirm that the person standing there is indeed who they say they are, and that the numbers on the poll books, on the paper ballot tally, and on the voting machine all balance.  We check every 15 minutes.

It was a breeze Tuesday.  When five or six times that many voters come in November, it will be more problematic.  Think about joining us.

Being Dealt A Losing Hand That Lingers

There are times in life when four aces is a tough hand to hold.

Common themes on this public policy forum include poverty and its causes and cures, school failure and related discipline matters, health problems and the difficulty understanding why these conditions remain so widespread in this great nation and commonwealth.  I invite you to temporarily suspend your preconceived notions and examine some hard data that upset some of mine.

My quick summary is not doing this work justice but this is a blog, not the New Yorker.

More than twenty years ago two researchers on opposite sides of the country were feeling their way toward explaining strong correlations they observed between childhood experiences and later physical diseases.  One noted that people who dropped out of obesity treatment were often sex abuse victims.  A collaborative study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente.  About 17,000 people were asked to fill out a simple 10-question survey on various adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and then the results were correlated with their health records.

Here, take the test yourself.

The results were astounding.  Adults who had high ACE scores also were substantially more likely to have – decades later — a number of health problems up to and including early death. People with a score of six or more were potentially looking at lifespans of 20 fewer years.  From the summary I linked:  “Compared to an ACE score of zero, having four adverse childhood experiences was associated with a seven-fold (700%) increase in alcoholism, a doubling of risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a four-fold increase in emphysema; an ACE score above six was associated with a 30-fold (3000%) increase in attempted suicide.”

It was widely known that children who were physically or sexually abused were more likely to become offenders themselves, and the concept of psychosomatic illness is ancient.  We’ve long talked about the cycle of poverty.  But here was hard proof in a simple and easy to replicate study.  It then led to brain studies that discovered that trauma and the resulting floods of cortisol and adrenaline actually change physical brain structures.  The how is becoming clearer.

This initial group was not a low-income population.  Heart disease, depression, family violence, drugs and learning problems are not limited to poor neighborhoods.  But the work has sparked a slowly spreading revolution in education and social services.

Consider the implications of simply changing the question “What is wrong with this child?” to “What has happened to this child?”  When you make that mental shift, does it change the way you think about the argument over long suspensions for primary school students with control issues?  Do you really think sitting out of school for a long period (unsupervised) is going to change anything?  Do you worry a little bit more about the impact on a child of a being evicted a series of times?  Are you a bit more interested in providing Medicaid to the whole family instead of just the children?

Source: CDC

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Conservative Values + Money + Authenticity

Jay Katzen in 2013

Thirty years ago the Republican Party threw in the towel and nominated a candidate who had no chance to beat Charles Robb for the U.S. Senate and really no chance of giving Robb a semblance of a race.  The same thing probably happens again Tuesday, especially if the predictions of a Corey Stewart victory in the primary prove correct.  Nobody, including Tim Kaine, should have a free ride to the U.S. Senate and giving him one is embarrassing for the GOP.

Bart Hinkle at the Richmond Times-Dispatch has distilled my thoughts better than I could.  If you want to read him and ignore my ramble I won’t complain. I do have a couple of points to add.

Stewart’s showing in the 2017 gubernatorial primary provides a fair basis for expecting to see him on this November’s ballot, especially since Ed Gillespie went on to lose in November 2017.  Stewart’s claim that he should have been the nominee and would have won echoes complaints I heard all the way back in 1985. When that year’s GOP ticket for statewide office went 0-3, the chorus went up that the ticket was insufficiently conservative.  That’s the standard excuse for an abysmal campaign or a weak candidate.

Stewart on the ballot last year would have added five points to Governor Ralph Northam’s win and might have given Democrats clear control of the House of Delegates. This year the question is what he does to the House of Representatives candidates in a couple of crucial Virginia districts.

Stewart’s recent attacks on Delegate Nick Freitas have me questioning the conventional wisdom about Stewart’s lead, but Freitas’ obvious lack of resources in the primary indicates he will have an equally hard time raising money for November.  Money is the key.

In 2001 another very conservative Northern Virginia state legislator, Jay Katzen of Fauquier County, came very close to ending Tim Kaine’s career at the rank of mayor, losing an election Larry Sabato called “a squeaker.”  One medium television buy in Northern Virginia, cable even, might have tipped it for Katzen.  The message I would have recommended would highlight his connection to Northern Virginia, trying to flip some votes with a regional pitch. Disclaimer:  I was involved on a volunteer basis with Katzen, my last real foray into an election.

Imagine how different Virginia would be today if Katzen had won (or Mark Early for that matter – another story). But the conventional wisdom then was that Katzen could not win and the money never appeared. Nobody could ask for a more conservative nominee, but it didn’t matter. He was eventually outspent almost 2-1, a deficit the GOP can only dream about this year no matter who is the nominee.

The other key to that campaign was an inaccurate claim by Katzen that as mayor of Richmond Kaine had taken actions hostile to the Boy Scouts. It wasn’t true and Katzen stopped saying it – but in the final days Kaine’s camp brought it back as a main theme and made Katzen pay a price for his earlier misstatement, with a friendly media chorus backing him up. Katzen lacked the money to counter-punch. Yet it was still a close race largely because the underlying message about Kaine being liberal did resonate and Kaine’s totals substantially trailed Mark Warner’s at the top of his ticket, especially in rural areas.

Accusing your opponent of denying the Boy Scouts the use of a public facility (I think that was the issue) is incredibly tame by today’s standards, but those were simpler times. People frowned on candidates who made up or stretched facts, even when (as Katzen did) they admitted the error. Now telling true believer supporters what they want to hear with zero regard for evidence or truth or civility is the common currency for both parties. Every issue is a shibboleth; any doctrinal variation a sin.

Freitas the former Green Beret reminds me of Katzen, a career foreign service officer who went on after losing to a leadership role in the Peace Corps. If you saw Jay driving across the state in his beaten-up sedan (today it would be a pick-up) you’d never imagine him going toe-to-toe with Nikolai Ceausescu, but he had a real-deal diplomatic career. Authenticity matters.

Normally that would include Stewart with his legal career and long local government service, as well, but he has buried that advantage under Trump-style invective, rabid anti-immigrant nativism and a 100-year-time warp back to the Lost Cause, a Minnesotan waving the Stars and Bars. Inauthenticity matters.

I hate to just dismiss E.W. Jackson but he had his statewide opportunity in 2013 and lost. Some Republicans continue to believe that if they nominate black candidates they can cut into racial pattern voting, but if it didn’t work with George H. W. Bush on the ballot (the aforementioned 1988) it sure won’t work with Trump in the White House.

Come October all Stewart and Kaine would be talking about is Trump and General Lee. Freitas conceivably would have a chance to force Kaine to discuss and defend his positions and votes. First we have to see if he gets a chance to try.

Medicaid Fraud Unit Grows With Program

It would be interesting to know which is growing faster, the Medicaid program itself or the state-run legal and investigative team charged with rooting out and prosecuting the fraud, waste and abuse that appear on pools of dollars like algae on a still pond. My guess is the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), now around 100 people, has actually grown faster than the underlying program it polices.

Does that mean a growing Medicaid program is generating more fraud? Or does it mean the problems are always there and a more numerous and aggressive enforcement staff can bring more cases? The second argument was the one always used on me when MFCU argued for more budget during my time as administrator in the Office of Attorney General.

In 1983 the team started with about a half dozen staff and recoveries that year were minuscule, but these are cases that take time to investigate and build. Over 35 years that total has reached almost $2 billion, although one big year (2012) accounted for almost half of that. The $14.4 million it will spend in each of the next two years is over 25 percent of the entire budget for the OAG.

None of the money comes from state taxpayers, but as is often noted we are all federal taxpayers as well. Its recoveries exceed its cost. Overall it has returned hundreds of millions of ill-gotten gains to various treasuries. Its deterrence effect is hard to measure but has to be included in any assessment.

In 2009 the unit started publishing its own annual reports, giving each Attorney General (a.k.a. Aspiring Governor) a chance to print his photo and bask in the glow of success MFCU usually throws off. By the time the first report was published, Bob McDonnell was already running for Governor so it wasn’t his photo. Still, I’m not surprised these reports started with an election year and haven’t stopped.

That first one from 2009 showed a staff of just under 50 people and a $6.6 million spend (way above where I left it in 2002), reporting 16 convictions and almost $27 million in restitution. That was substantially below the totals for 2007 and 2008, but there are no annual reports for those years to dig into why.  When you go to the 2017 report, you find the staff went up to just below 100 persons, the budget to just below $12 million, but recoveries were under $21 million that year.

From the 2017 Annual Report

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Public Meetings And Private Texts Don’t Mix

A Peek Inside the Process

As a registered lobbyist I am prohibited from walking onto or sitting on the floor of either chamber of Virginia’s legislature while in session, and can get no closer than the desk at the front door or the benches in gallery.  If I wish to speak to a member during session the custom is to send in a business card and ask that legislator to step out to the hallway for a chat.

I might provide an answer to a question they raised on the floor, offer a draft of some amending language, ask for a copy of something they have or ask them why they cast that last bonehead vote (well, I’d be more polite.)  If I ask them to the door just to discuss trivia they will not come next time I ask.

But wait!  That was the rule in the dark ages!  Now all I have to do to communicate with members at the height of floor debate (or committee debate) is email them on their laptops, now present and open on every desk, or even better text their personal cell phone.  The downside is there is a chance they will miss it or ignore me (a good chance, normally, which is why I still use the hallway chat), but the upside is the message may remain in the ether and never be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The huge holes in the Virginia’s public meetings and public records law caused by the new communications options were highlighted in a FOI Advisory Council debate Tuesday covered by Graham Moomaw of the Times-Dispatch.  The case at hand involved local officers texting among themselves during a public meeting and hearing from a member not in attendance (but not plugged in by phone as provided by law).  You can compare it to middle school kids passing notes and giggling, but sometimes the real decisions are being made in total secrecy with the public cut out.  This is a way to meet in executive session on matters that could not be the subject of a proper executive session.

Missing from the story was the discussion of how this has also changed lobbying.  The original intent of that quaint rule about lobbyists on the floor has been blown to pieces for several years now, and direct lobbyist communication is probably continuous all session long.  Amendments and votes are discussed directly, and bill language is parsed or changed.  It would make fascinating reading.  We will never get to read any of it.

Communication on Facebook and Twitter and other platforms is also common but I suspect are considered far less secure.  Most people work on the assumption that texts to private phones are FOIA-proof unless somebody chooses to leak or forward them.  Apparently the advice given during the meeting was that is correct unless and until the rules are changed.

So change them.  The law should prohibit electronic communications during legislative sessions or other public meetings about issues on the calendar.  Absent that (and it would hard to ban all communication) open the messages to full FOIA disclosure.  It would be fine with me to prohibit any communication with lobbyists during meetings on those electronic platforms, or to subject those to FOIA.  It would not be fine with many of the other lobbyists.

Open meetings means open meetings.  If you have something to say to a colleague, speak into the mic or go find a corner and have that conversation quietly face to face (knowing all of us in the room can see it happening). If the trends continue, it is possible to imagine a meeting where all the real debate goes on with no spoken discussion at all, and the outcome is swayed by a last-minute text from a lobbyist which will never be made public.  I bet it happens already.

Rolls-Royce Revs Its Engine (Factory)

Rolls Royce Crosspointe

The Rolls-Royce Crosspointe facility outside Petersburg is growing, demonstrating once again that economic development projects are hard to predict but can reward patience. A story posted at the Times-Dispatch reports another batch of new jobs may bring the total close to 400 this year.

When it was announced in 2007, the first plant built from the ground up by Rolls-Royce in the United States was to be the centerpiece of an economic cluster around aerospace manufacturing. The 2008 General Assembly adopted special legislation creating an Aerospace Engineering Manufacturing Performance Grant Program aimed not just at Rolls-Royce but at suppliers it was expected to attract.

The worldwide recession tempered expectations but ground was broken and the first assembly line created in 2009. Investment and employment flattened out, however. A second product line was added in 2014 keeping alive hopes of further investments. The most recent VEDP report on the incentive program showed 250 jobs (of the promised 642) and $267 million of capital expenditure (out of $501 million set as a target.)

As a consequence, out of about $50 million in possible grants, only $5 million had been paid out, VEDP reported in 2017. Now that activity is finally accelerating it may be possible for the company to qualify for more grants.

The Rolls-Royce deal was unusually creative for Virginia. The company asked that the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech add faculty and programs tied to their product lines. It asked Virginia to create an industry-driven research consortium, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, and build a home for that on the same property. Done, but in reality CCAM has been struggling.

So Virginia’s total investment for what may now be 400 manufacturing jobs would take some time to calculate. What always attracted me to this deal was that all the individual elements added value beyond the target company. What Rolls-Royce asked Virginia to do was make investments that were smart on their own – in fact the kind of things Virginia should focus on if it is serious about economic development. I have long worried that the failure of Rolls-Royce to meet its targets weakened the legislature’s interest in further innovations.

State Budget Bacon Bits: Reserves and R&D

And now for the some other interesting elements of Virginia’s new $117 billion two-year state budget, because Medicaid expansion sucked all the wind out of the room (understandably.)  The House Appropriations Committee added this summary presentation yesterday while the Senate members were filling up their Facebook and Twitter accounts with Riveting Speeches before delivering votes everybody expected.

Reserve Funds.  By the end of the 2020 fiscal year, 25 months from now, the projection is for just under $1 billion split between the traditional Rainy Day Fund and the more flexible reserve fund.  To fatten the projected balances, intended to placate Wall Street analysts getting antsy about the state, some scheduled deposits into a water quality fund may be held back.

The Rainy Day Fund is controlled by constitutional provisions and can only be tapped when revenue projections fall short.  The revenue reserve is simply an exercise in legislative and executive discipline but I think is there to protect the state if expenses exceed projections.  It is a subtle point but perhaps important because of hard to predict programs (such as, drum roll, Medicaid expansion.)

R&D Taxes.  It has already been noted that the budget included language to create the hospital provider taxes funding the Medicaid expansion, bypassing the usual legislative process for considering tax bills.  There another tax change buried in there, this one creating a sales tax exemption for research and development expenses at federal facilities.  What I don’t see anywhere in the budget is a provision to capture the savings from eliminating the House Finance Committee, which is obviously now redundant.

The Lottery Is For Education!  Three decades in people still believe that their lottery losings are great for public education.  No, it supplants other tax dollars and does not supplement them. Losing tickets free up a sales tax or income tax dollar for something else.  Because this final bill is so late, lottery profits projections could be increased based on additional weeks of data and see how that is reported.

HAC Staff Note

Yes, the money is now packaged differently and state budgets now include the Supplemental Lottery Per Pupil Amount (PPA). This budget increases the PPA totals with great fanfare.  I remain unconvinced that public education funding would be different if the lottery disappeared, but lower priority items might suffer.  The irony of funding schools with a tax on the mathematically challenged marketed by pretending money isn’t fungible never ceases to amuse.

Teacher Raises.  There is money included to provide the state’s share – and that percentage is very low in some localities – of a 3 percent raise for local teachers.  The raise is not scheduled until the 2019-2020 school year and that may or may not be enough to keep the red shirt protesters away from Capitol Square in coming months.

The approved raise amount for state employees and other state-supported local employees is 2 percent, also scheduled for the summer of 2019, but there is an added two percent for state employees with three years of service.   A cynic might note that scheduling the raises for Year Two keeps the positive headline intact and delivers the raise before the 2019 election, but cuts the total cost in the budget substantially.

My Personal Favorite.  I loved the following bullet point: “$333,333 GF the first year and $381,600 GF the second year pursuant to HB 883/SB 20 establishing a three-year regulatory reduction pilot program (Dept. of Planning & Budget).” Next year we can figure how much it cost us per reduced regulation.

GTT.  I will be back on the blog in a week.  Might hit the Alamo again this time so the following quote came to mind.  We do plan to visit their Capitol.

Make The Next Round A Double

USS Gerald R Ford CVN 78 Christening 2013

Virginia leaders like to get up on their soapboxes and worry that Virginia is too dependent on defense spending and promise elaborate strategies to diversify the economy.  Be grateful in some places the focus remains on building more combat ships at Newport News Shipbuilding, keeping its 20,000 plus employees and thousands of suppliers and contractors fully engaged well into the future.

As the House and Senate in Washington inch toward a fiscal year 2019 defense budget, the House has offered a version that expands on the Trump Administration’s proposal by setting up a single order for two nuclear aircraft carriers.

USS New Mexico Crossing Hampton Roads

The Senate isn’t there yet.  CVN 80, the future U.S.S. Enterprise, is already in the early stages of construction but the main construction contract has not been signed.  The proposal is to contract for the unnamed CVN 81 at the same time.

Huntington Ingalls Industries, parent of the shipyard, claims that ordering two carriers at the same time would save the Navy $1.6 billion because it would allow more negotiating leverage with the supply chain and would keep the workforce steady state. While working there I heard it was ideal to start a new carrier every four or five years, but the gap between them recently has been more like seven years.  One result of that is a labor valley every so often.

Two carriers included in a single contract would still need to be built in sequence, since there remains only one dry dock and crane capable of accommodating the assembly process. But as Enterprise sailed out of Dry Dock 12, the pre-built sections of CVN 81 would be ready to start going in. Enterprise will be the replacement for the first-of-its-class U.S.S. Nimitz, CVN 68, aging into its 40s and nearing retirement.

The ship in the dry dock now is CVN 79, the future U.S.S. John F. Kennedy. She is about 80 percent structurally complete and her christening and launch date are coming up fast. Debate continues over the utility of the large deck nuclear carrier in this submarine and missile-infested world, but it remains one weapons platform that our rivals obviously covet but cannot yet duplicate.

There is more potential good news for Virginia in the House version of the defense plan. The Navy is now starting two Virginia Class submarines annually, splitting the work between Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics, but the old Los Angeles Class boats are retiring fast. The House adds a third submarine start in 2022 and 2023 – which is also when construction of the first new ballistic missile submarine, the future U.S.S. Columbia, should be in full swing at both Newport News Shipbuilding and Electric Boat.

Finally in the mid-2020s the aforementioned U.S.S. Nimitz returns to the yard for decommissioning of her nuclear components. That’s a couple thousand more jobs, too. So diversify the economy, certainly, but as they say in politics: Don’t forget your base.

After watching the christening of the U.S.S. George Bush CVN 78 in October 2006 I was heading out on Warwick Boulevard and there was a protester with a sign saying the money should have been spent on jobs. That was one clueless ideologue.

Note:  Both attached images were by the excellent staff photographers at NNS.