Monthly Archives: May 2004

Virginia News

Gov. Mark Warner (D) plans to be in Arlington today. It’s part of a statewide tour to explain to community leaders and local officials what the new budget will mean for their communities. OK, but let’s call it what it is – a victory lap around the state. And as hard as he’s worked, he deserves it. But two quotes from yesterday’s first stop on the lap caught my attention:

“Virtually every component of the reform that we proposed back in November was part of the final compromise,” Warner told a supportive crowd outside the Roanoke Higher Education Center.

Give him credit for getting more revenue for sorely needed services. Give him credit for his political acumen and ability to build coalitions. But tax reform? When multi-millionaires pay the same percentage of their income in taxes as someone making $20,000 a year and the main method of raising revenue is to increase the regressive sales tax, we’ve still got a long way to go to reform Virginia taxes.
The governor also said, “My only concern is that we don’t end up having greater disparities, say between teachers in Northern Virginia and Southwest Virginia,” Warner said. “I think they [teachers] understand that this is a huge new investment and that they’ll fight that battle at the local level, but we do need to be concerned.”

The state should not subsidize disparities in school systems. But we need to remember the cost of living differences. Are Northern Virginia teachers earning less than their Southwest counterparts when that cost is factored in? I don’t know. But I wonder what percentage of teachers in some poorer counties can live in the county in which they teach: a feat many Fairfax County and Arlington County teachers can’t.

As a friend of mine says, too many politician hear trumpets whenever they enter a room.

“The leadership role that I’m taking on behalf of public education, mental health, and higher education has encouraged a lot of people to talk to me to pursue higher office,” Potts said. “I’m going to listen to people.”

FYI, here are the budget bill votes in the House and the Senate. The following delegates voted against the tax bill but for the budget, probably because they’ll want to claim credit for the new funds their localities get even though they did everything possible to prevent them from getting the funds:

Ware, R.L.
And of course, Mr. Speaker!

Virginia News

Wait ‘Til Next Year

“I’m disappointed that all our objectives were not reached,” Mr. Chichester said. “We did not reform the tax code as we had hoped, and we did not address critical transportation needs. These are necessary elements for our long-term health. And so we will return another day for the unfinished business.”

… Sen. John S. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat, called the budget and tax plan “a very good first start.”

House Republican leaders said more tax increases don’t have a chance of surviving next year’s legislative session. Delegates are up for re-election in November 2005; senators don’t face voters again until 2007.

“The Senate loves taxes; I think they will come back and ask for them,” said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Roanoke County Republican. “But it won’t happen. If you take a hard look at transportation, there’s lots of things you can do without raising taxes.”

Again, Virginia slowly evolves into the 20th century. Gives us a few decades to get into the 21st.

They are the 1,044 convicted felons who had their civil rights restored in the past two years by Gov. Mark Warner, who is on track to grant the privileges to more people than any other Virginia governor since 1938.
Since he streamlined the application process for nonviolent felons two years ago, Warner has followed through on a campaign promise to make it easier for people with a criminal past to have a productive future.

…At least 245,000 Virginians are not allowed to vote, serve as jurors or notaries, or run for public office because of a felony conviction, according to Joe Szakos of the Virginia Organizing Project, a statewide group that champions social justice issues.

In all but 14 states, the rights of convicted felons are automatically restored after they serve their sentences and pay off their fines, according to the Sentencing Project.

Virginia News

I’m travelling today, so here is probably, no make that defintely, more than you want to know about local elections in Virginia this week:

Northern Virginia
Virginia Beach- here, here, here, here
Chesapeake here, here, here
Portsmouth here, here, here
Suffolk here, here
Hampton, Newport News & Williamsburg
New River Valley
Roanoke here, here
Fredericksburg here, here
Colonial Beach, Port Royal, Bowling Green, Orange
Danville here, here
Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg
Central Virginia Town Councils
Winchester here, here
Middleton here, here
Berryville here, here
Stephens City
Front Royal
Bedford, where there was no opposition for school board seats
Luray, where the mayor won by one vote

And my favorite, a race for the Dillwyn town council was tied with four votes a piece. One was a write-in candidate, the other the incumbent. The incumbent’s name was then drawn from a hat, but she then declined the seat.

Our really good president

Listening to the radio this afternoon, I heard President Bush defending Don Rumsfeld. To quote our erudite president, “Donald Rumsfeld [paus as he searched for words] is a really good secretary of defense.”

Really good? A 12-year old valley girl is more articulate than this guy.


Tom Toles, The Washington Post
“The deaf, dumb and blind kid?” Indeed.

Virginia News

A budget has been approved. I just wished I knew how much of a budget was approved. The Washington Post, Fredericksburg Free Lance Star and the Augusta Free Press call it a $60 billion budget, while the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginian Pilot and Roanoke Times says it’s $59 billion.

But what’s a billion here, a billion there? Can it be that hard for reporters to agree on the total budget figure?

The Roanoke Times explains the compromise over the ¼% sales tax sent to localities for education: half distributed based on school-age population that favors large school divisions and half using the local composite index that favors poorer counties.

That seems a fair compromise to me. Now the battle will be enjoined at the local level. Though the money is meant for education, it could just as easily be used for tax relief. How these battles play out will be interesting to watch.

Some communities no doubt will use some of the money for property tax relief. If they do, they can’t really complain about not having enough money for education. Larger jurisdictions that provide the bulk of state funds have sometimes complained that when more money is allocated for poorer school districts, the local pols there lower real estate tax rates instead of spending money on schools.

Now it will be interesting to see what happens, especially in those larger counties. In Fairfax County for example, the board of supervisors has already approved a budget with a three-cent decrease in property taxes. If they use the money for further property tax relief, one has to wonder how much supervisors are really committed to schools.

The board, elected last November, is solidly Democratic. In all elections in which there was a property tax cap candidate, that candidate lost. So you would think the board would be more likely to make investments they’ve said all along were needed while they criticized the state for not ponying up the money.

But therein lies the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Bush lost the popular vote by more than 500,000 but has governed as if he had a mandate. Kerry-inspired Democrats win handily and govern as if they’re scared of their own shadow.

There’s no state money for teacher salary increases in the state budget. That too, will be a decision for local authorities. How much will go to raising teacher pay, certainly needed, and how much for other school needs, especially infrastructure? With the guaranteed revenue stream now in place for local school systems, they could leverage the money for school renovations and to relieve overcrowding.

From the Richmond Times Dispatch this morning: “Lawmakers, while preaching tight-fistedness, also found dollars for their pet projects….” Among them, $500,000 for the Wolf Trap performing arts center, which happens to be in Del. Vince Callahan’s (R) district, he who voted against any tax increase that would have funded education, transportation, healthcare and any other non-performing arts programs.

The story also reveals that Philip Morris got its $6 million wish.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mark Warner (D) described his ideas on education to a national audience. Teachers are a little leery of incentive pay, but to her credit, Virginia Education Association President Jean Bankos is willing to discuss the issue. But “[t]he dealbreaker, she said, would be if the incentives were based only on test scores.”

Anything based on standardized test score would break a deal for me, too.

Here’s a Virginia Democrat’s “John Kerry explanation” of a vote on civil unions. (Anyone see a backbone around here? I’m sure I had one.) To any bill banning civil unions lawmakers need to follow Nancy Reagan’s advice: Just say no.

More tuition hikes ahead.

Here’s more than you ever wanted to know about the state song and cicadas.


The Disney Company has forced its Miramax division to withdraw from an agreement to distribute Michael Moore’s new film the details Dubya’s close ties to prominent Saudi families, including Osama bin Laden’s.

Disney came under heavy criticism from conservatives last May after the disclosure that Miramax had agreed to finance the film when Icon Productions, Mel Gibson’s company, backed out.

Mr. Moore’s agent, Ari Emanuel, said Michael D. Eisner, Disney’s chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush’s brother, Jeb, is governor.

“Michael Eisner asked me not to sell this movie to Harvey Weinstein; that doesn’t mean I listened to him,” Mr. Emanuel said. “He definitely indicated there were tax incentives he was getting for the Disney corporation and that’s why he didn’t want me to sell it to Miramax. He didn’t want a Disney company involved.”

Disney executives deny that accusation, though they said their displeasure over the deal was made clear to Miramax and Mr. Emanuel.

A senior Disney executive elaborated that the company had the right to quash Miramax’s distribution of films if it deemed their distribution to be against the interests of the company. The executive said Mr. Moore’s film is deemed to be against Disney’s interests not because of the company’s business dealings with the government but because Disney caters to families of all political stripes and believes Mr. Moore’s film, which does not have a release date, could alienate many.

“It’s not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle,” this executive said.

So called liberal media

The SF Chronicle feared that publishing the disturbing pictures of Iraqi prisoner abuse would offend their readers and be seen as a political statement. Some readers thought that the Chronicle was afraid of such reaction demonstrates how gingerly the “so-called liberal media,” as Eric Alterman calls it, walk around issues that may appear to reveal a liberal bias. The paper published a brief note to it readers.

The Chronicle decided to run the graphic images on the front page and on Page A12 because the editors thought the public’s right to know outweighed the potentially disturbing nature of the images.

To which one reader replied:

“Why do you add those unnecessary, apologetic explanations for running the pictures of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated? After all, you are a news organization, not a laundry service for the U.S. government.”

Expect Little and You won’t be Surprised

President Bush told a skeptical Arab world on Wednesday that the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by some members of the U.S. military was “abhorrent” and does not represent the America he knows. He conceded mistakes but stopped short of apologizing, leaving the contrition to his spokesman.

…Bush’s interviewers did not ask him whether he thought an apology was appropriate, and Bush did not offer one.

…In the Al-Hurra interview, Bush said it was important for “the people of Iraq to know that everything is not perfect. That mistakes are made. But in a democracy, as well, those mistakes will be investigated, and people will be brought to justice.”

…Bush also expressed continued confidence that a peaceful Palestinian state can emerge from the Israel-Palestinian conflict, defending his support — criticized across the Arab world — for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s territorial plans.

Arrogance, Hypocrisy and “strategic Catastrophe”

This blog was intended to address not just Virginia politics. Yet, because over the past four months the Virginia story has been a compelling one with national implications, Commonwealth Commonsense has focused on the Old Dominion.

But today, even though a budget is still elusive, I must think globally.

This administration and to an extent the Democratic response has shamed this country and placed us at the precipice of what Joe Wilson, the former ambassador who wife’s CIA identity was allegedly exposed by the Bush administration, called last night a “strategic catastrophe.”

The treatment of Iraqi prisoners has revealed Americans to be hypocrites. And it is the Bush administration’s arrogance that has allowed the human rights violations to fester and then infect the world’s view of all of us.

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