Archive for November, 2011

PolitiFact Considers: Flat Tax Plans & Federal Debt Ceiling

This week Politifact Virginia looks into claims about flat tax plans and whether President Ronald Reagan agreed to 18 hikes in the federal debt ceiling. Fred Echols reports.

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Governor McDonnell’s Trade Mission

Governor McDonnell is now in India as he wraps up the final leg of a trade trip that began in Israel.  He says the discussions there have been very productive and the Governor is lauding the benefits of taking more Virginia products to an emerging nation with more than a billion consumers.

India is a valuable market for Virginia, which exported $293 million in goods to India last year.  McDonnell said 52% of all Indian workers are engaged in Agriculture, and since it’s the largest Virginia industry, it was a major focus of trade discussion. The Governor told reporters on a conference call that he’s already met with 60-major business leaders to explain the advantages of foreign investments in Virginia.

“Since then we’ve met with several of the major Indian businesses that already have offices in Virginia and I talked to them about expansion and job creating opportunities in our state,” said Governor McDonnell.

With him is Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore, who discussed what agricultural imports piqued the interests of Indian business leaders.

“We’ve also been meeting with apple importers and process food importers. It’s a very, very strong market for imported apples to India and obviously Virginia. Apples are one of our top commodities. Meeting with a number of importers of soybean oils–oils that are coming from crushed soybeans, obviously which we’re producing a great number of in Virginia,” said Haymore.

The Governor said the trade delegation also advanced the state’s wine, tourism, bio-tech, nanotech, and film industries.

–Tommie McNeil

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Senate Seat Lawsuit Filed

The Associated Press and the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association are being sued after some qualifying rules have excluded U.S. Senate candidates from a debate next month at their annual AP Day at the Capitol.  And while similar suits have been filed in the past with little success, the candidate who filed the petition this week says the federal lawsuit brings to light an issue of fairness to voters and whether or not some entities are making a mockery of democracy

Eight Democrats and Republicans are running for the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Jim Webb.  The debate rules state that to participate, a candidate must have achieved 15%  in primary polls, and raise at least 20% as much money as the parties’ front-runners.  Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen are only ones who have qualified. But, Democrat Julien Modica believes his civil rights have been violated–and the voters’ right to more options and an awareness of ALL issues, even within the parties, is being denied.

“We had the Tea Party, now we’ve got Occupy Wallstreet, you know in light of these two groups that are just outraged by what government has done, why would I just sit around and say ‘Ok, you guys have been here, you both have been governors, one has been a Senator, one was the chairman of the DNC, why would I just sit here and allow you to take over?”‘ said Modica.

Modica says both Allen and Kaine have shown how they will lead and that may not be what voters need now–but the VCCA and AP are essentially deciding for the voters.

As the debate approaches in December, Virginia Public Radio will air in-depth features with each candidate allowing them to introduce themselves to the voters and discuss the issues they believe are most relevant.

–Tommie McNeil


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Lights, Camera, Tax Breaks! (Parts 1, 2, 3)

The lights are on and the cameras rolling in Richmond, where Steven Spielberg is shooting a film about Lincoln.  Virginia taxpayers are co-producers on the movie, having given Hollywood $3.5 million in cash and $1.1 million more in tax breaks.  The Governor says it’s a good investment in the state’s film industry, but critics think Hollywood is shaking Virginia down, and taxpayers are too star struck to notice.  Sandy Hausman has more on that story.

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Tax Preferences

Virginia lawmakers are evaluating whether all of the state tax preferences enacted over the years are being effectively used—as well as their potential impact on revenues.  The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission has identified 187 credits, deductions, sales tax exemptions, and other tax breaks … but the watchdog agency says only some work the way they were intended.

Many tax preferences, such as sales-tax relief for food, were enacted to achieve policy goals of providing financial assistance or promoting desirable activities.  In 2008, they reduced taxpayer liability by $2.9 billion.  But JLARC Project Leader Ellen Miller said some to provide tax breaks for people with lower incomes also helped others:

“Only two preferences, the age deduction and low income tax credit, did so efficiently and provided the majority share of the reduced liability to intended beneficiaries,” said Miller.

Miller said the land conservation and historic rehabilitation credits did promote those activities.  Tax breaks to help save for college were only somewhat effective.  “In contrast, we found that preferences promoting the coal industry, nonprofit activity, and long-term care insurance were unlikely to achieve their goal.”

The worker retraining credit was too small to promote retraining. The report recommends creating an oversight panel to assess all preferences. Some advocates are calling for repeal of tax “loopholes”—to fund services with the revenue that’s saved.

–Anne Marie Morgan



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Project Citizen

Surveys consistently show that the vast majority of Americans fail basic tests of civic literacy.  That’s one reason why a General Assembly commission sponsored a Civics Education Summit in Richmond attended by teachers from across the Commonwealth. They discussed practical ways to help students learn political knowledge—while capturing their imaginations.

A major theme was the effectiveness of teaching and learning methods. For example, when students read, they remember about 10% of what’s read.  Hearing results in a 20% retention rate.  But students who discuss material remember 70% … and when they also do an activity, they recall 90%.  Henrico teacher Kathryn Niemeier is a trainer for the civics education program, Project Citizen.  She said hands-on learning is essential for mastering civics knowledge.

“And that’s what Project Citizen really does.  It explains to students how you can participate in the process effectively, get your voice heard.  You don’t always get the outcome you necessarily want.  But you get your voice heard.  But it’s a way of participating outside the most common form which they hear about—that’s voting,” she said.

Niemeier also said learning dispositions, such as respect, accountability, and political efficacy are also critical.  She added that research, oral language, and other skills acquired through an active approach will also transfer to other subjects.

–Anne Marie Morgan

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Land Use Lawsuit

A Grayson County Judge will hear testimony Wednesday in a case over what a landowner can build on their property. Beverly Amsler explains.

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PolitiFact: Education Money; Endorsements

One of George Allen’s harshest critics has endorsed the former governor in his run for the US Senate. Politifact Virginia notes that turnaround this week and also grades Governor McDonnell on a campaign promise to funnel more money into Virginia classrooms. Fred Echols reports.

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Labor Trends in Virginia

The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis has unveiled the latest in a series of studies that identify issues in Virginia that hinder economic growth.  The most recent study examines the labor force—and how well the state has rebounded since the economic recovery began in June, 2009. Michael Cassidy there says Virginia has a long way to go before it rebounds to pre-recession levels.  Compared to past downturns, the number of job losses continued to grow.

“So unemployment, for example, rose by 14% in our state last year, and that was the largest jump in the whole South Atlantic region,” says Cassidy.

More than 1 in 3 unemployed workers looked for jobs for more than 27-weeks. The state remains 128,000 jobs below pre-recession levels .In addition, underemployment remains a problem …as some who obtain jobs work only part-time or below their skill levels.  Cassidy says to help workers get back to pre-recession levels—the state could raise the minimum wage, provide training for new skills, and enact more earned income tax credits.

–Tommie McNeil



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USS Cole Families Unite

The alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing was arraigned Wednesday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  In Norfolk, family members of the 17 sailors watched on a closed-circuit feed– as for the first time, Abd Al Nashiri spoke before the military tribunals.  More from Virginia Public Radio’s Jessica Stone.

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Trade & Politics

Just hours after celebrating a historic day of elections in Virginia and the Republican Party, Governor McDonnell embarks on an 11-day trade mission to meet with leaders in India and Israel, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  But some say Virginia’s success abroad and its recognition as the most business-friendly state in the U.S. has been, in part, because of its diversity and ability to incorporate various ideas, regardless of party affiliation, into business concerns.  And with one party in power in Richmond, the Governor still thinks other nations will view the Commonwealth in the same light.

If the election results are confirmed, the GOP would have the largest majority in history in the House of Delegates and a working majority in the Virginia Senate.  Republicans also hold all three statewide offices.  McDonnell says all interests will still be represented as the state moves forward, but he believes there will be less gridlock on some key issues that may have prevented the Commonwealth from focusing on business expansion and job creation.

“The whole goal there, regardless of whose in charge back here in Richmond, my whole goal is to bring more jobs and opportunity in Virginia. I want more direct foreign investment, I want them to open up their foreign markets and to buy more things from Virginia–hopefully convince a lot of people in both Israel and India that they ought to be dealing with the most business friendly state in America–Virginia,” said McDonnell.

The Governor intends to build on the current relationship Virginia has with Israel while cultivating one with India. He will provide updates on his trade mission during the course of his travels and will return to Richmond November 22.

–Tommie McNeil

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The Hats of Montpelier

About 18,000 people turned out over the weekend for the nation’s premiere steeplechase – a race run annually at James Madison’s Montpelier.  The 77th Annual Hunt Club Races featured a new competition this year – one that had nothing to do with horses.

You might think a horse race is about horses, but for millions of women, it’s all about the hat, and this year the organizers of the Montpelier Hunt Races acknowledged that with a hat competition.   About 50 women entered, and the winner went home with a gift certificate worth $500.

Meanwhile, three vendors sold hundreds of hats in tents near the track – among them Diana Francis, who makes custom hats at her studio in Lexington. “My inspiration sometimes comes in the middle of the night, and I know it sounds crazy, but I’m up at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning because I realize that’s just the special treatment a hat needs,” says Francis.

Feathers, fur, flowers and ribbons are always in vogue, but Francis says today’s hats can flexible. “It used to be that hats would be sprayed and made to be very stiff, whereas today they’re much softer, so that you can actually play with a hat and give it the kind of shape that you would like one day and do something different the next.  It’s very much a mood thing, wearing a hat.”

Jacki Gill of Ruther Glen agrees, and her wide brimmed pink hat, sprouting feathers, expressed her enchantment with the chapeau.  “I don’t know.  They feel festive, and you feel fancy when you put them on.  You’re just a step above yourself regularly,” she said.

Loraine McConnell, an Orange County Milliner, says this is the heart of hat country. “I think Virginia probably has the most number of steeplechase races and also, the most vineyards on the east coast, with wine festivals, so we have a lot of opportunities to wear hats,”said McConnell.

Her shop, Sequoia Springs, boasts hats are good for your health.  “It’s good for our skin, anti-aging, skin cancer are two of the medical reasons that are promoting the fashion.”

– Sandy Hausman

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