Tax Cut Opponents Are Simply Wrong

Most liberal-left activists simply cannot support tax cuts. They can’t help it. It is in their DNA. They firmly believe that money spent by government is always better than money spent by taxpayers. They don’t understand that more money in the taxpayers’ pocket means more money spent on shoes, movie tickets, dinners out and new clothes. The economy improves when this happens and that means more money to the government without tax increases.

Ed Gillespie’s 10% across-the-board tax cut plan, the first in the past 45 years in our state, is opposed by liberal-left leaders because they believe government never has enough money.

What they don’t tell you is that the Gillespie Tax Plan will be paid for from the projected budget increases agreed to by Governor McAuliffe and the General Assembly. If those projections aren’t realized, then the proposed tax cut doesn’t take place. Pure and simple.
The Gillespie Tax Plan does not reduce current state spending. Indeed, Governor McAuliffe and the General Assembly have projected increases of $3.4 billion over the next five years. And the Gillespie Tax Plan takes only $1.3 billion or 40% of that increase, leaving more than $2 billion in new monies for basic services: schools, police, etc.

The Virginia Education Association attacked the Gillespie Tax Plan stating that it will deny public education $400 million when fully implemented. That just isn’t the case. The tax cuts will be paid from McAuliffe-approved projected budget increases. Even after the tax cut is factored into these budget increases there will be an additional $2 billion to spend and the General Assembly and the Governor will determine where that goes. Public Education spending will surely increase.

The Washington Post claims Gillespie’s plan is the same as the recent ill-fated Kansas tax cut that created financial trouble. This is not true. Unlike Kansas, Gillespie’s plan has trip-wires requiring tax cuts to be financed from the budget increases projected by the McAuliffe Administration. And when The Post does mention these trip-wires it alleges they are hidden from voters. Yet, they’re right on page one of the Gillespie Tax Plan. And Gillespie talks about this in his campaign speeches. It’s not hidden from anyone.

The liberal-left Commonwealth Institute believes higher taxes are the answer to most problems facing our state. It criticizes the 10% tax cut proposal as part of its inbred opposition to tax cuts. It says that across-the-board tax cuts produce less money for lower income people than for higher income people and so it’s unfair. But giving the citizens a 10% tax cut regardless of where they stand on the income scale, means every family will pay 10% less in taxes and every family will have that 10% in additional cash from its tax bill to spend as it wants. So of course, those with lesser incomes and who pay less taxes will have less total cash from the tax cut, but every family will be 10% better off.

The Commonwealth Institute criticizes the tax cut plan because it will give projected state income increases back to the people rather than increasing government programs. It thinks this is the government’s money and not the taxpayer’s money. As with other liberal opponents to tax cuts, it believes denying all future increases in government expenditures is a cut in government programs which, of course, it is not. No program will be reduced because of Gillespie’s proposed tax cut. To say otherwise is simply not accurate.
And the anti-tax-cut-at-all-times opposition sneer at Gillespie’s basic number for the average household income. However, a little simple research confirms his numbers on which he built his tax cut plan. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says Virginia’s disposable income was $380,075,013,000 in 2015, and the U.S. Census Bureau reported Virginia had 3,062,783 households in 2015. Simple division produces an average household income of $124,095 in 2015. Grow that by only 1.36% per year to 2021, and you get $134,578 – Gillespie’s basic household number used in his Tax Plan.

If the opponents of tax reform want to argue, they should take it up with the Feds.

When run through the tax model designed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute and the economists at the Beacon Hill Institute in Boston, the Gillespie Tax Plan is projected to create over 50,000 new jobs and more than $300 million in new business investments.

Gillespie’s proposed 10% tax cut plan makes good sense, is based on sound numbers, and will create a stronger economy and that is good for everyone. Every taxpaying family, and every small businesses that pays these same personal rates, will pay 10% less in state taxes. That’s a good deal.

(This column first ran in the Roanoke Times on October 11, 2017)

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Scrap the SOL’s and Move On

( This article is responded to by John Butcher in the next column.)

Maybe it’s time for Virginia to scrap the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests.

The SOLs arose in the mid-1990s as a way to provide feedback to the community on how well local schools were performing. It was a worthy experiment. Despite massive increases in spending in preceding years, the quality of education in United States was widely seen as deficient. Backers hoped that transparency would provide teachers, principals, school boards, parents and citizens data they could use to work toward the betterment of their schools.

As with so many reforms enacted with the best intentions, this initiative has gone terribly awry. There is little evidence that SOLs improve anything. Indeed, insofar as the standardized exams encourage teachers to “teach to the test” — more on that in a bit — they may do actual harm.

In short order after their enactment, the SOLs morphed into a means to hold schools “accountable” for poor performance. Schools with low levels of academic achievement were highlighted in local media reports and shamed for failing their students. Newspapers published SOL data for schools within their circulation zones, and parents used the data to guide home purchasing decisions. As parents voted with their feet, affluent households displaced poor households in “good” school districts, and poor households gravitated by default to the “bad” schools. In sum, the tests arguably had the unintended effect of aggravating residential inequality and making it harder for poor schools to improve.

Comparing schools with one another was problematic anyway because educational achievement is strongly correlated with socioeconomic status, the mix of affluent and poor children varied widely by school, and average scores reflected socioeconomic status as much as the quality of the teachers and staff. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) possessed the data to adjust scores for socioeconomic status so as to not unfairly penalize low-income schools but, for reasons that remain obscure to me, the department stopped publishing it.

Meanwhile, many teachers, principals and school boards learned how to game the system to dress up scores and avoid the shaming. John Butcher, author of Cranky’s Blog, and I have chronicled numerous scandals around the state — the relaxed test standards, the teacher coaching, the classification of sub-performing students as disabled, and sometimes the outright cheating. Newspaper accounts tend to treat these phenomena as isolated instances that happen to occur in their back yard, but they are in fact commonplace.

Perhaps the most insidious gaming of the system involves teaching to the test. As has been explained to me, the SOLs do not test students’ comprehensive knowledge in a particular subject. Rather, they sample knowledge in sub-topics and assume that if a test-taker gets the answers right for those sub-topics, they will demonstrate the same mastery across the board. Over the years, teachers have learned, to pick an example, that the math SOL will address regular polygons but not irregular polygons, so they spend more time teaching regular polygons and perhaps even skip the irregular polygons. Thus, insofar as teachers teach to the test, meaning that they emphasize certain topics over others, SOLs actually may encourage educational malpractice.

As the emphasis has shifted to holding schools accountable for poor performance, VDOE began using SOL scores to declare schools accredited or unaccredited. (There are various flavors of being unaccredited, depending upon whether schools are deemed to be making progress.) While the state can declare a school “unaccredited,” under the state constitution, schools answer to their school boards. The state does negotiate “Memoranda of Understanding” with chronic laggards but, as Butcher has documented, MOUs consist of educratic mumbo jumbo and are useless in turning schools around. At the end of the day, and not for any lack of trying, accountability remains elusive.

Virginia has doggedly tried to make SOLs work for more than twenty years now. We have enough experience under our belts, I would argue, to draw some broad conclusions. SOLs are deficient as a means of measuring students’ academic achievement; if anything, the teaching-to-the-test phenomenon hurts students. SOLs are useless as a means for improving schools’ academic performance or holding administrators accountable for results; teachers and principals are endlessly creative at gaming the system. And, by influencing people of means to buy houses near “good” schools, SOLs arguably have become an unwitting driver of socioeconomic and racial segregation.

I’m not saying that things will miraculously improve if Virginia did away with the SOLs. They exist for a reason. But we must acknowledge that tweaking and nudging a broken system won’t work either. I don’t have any great suggestions for what we put in place of SOLs. I can say that reform should be bottom-up, not top-down, and it should encourage creativity and experimentation. Failed experiments should be shut down, and successes should be replicated. We cannot afford more business as usual.

(This article first ran in Bacon’s Rebellion on October 10, 2017)

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Reform the SOLs, Don’t Kill Them

(This column responds to Jim Bacon’s article above.)

Honorable Sir!

Your Jeremiad on the Standards of Learning testing makes five basic points and concludes that it’s time to “scrap the SOLs and move on.” I’d like to mostly agree with your five points and suggest some different conclusions.

SOL Results Have Guided Home Purchase Decisions, With the Effect of Harming Low-Performing Schools

That is almost certainly true.

There is a plethora of Web sites dedicated to reporting score results – even one from the Department of Education. And surely one reason there are few school-age children in my Richmond neighborhood and many in your Henrico enclave is the quality of the schools.

Would you then have parents rely upon word-of-mouth rather than actual data in selecting a place to raise the family?  Would you conceal the performance of this appalling middle school from the parents who are paying the taxes to support its gross failure to educate their children?

It’s not the job of parents to harm their kids by sending them to an awful school in order to improve the school. It’s the job of the school board and the Board of Education to fix the awful schools. And it is far past time to hold the school, the school board, and the education board accountable if they don’t deal with problems such as the example in the link above.

To do that we must have a quality measurement. As one of your commenters pointed out, the education establishment loves to measure inputs: money, facilities, credentials. But those things don’t measure productivity. For sure the SOL is imperfect but it’s the only productivity measure we have at hand. We should be thinking of ways to deal with the imperfections, not relapsing to a system where the only quality measures do not in fact measure quality.

The SOL Penalizes Poverty

It’s clear that children from economically disadvantaged households underperform their more affluent peers on the SOL tests. It’s also clear that some school systems with large ED populations perform better (or worse, e.g., Richmond) than others.

Thus, the bare SOL pass rate is not a fair measure of school quality.

Should we then abandon measurement of educational quality or should we look to improve the measure?

If fact, we have a better measure that is essentially unaffected by economic disadvantage, the Student Growth Percentile. The State tells us:

A student growth percentile expresses how much progress a student has made relative to the progress of students whose achievement was similar on previous assessments.

A student growth percentile complements a student’s SOL scaled score and gives his or her teacher, parents and principal a more complete picture of achievement and progress. A high growth percentile is an indicator of effective instruction, regardless of a student’s scaled score.

And a low SGP tells us that the kid didn’t learn much in comparison to the other students who started in the same place. See this for a discussion of the way the SGP illuminated the awful productivity of some of Richmond’s teachers.

Yet our Board of “Education” has abandoned the SGP.  See this (scroll down to Part F) for a discussion of their bogus reasons.

Bottom line: We know the SOL is unfair to less affluent kids. We know how to correct for that effect but our Board of “Education” doesn’t want to use the tool that does that.  Is that a problem with the SOL or a problem with the Board?


There is a long and ugly history of Virginia schools cheating to improve SOL scores. See this for a particularly cynical example. Go here and search for “cheat” to be inundated with data on the subject.

But is this a problem with the SOL testing or with the schools and the Board of Education?

If we take it that it’s crucial to have a measure of educational output, then we’ll have to be prepared to deal with attempts to skew the data. The (unacceptable) alternative is to forget about measuring teaching quality and to let far too many children be harmed by inadequate teaching.

Teaching to the Test

You, and others, condemn the SOL because it encourages teaching to the test. In fact that is not a problem; it is part of the reason for having the SOL.

Consider the alternative: If every school and, in some measure, every teacher gets to decide what shall be taught and what shall be on the exam, there can be no uniform measure of educational quality and no accountability (there’s that word again!).

Indeed, the Department of Education literature is ripe with discussion of “aligning the curriculum” to the Standards of Learning.  Thus, if we have appropriate standards, we get schools that teach the appropriate material.

In terms of your example: If we think irregular polygons are important, we can put them in the standards and in the test; that will assure that the schools will try to teach irregular polygons.

In short, teaching to the test is not a bug; it is a feature.

Accountability remains elusive.

I like to talk about the argyle sock effect: If you go into an organization and find the employees wearing argyle socks, you know that the boss wears argyle socks.  First corollary: You know it’s a good grocery store if you see the manager handling checkout or corralling carts.

The first step for improving education is evaluating how well the teachers teach.  Yet the current system does not work and the Board of “Education” has abandoned its tool, the SGP, that can work.  Indeed, their standards for evaluation are a crock.

The Board of Education is wearing white socks with its dress shoes.

Accountability starts at the top: If the Governor were serious about improving the schools, he would fire the current members of the Board of Education and replace them with people who understand accountability.

The Governor has not done so.  The Governor is wearing white socks with his dress shoes.


As I said at the start, you have correctly identified major flaws in the current system for measuring student achievement. But I think your solution would take us back to the Bad Old Days when there was no objective measure that could allow us to hold public school teachers accountable for the job they do with our children.

That said, thanks for shining some Bacon’s Rebellion light on this important subject.

(This article first ran in Bacon’s Rebellion on October 12, 2017)

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Today’s Journalism – We Deserve Better

Everyone in high school is taught about the low water mark in yellow journalism — Remember the Maine.

We are taught that the era of “yellow journalism” died with the rise of editorial standards in the 1930s and 1940s in the wake of FDR and the master propagandists of the Second World War, yet the penchant for 19th century clickbait never truly died — it was merely cloaked.

As the PBS series on Vietnam is reminding folks, the American media had a hand in leveraging casualties and suffering for viewership in a way that could only be termed as pornographic today. The old phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” was coined in 1989 along with “sex sells” purely as a marketing diversion, and both by modern media moguls.

In short, the media simply can’t run away from its DNA.

This isn’t to say that journalism is dead. Journalism is very much alive and thriving in certain quarters and remote quarters. Certainly the Washington Post has its fair share of journalists.

Unfortunately, this particular standard of journalism is mucked by the coterie of reporters and editors looking for “good copy” and a quick story — and it is plaguing the media still.

In recent decades, the Washington Post serves as a favorite bogeyman for conservatives in Virginia thanks to its left-of-center lean and the ability to influence the Northern Virginia media market. Yet, its ability and power to swing the electorate and drive home a narrative has ebbed since its heyday in 2006. At the time, then-U.S. Senator George Allen had to endure a steady and relentless hammering from a WaPo editorial board that smelled blood in the water with an electorate willing to believe in the few shreds of objectivity the mainstream media might have still held.

It bled; it led.

…at least, until the new media came along. Some as bloggers, most as opinion writers trying to get their voices out into the open. Journalists continued to perfect their craft; rank reporters simply mimicked the bloggers.

The difference between the two camps of media was never tone, but the medium in which they chose to disseminate their ideas. Just as journalists and opinion writers continued to craft the virtues of their profession, so too did reporters and bloggers craft the viciousness of the modern “drive by” media.

The end result hasn’t been a net positive for those seeking dialogue in the public square. Over the last decade, the internet has not only democratized media — to some degree it has democratized truth, or at the very least, democratized the facts we as observers and citizens consume.

Of course, truth can never be democratized. There is no such thing as “two sides” to a story — there is the truth, and then there are mere approximations of the truth.

So when the veneer and form of objectivity is used to aid and abet a perspective, that’s a problem. When polls are generated to drive home a narrative, that’s a problem. When monologue media is used as propaganda, that’s a problem — and to introduce a counter-narrative to the propaganda of the left is always blasted as “fake news” or worse, simply fobbed of with the response of tell someone who cares.

Truth is, the Washington Post is getting a real-time lesson in the pitfalls of a monologue. No one on earth believes that embattled Democratic candidate Ralph Northam is up by 13 points. Every political observer and insider says that Gillespie is within the margin of error (and not on the outside edge of that margin). Northam continues to sell a game change; the WaPo continues to lap it up. One really has to ask — why?

Perhaps the reason why is simple enough — yellow journalism hasn’t died; merely morphed into more respectable forms.

In the meantime, President Trump’s approval ratings after Puerto Rico and the NFL “kneelers” shows him with yet another bump — this time to 43%.

For Northam to win, he needs Trump to be closer to 30%, which is why folks have seen Northam soften his “narcissistic maniac” tone against Trump towards a more conciliatory “I will work with him” approach — one that soothes independents but horrifies the hard left.

At this rate, the Washington Post has thrown just about everything it can towards Gillespie, trading reputation for leverage. Will it work? Surveys say no…

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Some Manufacturing Sectors Are Doing Well

Most people probably wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that employment at online retailers or internet publishing and web search portal firms grew at a double-digit annual average pace over the last 10 years ending with 2016.

On the other hand, manufacturing employment growing at such a fast pace might raise some eyebrows.

The U.S. manufacturing sector employed about 1.8 million fewer workers in 2016 compared with 10 years earlier, but many industries within the sector have posted solid to robust job gains.

For instance, breweries and wineries top the list of manufacturing industries with the largest number of job gains over the last decade, with 33,185 and 24,785 jobs, respectively, in the nation, according to data from the North American Industrial Classification System.

Employment in these industries plateaued during the Great Recession, and did not decline like manufacturing overall.

Employment at wineries has been growing at a steady annual average rate that translates into 5.3 percent growth in the past 10 years, while breweries saw a 8.6 percent increase, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that are enhanced with self-employment calculations imputed by Chmura Economics & Analytics.

In the Richmond area, employment at breweries jumped from 176 to 268 in the past decade, while employment at area wineries increased to 38 people from 4 workers a decade ago.

In addition to breweries and wineries, other food and beverage manufacturing industries also are among those with the most job growth during the last decade.

Within the past 10 years, retail bakeries nationally expanded by 21,074 jobs – a 2.6 percent annual average rate of growth – while perishable prepared food manufacturing increased by 17,884 jobs, or an annual average growth of 4.4 percent.

Employment at retail bakeries in the Richmond metro area outpaced the nation with 3.6 percent annual average growth, but prepared food manufacturing declined by an annual average 0.6 percent in the region over the same period.

All food and beverage manufacturing industries combined added 149,716 jobs to the U.S. economy over the last decade and 629 jobs in the Richmond metro area.

Another significant contributor to manufacturing employment growth over the last 10 years is transportation equipment manufacturing industries, which typically fall faster than most manufacturing industries because they produce costly items that can last many years with maintenance.

Aircraft parts and auxiliary equipment manufacturing grew the most within this transportation equipment manufacturing group, adding 16,391 jobs. Shipbuilding and repairing was close behind, expanding by 13,103.

Neither of these industries has a large presence in Richmond.

Manufacturing employment in the nation reached the highest level in August that it has seen since January 2009.

This is good news because manufacturing jobs pay a much better wage than the average industry sector and provides opportunities for workers at all education levels.

(This article first ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Oct. 2, 2017)

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