The point of carpooling is to save some gas money while reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, but in Virginia, taxpayers could be on the hook when commuters try to do just that.
The Australian company Transurban recently teamed up with a construction firm to build new express toll lanes in a congested part of the Washington, DC-area beltway. Under a 40-year contract with Virginia, the state must reimburse the private companies up to 70 percent of toll revenues lost when the number of carpoolers in the express lanes exceeds 24 percent of the total traffic, making taxpayers foot the bill when carpooling cuts into contractor revenues.
It’s unclear if the carpooling rate will ever hit that mark. But whether they like it or not, Virginia taxpayers are stuck with the toll reimbursement deal for the next four decades, or until the firms post $100 million profit, according to In The Public Interest (ITPI), a policy group that examines government contracting. Voters can’t vote the consortium of private companies out of public service if carpooling becomes popular.
The Virginia carpooling toll deal is just one example on a list of “failures” that illustrate the problems that can arise when cash-strapped governments outsource public services to private companies that put profit before the public interest, according to a recent ITPI report.
Today, Appalachian community leaders are in Washington, D.C., to protest a Virginia coal boondoggle that has set its sights on $2 billion of your federal tax dollars. Mountaintop removal coal mining is already a shocking, devastating, and destructive practice on its own — but what happens when you add in coal companies making deals with state and federal transportation agencies in order to seize private land and blow it up for coal? Well then you get the planned Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia.
The project is a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and coal mining companies, including Alpha Natural Resources. The coal companies would get to strip mine the land and leave it razed for building the highway (which may not ever be completed). In order to make this bad deal work, the coal companies were allowed to re-route the highway’s proposed route, moving it away from local business districts and threatening to take thousands of acres of privately-owned land through eminent domain.
Clearly, land and water would be ruined by this mountaintop removal coal mining project, and public health would be put at risk. But on top of all that, the companies are also gunning for $2 billion in federal funds to help make this happen.
Lynwood Lewis, a lawyer and Democratic state delegate from Accomack County, makes an economic pitch in his television spot that begins airing Wednesday in Hampton Roads.
The ad highlights his work with lawmakers in both parties to promote space launches from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility, support for this year’s landmark transportation funding package, and a pro-job philosophy reflected through business and education policy.
Lewis hopes to succeed state Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, who was elected Virginia’s next lieutenant governor, in the 6th Senate District that covers part of Norfolk, a Virginia Beach sliver, and all of Accomack, Mathews and Northampton counties..
ALEC is sort of almost a dating service between politicians at the state level, local elected politicians, and many of America’s biggest companies. It brings them together much as a dating service would do. It sits them in rooms behind closed doors where three times a year they come together to think about what should be the next wave of state-based legislation and they have presentations from the companies that say what they would like to see done legislatively in states right across America. Then they have a vote and the legislators begin. Hundreds of state legislators across America belong to ALEC and come to these meetings.
They begin to have a vote on what they’d like to do in the next state assembly session. And after the legislators have voted the companies get to vote and essentially they have a veto. If they don’t vote by at least 50 percent to approve a piece of legislation going forward, it doesn’t happen. If they think they do approve of it, it goes ahead and becomes a model bill, which is like a blueprint for a piece of legislation that ALEC wants to see spread across America.
Hilary Hoynes is a University of California at Berkeley economist who wrote a particularly notable paper last year. Instead of increasing dependency, as conservative critics have repeatedly claimed, Hoyen’s paper showed that, for women at least, food stamp use during pregnancy and early childhood has exactly the opposite impact of what conservatives allege: It actually increases economic self-sufficiency when children grow up, in the next generation.
That was just one of two main results reported in “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net,” which Hoynes co-authored with Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Douglas Almond. As stated in the paper’s abstract, access to food stamps for women leads to “increases in economic self-sufficiency (increases in educational attainment, earnings, and income, and decreases in welfare participation).” Hoynes and her colleagues took advantage of the fact that food stamp programs were established county-by-county over a period of years, creating a sort of “natural experiment” beginning half a century in the past.
“Hoynes’ work has been timely, innovative and revealing,” said Arloc Sherman, a senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which has highlighted Hoynes’ work this year as food stamps and the SNAP program have become a major subject of controversy. “Hoynes and her collaborators have really broadened our understanding of how programs like food stamps not only relieve hardship in the moment but can trigger long-lasting gains in participating children’s later health and education. The implications of the research are considerable. In this long view, such assistance is not only helping struggling families to scrape by, it’s a good investment in the next generation of citizens and workers.”