Once upon a time I ran a news site, now I just have opinions on the news. 

Good morning, RVA: Cigarettes, Q&As, and Lucy Dacus

Good morning, RVA! It's 65 °F, and rain is likely throughout most of the day. Bummer!

Water cooler

City Council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee met last night and talked about Councilman Agelasto’s proposed cigarette tax (ORD. 2018-031. They...didn’t get very far. The committee’s main concern seemed to be that no one knew whether or not a cigarette tax, which would be an unstable and declining source of revenue, could be used to leverage more debt capacity. Additionally, there’s always at least the specter of Altria getting so very upset at a local cigarette tax (a tax levied in almost every other Virginia city) that they’d pick up and move their existing facilities—and significant amount of taxes they pay already—to a tax-free locality. The CAO was on hand to say that the Mayor does not support the ordinance as written, but he later clarified that he’s open to the tax if it goes toward the City’s general fund. I’m bummed and confused about the committee’s vibe last night. Earlier this week, after talking about how important it was to continue to seek new sources of revenue for schools and how the meals tax was clearly not enough to fully fund a facilities plan, the folks on this committee seemed unwilling and unexcited to work with Councilmember Agelasto on his proposed cigarette tax ordinance. There are many school facilities needs, and opening up the City’s debt capacity so we can borrow millions to build and seriously renovate buildings is one of them. Fixing several million dollars—annually—of failing boilers, roofs, and air conditioners is another. Garet Prior at Richmond Forward reminds us that Richmond has historically budgeted $0.10 per square foot for facilities maintenance (btw, Chesterfield budgets $3.89 per square foot) and unsurprisingly this has resulted in a huge backlog of much-needed repairs. The $5 million of new revenue from a cigarette tax—even if its a declining source of revenue—goes a long way to covering those expenses. The Committee ended up continuing the ordinance to their March 15th meeting which most likely means the City will not collect any cigarette tax in the coming fiscal year.

Oh, also, I wanted to quote these two paragraphs from the aforelinked Richmond Forward post, which I can’t stop thinking about: “To break the wheel set in place by white supremacy, it's going to be messy and we will bear the brunt of sacrifice. In a PERFECT world, culpable institutions of the state, region, and big business would help, but we cannot wait. If our students, parents, teachers, and staff are making the daily sacrifice to attend these crumbling facilities, we must ask for our share of the burden. We must fight tooth-and-nail for every new dollar through non-essential service cuts or raising taxes on those of us with economic means. Anything short in this fight will leave us with the unacceptable status quo, that perpetuates the dreams of our white supremacist forbearers.” I’m going to be thinking on the culpability—and refusal to help—of the state, region, and big businesses for a while.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Justin Mattingly has a Q&A with RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras—in his own words! This is ultra true: “There’s a deficit of trust right now in the city.” Think back on this quote when you hear citizens, and even councilfolk, super skeptical about putting something like the cigarette tax money into the City’s general fund. Don’t believe me? Here’s the last paragraph in today’s editorial from the RTD editorial board about the tax: “The premise behind the cigarette tax holds that politicians would spend the proceeds more wisely than the people paying the tax. But until Richmond performs a thorough, line-by-line audit of city operations, that premise remains very much open to question.”

Richmond Magazine has a quick look at our “region’s economic titans.” Any discussion of the City’s major economic institutions like this MUST talk about the fact that neither VCU nor the state government pay local property tax—VCU alone owns a full 2% of the land in Richmond. This, as you can imagine, has a huge impact on the City’s budget. Now is when I bang my fist on the table and shout PILOT! PILOT! PILOT! (that’s Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) over and over again.

Michael Martz also at the RTD says that the General Assembly continues to flirt with expanding Medicaid. A Republican has broken ranks and supports expansion with the inclusion of a work requirement.

The Mayor signed on to a letter from the U.S. Conference of Mayors asking the federal government to provide more funding for public housing (PDF). I dunno, good luck with that.

Check this out! The New York Times has a year-long interview with Richmond’s Lucy Dacus about the process of recording her new album, Historian. You can listen to a few pre-released tracks on Apple Music.


  • Rams face George Washington at 4:00 PM on Saturday.
  • Spiders host Saint Louis on Saturday at 6:00 PM.
  • Hokies and Georgia Tech tip off at 12:00 PM on Saturday

This morning's longread

Mo Willems’s Funny Failures

Elephant and Piggie were staples in our house—way before I started reading X-Men comics to my son.

“All my other characters, I basically know where they came from,” Willems said. “But Pigeon—he arrived complete. He just arrived as himself. Formally, I knew what I wanted to do with the book—I wanted it to be like a mood ring, that the background color shifted on every page—but the visual controlling idea, the formal idea, for a book is different from the central idea.” He added, “Honestly, I don’t think I could write another Pigeon book now.” “Why?” “He’s a monster! His wants are unbounded, he finds everything unjust, everything against him, he’s moody, he’s selfish. Of course, I identify with that—we all have some of that—but I’m glad that I can’t imagine writing him now. I’m happy to be less him. I’ve mellowed out. I’m merely pessimistic.”

If you’d like your longread to show up here, go chip in a couple bucks on the ol’ Patreon.

Good morning, RVA: Presidents Day, RFPs, and master plans

Good morning, RVA: Housing, General Assembly update, and a shameful list