Good morning, RVA! It's 54 °F now, but, later this afternoon, you can expect highs in the mid 80s. Summery, warm weather returns!
Well, y’all, we did it! Barring any unforeseen shenanigans (like that could ever happen), City Council has come to a consensus on a balanced budget. Not only that, but they’ve basically fully funded all of the Mayor’s priorities: Schools, streets, eviction diversion, and 80% of the new funding for GRTC. They did this without across-the-board cuts to every department and without rolling back the Recession-era real estate tax cuts. Quite a feat. Unfortunately, to get things to balance, they did have to cut about $2 million of vacant positions (which will have a negative impact on City services) and they did raid about $7.5 million from the Capital Improvement Program. The CFO said the latter was not a financial best practice, but, compared to across-the-board cuts, it was the lesser of two evils. So: Big win for the Mayor’s budget, which is almost entirely intact; big win for Council, which gets to take a victory lap on not raising the real estate tax rate; and big win for the City—schools especially. What started out as a particularly smooth-sailing budget season, plunged into some of the worst chaos I’ve seen since I’ve been paying attention, and then finished up with a progressive-ish, balanced budget and no one had to sue anyone to get there. I’ll take it! Since I’m already looking ahead to next year: It should be abundantly clear that cutting vacant positions and raiding the CIP is not a sustainable way to increase the kind of revenue we need for critical City services. I fully expect rolling back the Recession-era real estate tax cuts to be back on the table next budget season—and every budget season—until it passes. That’ll take some vision and some political boldness and bravery, especially with elections in 2020. But, y’all, I’m not try to elect (or reelect) a meek and rudderless set of city leaders! P.S. You can listen to the first half of yesterday’s budget work session over on The Boring Show. Another thing I’m excited about for next year, is that Overcast, my podcast app of choice, just updated with a new feature that allows for easy sharing of audio clips. For example, here’s Councilmember Trammell talking about how she didn’t appreciate the media coverage of Council’s flirtation with cutting the $965,000 of new GRTC funding. Get excited for more accountability for what your elected officials say in these boring meetings!
Oh snap! President Trump pulled a schedule switcheroo, and, while he didn’t present Richmonder and National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson with his award, he did end up hosting Robinson in the Oval Office. Justin Mattingly at the Richmond Times-Dispatch has Robinson’s very polite reactions to the surprise presidential hang.
I’m glad that the RTD gave education reporter Justin Mattingly the space to write about baseball and his dad. It’s a good read, and the baseball parts, which span four games in a single day and mention a lot of things I don’t really understand, are easy to skip over! 😬
I still don’t understand how Trump’s Opportunity Zones work or what the consequences of them will be in our lower-income areas, but they are here and developers are beginning to take advantage of them. J. Elias O’Neal at Richmond BizSense says The Current in Manchester will be the first project in that neighborhood to use Opportunity Zones as a financing mechanism. Reading through that article made me realize there is a tonne of office space springing up in Manchester. It’s right on a frequent bus line, but are we building the affordable and transit-accessible housing we need to keep pace?
I’m really gonna chew through your allotment of free articles at the RTD today, because you probably should read this column by Ravi Guroian about why we need intercity passenger rail in Virginia. To quote a bit: “We need more trains coming into the state in the morning, leaving in the evening, and we need cross-state trains through our key activity centers.” Yes! I would love, love, love to take an easy train from Richmond to Roanoke / Blacksburg!
When I saw that the Governor had vetoed several bills, including one about redistricting criteria, I was like, “Oh no!” But then OneVirginia2021’s Twitter told me that “The veto of this older criteria bill does nothing to change the trajectory of our reform efforts,” and then I was like “Whew!”
This morning's longread
Make sure you zoom the map to Richmond in this NYT data journalism piece (by the same person who did the evictions reporting last year). This is the subtext to our “hot” real estate market, and it’s not great.
White flight and white return are not opposite phenomena in American cities, generations apart. Here they are part of the same story. In the places where white households are moving, reinvestment is possible mainly because of the disinvestment that came before it. Many of these neighborhoods were once segregated by law and redlined by banks. Cities neglected their infrastructure. The federal government built highways that isolated them and housing projects that were concentrated in them. Then banks came peddling predatory loans. “A single-family detached house with a yard within a mile of downtown in any other part of the world is probably the most expensive place to live,” said Kofi Boone, a professor at North Carolina State University’s College of Design. Here, because of that history, it’s a bargain. And while that briefly remains true in South Park, the disinvestment and reinvestment are visible side by side on any given street.
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