Our plan, in as much as we had one, was to ignore this whole sequester thing until it went away. But yesterday we found that position was no longer tenable when NBC-12’s Ryan Nobles tweeted that it’s definitely probably going to happen.
So, we offer you this topical blog post: In as few words as possible, here are five ways Richmond-area TV stations say the sequester will impact you if no deal is reached tomorrow.
1. Measles and mumps will spread like the plague. That’s not to mention whooping cough, rubella and Hepatitis B. Under the terms of the planned cuts, 3,530 fewer children will be vaccinated.
2. You’ll be furloughed (if you currently manufacture weapons systems). Rachel DePompa Investigates says 2,814 employees at the Defense Supply Center of Richmond stand to lose 20 percent of their pay through mandatory furloughs. The center didn’t provide comment, but an unnamed lieutenant colonel tells DePompa the sequester would mean ruin for Richmond’s economy as a result of the employees’ reduced spending power. Civilian employees at Fort Lee face a similar fate.
3. VCU will be unable to cure cancer. About $21 million in federal funding for research will be cut, VCU President Michael Rao warns, “some of which usually supports cancer research at the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research and the VCU Massey Cancer Center.” Rao tells CBS-6 the cuts could result in the loss of 100 to 200 research-related jobs at the school.
4. Toddlers will roam the streets. School leaders in Richmond tell CBS-6 they’re prepping for instant cuts to Head Start, an early-childhood education program for kids from low-income families. Across the state, the Obama administration says 1,000 children stand to lose access to the program. Additionally, “up to 400 disadvantaged and vulnerable children could lose access to child care, which is also essential for working parents to hold down a job.”
5. You will no longer be able to afford meat. With the fewer inspectors working in meat processing plants, expect price gouging at your local grocery store. One butcher tells ABC-8: “I don't think we’ll ever run out of anything. I think what will happen is the meat industry will hike prices in order to basically bide through the time.”
So obviously we should all be freaking out, but confusingly, TV news also warns us to be wary of “a dubious list of budget horribles.” ABC-8 posted an Associated Press story explaining how all this doom talk officials are feeding reporters can be very self motivated -- an attempt to drum up public concern.
Administration officials are coming forward with a grim compendium of jobs to be lost, services to be denied or delayed, military defenses to be let down and important operations to be disrupted. Obama’s new chief of staff, Denis McDonough, spoke of a “devastating list of horribles.”
For most Americans, though, it’s far from certain they will have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day if the budget-shredder known as the sequester comes to pass. …
It goes like this: Put someone's budget at risk and the first thing you'll hear is a threat to close a cherished national symbol or lay off firefighters and police, when in fact there are other ways to cut spending.
NBC-12’s go-to legal analyst Steve Benjamin notes in last night’s broadcast that it is in fact legal to look at porn in public places -- “even if people can see it.”
His expert opinion comes after two customers at the Pizza Hut on Broad Street informed NBC-12 they had seen a worker on break sitting in the dining room “looking at naked women on his laptop.”
The customers say the manager on duty blew off their concerns.
That’s when they called the television station, which rushed a crew to the restaurant. There, a reporter confronted manager Alexis Cunningham, who expressed regret but said she didn’t think it impacted the employee’s job performance.
"We do regret that they had to see that and experience a situation like that in our restaurant, but like we said, it was personal time. He wasn't on the clock."
Watch the story above or read more on NBC-12's website.
It was derided as regressive, stupid and ignorant. But whatever, on Saturday Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan passed the General Assembly with bipartisan support. Time to move on?
Maybe not. Two Northern Virginia lawmakers are asking McDonnell to use his line-item veto power to eliminate a portion of the bill that earlier in the session inspired a parade of Priuses to circle the Capitol in protest.
As intimidating a sight as that must have been, the version of McDonnell’s transportation plan that passed ultimately included a $100 annual fee to be assessed on drivers of alternative fuel vehicles.
NoHybridTax.com aims to change that. The petition has gathered 2,350 signatures as of Tuesday morning.
The lawmakers behind the petition, Delegate Scott A. Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, and state Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, D-Alexandria, tell The Washington Post “the legislature’s decision to boost the cost of driving a hybrid runs counter to the policies of several other states that offer incentives for the vehicles because they promise to create less pollution and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.”
“It’s mind-boggling,” said Surovell, who drives a 2004 Honda Civic hybrid. “To me, it’s incredibly punitive for people making a decision that’s better for our country and better for our environment.”
In January, George Hoffer, a transportation economist at the University of Richmond, offered a similar assessment in an interview with Style.
"It is just perverse," Hoffer says of forcing owners of combination electric- and gas-fueled cars to pay an extra $100. Such hybrids are lighter and create less wear and tear on roads, Hoffer says, and their owners will pay the sales tax anyhow.
"That's just stupid," Hoffer says. "If anything, they should be paying less."
Importantly, New York City-based actor Alec Baldwin apparently also has an opinion. Last week he offered the following tweet:
Virginia's proposes tax on hybrids is ignorant and unfairhuffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2013…— ABFoundation (@ABFalecbaldwin) February 21, 2013
I’ve emailed McDonnell’s press office asking for comment, but considering it was his idea to begin with, it may be a stretch to think he’d ax the $100 fee at this point.
A McDonnell spokesman referred me to the governor's remarks to reporters on Saturday. McDonnell said then that he'll look at it to make sure hybrids are treated fairly. But he says the the alternative vehicle fee is "just a matter of fundamental equity" because hybrids use less gas and thus pay less in gas taxes. "I don't want for a minute anyone to think it's punitive to hybrids," he says.
That, however, ignores the fact that McDonnell's original plan included the fee but eliminated the gas tax entirely. The plan as passed represents about a 35-percent cut to the gas tax, money that is replaced by a .3-percent increase in the state sales tax.
Today’s Boston Globe carries a story about bicyclists’ outrage over a hit-and-run death of a rider and the justice system’s response.
The facts of the case aren’t that different from Elias Webb’s, who this week was found guilty by a jury of hitting and killing 24-year-old Lanie Kruszewski and leaving the scene. Yesterday, the jury recommended Webb serve a three-year prison sentence.
There are, however, at least two important points that distinguish what happened in Boston from what happened in Richmond. First, there was more evidence in the Boston incident, including video from a traffic camera that clearly showed a truck driver hitting the cyclist and not stopping. Second, a grand jury that saw that evidence declined to hand down the indictment necessary to bring charges against the driver, who ended up walking away without so much as a ticket.
Citing widespread bias against riders, Josh Zisson, a lawyer specializing in bicycle-related cases, tells the Globe, “many cyclists view juries in criminal cases as a litmus test of how they are embraced and protected by the communities in which they live.”
So if the jury of 12 Richmonders not only found Webb guilty, but also thought his acts merited three years in a state prison, does that mean Richmond cyclists should feel embraced and protected by a community many have long felt is hostile to cyclists?
I attended most of the Webb trial, primarily as a friend of Kruszewski’s family. (I know, like and regularly hang out with her surviving two sisters, Jackie and Leah.) I also occasionally bike to Style’s downtown office from my apartment in the Museum District. In the context of the Boston case, it’s difficult for me not to find the Richmond jury’s verdict and sentencing recommendation a little heartening.
Am I the only one feeling at least moderately encouraged that a random group of perfect strangers could relate to Kruszewski's story? I reached out to three Richmond area cycling advocates to get their take on the verdict and what it might say about Richmond. Their reactions are mixed.
Michael Gilbert, a co-founder of Ride Richmond, says the jury’s finding of guilt sends an important message: “that bicyclists are humans and we will treat them as such.”
For me, the fact that he was found guilty, by a jury of his peers, is the most important part. The sentence matters, but the fact that he was found guilty sends a clear message that bicyclists are humans and we will treat them as such. There is a lot of good energy toward cycling education, and this shows that educating motorists is equally as crucial -- a true two-way street. Do not text and drive. Do not speed when driving. Do not tailgate cyclists. Do not pass with less than two feet. When the public realizes they have lost a daughter; a mentor; a loving, caring and talented young professional -- they take notice.
Champe Burnley, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, takes a different view. He says he can’t shake the feeling that “Eli Webb got off very easy for what he did.”
Webb’s actions caused an innocent person to die. There was no evidence that Lanie was doing anything wrong. In fact, she was doing everything right: The driver in front of Webb [Beatty] testified to this. He had no trouble seeing her. I think there’s a general attitude that if you’re riding a bicycle and get hit, you get what you deserve. The opposite should hold true: Our roads are not for cars, they are for people and it is everyone’s legal duty to make sure their actions don’t endanger the lives or safety of others whether they are drivers, cyclists or pedestrians. If your actions cause harm or death to another individual, you will be held accountable and pay for your actions.
Jakob Humboldt, Richmond’s pedestrian, bicycle and trails coordinator, takes a more nuanced view, noting that offenders in bike crashes don’t always get lighter sentences.
First, cyclists often do get the short end of the stick, and just reading through the comments on the Boston-Wellesley incident points to the bias. A guy gets run over by a tractor-trailer while obeying the law and a bunch of fools chime in about how bicyclists are all scofflaws and deserve what they get. That attitude is ubiquitous and it impacts the ability to indict and try someone.
Secondly, I have frequently argued against the claim that offenders in bike crashes get lighter sentences. Webb will likely get more jail time than the DUI driver that killed the VCU student last year. He was twice the legal limit and got about 1.5 years jail time and a one year suspended license.
And that raises the third point: We treat driving in the U.S. as a right, not a privilege. It is stupidly easy to get a license and even easier to keep it, even if you are a menace behind the wheel. And if you do lose your license and continue to drive, the penalties are pretty minor. Scroll through the court records for pending cases and you’ll find people charged with things like driving on a suspended license, sixth offense, along with many other violations. I don’t think we should lock people up and throw away the key with their first infractions, but when you repeatedly demonstrate you are unwilling to abide by a standard of conduct and safety, then you can spend some serious time in jail. That person has contempt for the law and for the safety of the general public.
So, what do you think, Richmond? Our comments thread is open.
Madrid. Florence. Copenhagen. … Richmond.
Yes, in the same breath. Get used to it, says Mayor Dwight Jones, who spent considerable time hailing the city's incredible sports magnetism in his State of the City address last week. Bikes! Redskins! Squirrels! Let us count the ways:
First down: The UCI World Cycling Championships descend in 2015, bringing with them "300 million people who will be focused on the city of Richmond," Jones says. That's why it's so important to renovate the old train shed in Shockoe Bottom, the one sitting empty next to Main Street Station. "We expect that project to begin in May of this year," Jones says, addressing mostly City Hall workers and civic leaders at the Carpenter Theatre. "We want our newly renovated train shed to open in time to welcome the UCI 2015 World Cycling Championships."
Second down: The new Washington Redskins' training camp behind the Science Museum of Virginia is under way! No obstacle is too tall for Jones, especially not 100 of the hardwood variety, which were deftly cleared out. And don't accuse the mayor's office of excluding the public. After razing the property a few weeks ago, the city now wants the public's input on how to landscape it.
Third down: There was some buzz last week that Jones was going to unveil the city's grand plan to build a ballpark for the Richmond Flying Squirrels — wait for it — in Shockoe Bottom. This was to come just two years after Jones declared that the best place for a new ballpark is on the Boulevard during his 2011 State of the City address. Compare and contrast:
2011: "I also want to make clear my preference for a new Baseball Diamond on the Boulevard," Jones said, according to his prepared remarks. "I believe the new stadium on the Boulevard can be the catalyst for significant development along this major corridor."
2013: "With respect to location, let me say this so that we can be clear about the process going forward. Baseball decisions are going to be made based on sound financial analysis, anticipated economic impact, and our tax base and our local economy. But the bottom line: We are going to get it done."
Fourth down: Punt.