Week in Review: Transparency shortfalls and politics

By Bre Payton | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

OPAQUE: Virgingia’s transparency performance falls short this week.

Virginia’s transparency woes plague it yet again.

Tax credits to companies remain hidden from the public. and a new transit commission could hide critical information. A poll naming Barbara Comstock the frontrunner of the congressional race to replace Frank Wolf raises more questions than answers.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Mark Warner couldn’t save an Arlington seat, despite email blasts and robocalls. And one Virginia Senator is calling McAuliffe’s choice of a former union lobbyist for commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry a ‘slap in the face.’

This is your week-in-review.

Virginia dodges reporting responsibilities with business tax credits
Virginia’s failure to report how much it doles out in tax credits to each company through the Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit is dragging down the state’s overall spending transparency score.

That isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Tax credits aren’t technically spending, per se — even though that tax revenue has to be made up somewhere, either through more taxes or spending cuts.

So, while a grant to a company would have to be reported, tax credits become easy political tools for state officials to favor particular industries, businesses or goals with virtually no transparency, said Matt Mitchell, a senior research fellow with George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

McAuliffe, Warner can’t save Arlington seat
After 15 years of frustration, conservatives are crowing over John Vihstadt’s victory in this week’s Arlington County Board election. Though Vihstadt ran as an independent, Republicans and tea party members openly supported the real-estate lawyer against Democrat Alan Howze.

Howze lost by 3,500 votes, despite email blitzes and robocalls from Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. It marked the first time since 1999 a Democrat failed to win an Arlington Board election.

Political observers say the county board’s big-spending transportation agenda — including $1 million bus stops and a controversial streetcar proposal — turned off voters.

Transit commission could hide critical information from the public
Come July 1, the ironically named Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission will decide how to spend $200 million on transportation projects in the Tidewater area.

It would be nice for taxpayers to have a say in how that money is spent. So far, we’ve found no requirement to involve the public in the decision-making process. The commission will decide about that when it establishes those aforementioned rules.

Return of union lobbyist to state post a ‘slap in the face,’ senator says

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s pick, Carlton “Ray” Davenport, was a registered lobbyist for the Virginia AFL-CIO from December 2010 until this month,according to lobbying disclosures available from the Virginia Public Access Project.

Before his time as AFL-CIO treasurer and secretary, Davenport served in the same commissioner capacity under Democratic governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Earlier in his career, Davenport worked with the International Union of Operating Engineers, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

“I think that appointing an AFL-CIO lobbyist as commissioner of the department is a slap in the face for Virginia business,” said Republican Sen. Richard Black, a staunch supporter of right-to-work laws who has tried to enshrine them into the state’s constitution.

Poll: Comstock leads GOP field … or does she?
A new poll showing Barbara Comstock leading the GOP race to succeed Rep. Frank Wolf has raised more questions than answers. The survey was conducted by The Polling Company Inc./Women Trend, headed by longtime Comstock friend Kellyanne Conway.

The poll of 402 voters in Northern Virginia’s 10th Congressional District gave Comstock a 57 percent favorable rating. That was more than double the next candidate, fellow state Delegate Bob Marshall.

Inexplicably, the survey reported that 40 percent of self-identified “conservatives” did not know Marshall, a veteran lawmaker from Manassas and one of the most outspoken conservatives in the General Assembly. Also undercutting the poll’s credibility: Poll sponsor Citizens United has contributed $10,000 to Comstock’s congressional campaign.

Oystermen face the hook in Virginia county
Less than a month after state lawmakers liberalized agriculture and aquaculture laws, a Virginia county wants to reel in two small oyster fishermen and potentially strip farming rights from thousands of local residents.

York County filed an injunction against Greg Garrett and Anthony Bavuso on Friday in the latest effort to shut down their oyster businesses.

Watchdog.org captures six awards from Virginia Press Association contest
Two reporters from Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau won six awards – including two for first place – in the 2013 News/Editorial and Advertising Contest for the Virginia Press Association on Saturday.

“Our Virginia Bureau does phenomenal work every day,” said Will Swaim, editor of Watchdog.org. “The Virginia Press Association is very prestigious, and it’s encouraging to see our reporters recognized for their efforts.”

Contact Bre Payton at bpayton@watchdog.org or follow her on Twitter @Bre payton.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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