Posts by Neal Modi
It’s time for Virginia Beach to get with the Tide. Since the 1970s, the City of Virginia Beach has repeatedly talked about getting a light rail. However, year after year, the City’s residents have said no (most recently in 1999). But, now, given the City’s current transportation infrastructure and our economic climate, is the time for a change. With consistently clogged roads, gas at over $4 a gallon, and a growing population, a light rail that extends beyond Norfolk (the current rail system ends at the western border of Virginia Beach) and into the Beach is both reasonable and economically sound.
It should come as little surprise that the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has rated the Commonwealth of Virginia among the nation’s least-prepared states for water-related climate change threats. After all, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has adamantly denied that climate change is seriously affecting our state’s environment. In their report entitled “Ready or Not”, the NRDC evaluated whether states were prepared for and cognizant of climate change based on a combination of state action and actual state climate conditions. The report focused specifically on water supply levels, precipitation levels, sea level concerns, saltwater intrusion, species impact, and erosion. In their analysis, the study divided states into four categories. Sadly, Virginia, along with 17 other states, was graded into category three. And it appears little will change until the current state government considers the environment a substantive issue.
In an era where collective student debt in the United States exceeds $1 trillion, why could I not donate my $20.12 to a student fund dedicated to paying for current or future students’ tuition and college-related expenses? While I am not the first to think of the idea, the uniqueness and value of such a concept could certainly reform the escalating student debt students’ today face.
On paper, P3s are a win-win solution. They relieve a burden from state and local governments, curtail imposing higher taxes, promote commerce, and strengthen core infrastructure networks. And fortunately, Virginia, in many ways, is the P3 leader nationwide.... Yet while P3s can be adopted to most projects, from its most common utilization – transportation – to less common, such as water maintenance, Virginia should be vigilant to ensure to avoid letting P3s become an ideology -- in other words, we need to know exactly how they operate and whether they're serving the public good, rather than preconceived and inflexible notions.
Governor Bob McDonnell is on the record as saying that “Virginia has long been a state marked by honest, transparent and ethical governing by both parties.” To an extent, he may be right. With the exception of a few ethical scandals over the past decade, Virginia has maintained a habit of clean, open politics.However, in a new report from the Center for Public Integrity, Virginia received a failing grade (an F!) on standards of transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption measures in place across the state.
The German government subsidizes jobs for its youth. In the Rhineland, the government takes students out of the university route at age 16 and trains them in industrial skills, akin to an apprenticeship. At the same time, these students study for a technical degree in their future field of expertise and are paid a subsidized salary while doing so (ostensibly to incentivize retention). Most of all, “labor experts single out [this] German apprenticeship system as a major competitive advantage,” and a large reason for Germany’s economic stability. This German system may be a wise alternative in the United States because youth unemployment, even among those who have graduated from college, is (becoming) a significant issue. As mentioned above, the youth unemployment rate in the U.S. is 23%. Further, in the U.S., the unemployment rate of black youths is more than 33%. Meanwhile, our most in-demand careers are technical jobs. However, these jobs go unmet because a lack of labor supply. Our country needs machinists, craftsmen, and technicians and it appears adopting the German system can both meet this need as well as relieve unemployment nationwide.
Our current discourse on higher education focuses almost exclusively on access and affordability. How can we ensure that more students enter tertiary education and how can we guarantee students choose majors that can make our state and nation competitive are both questions that presently dominate higher education roundtables. Indeed, Governor McDonnell’s Commission on Higher Education Reform focused specifically on the question of access.
Across the nation, over 30 states have privatized their formerly state-owned, state-run prisons. Some research shows that private prisons themselves save money in comparison to their state-run counterparts, but they also put pressure on the public prison system in such a way that they thwart the escalation of costs. This would seem to be a win-win for legislators in Richmond, especially when state taxpayers pay $29,000 per year, per inmate. But, wait! Not so fast! Every policy deserves due diligence. The privatization of prisons, while on the surface appears to be an attractive, affordable, and cost-saving proposition, on closer looks becomes far more problematic.
There is more than one reason to invest in public higher education. Public higher education is, as the name suggests, a public good. It should receive appropriate, if not full, public funding. But there's a new, equally important reason why our public schools need to be funded. In a new study out of the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, John Aubrey Douglass has found a compelling, unique reason why public education requires a renewed focus: the rise of and state support of for-profit higher education institutions. (See NDPPAC's recent Strategy Paper, "The Engine of the Future," which laid out as a fundamental principle the need to strength public education and reinforce government as "the essential player in higher education.")
Governor McDonnell’s education plan is already making waves around Virginia--specifically, in Virginia Beach. This past January, Gov. McDonnell released his K-12 education plan calling for an increase in funding of $438 million for K-12 schools throughout the Commonwealth. (Read my first post about it here.) Nevertheless, while on the surface the plan is laudable, only 22% of the proposed $438 million will go to the classroom while the remaining will head to the teacher pension system and other non-classroom needs. Furthermore, McDonnell's refusal to peg education costs to inflation means less and less money for school districts and even worse, the Governor's proposal to increase the percentage of the sales tax going towards transportation translates to a concomitant decrease in education funding.