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Decision Virginia Archive 8/08- 7/12

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Obama to speak about first responders in Chesterfield

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One look at the invited guests for this afternoon’s event in Chesterfield and you know what President Barack Obama will be talking about.

In a very small venue, the president is expected to lay out how his American Jobs Act will benefit local police, fire and rescue crews.

The president spoke this morning at a military base in Hampton. He was joined at that event by Governor Bob McDonnell. McDonnell, his wife and President and Mrs. Obama had a private, 10 minute meeting at that event.

Here is the dispatch from that meeting according to the governor’s office:

The Governor and Va First Lady Maureen McDonnell met privately with the President and First Lady Michelle Obama for approx 10 minutes.

It was a friendly visit.

The Governor and Mrs McDonnell welcomed them to Virginia and the Governor thanked the President for making the hiring of veterans a priority. The Governor let the President know that there is much common ground to be had on this important issue and he looks forward to hearing the President’s proposals on the matter. Ensuring that our veterans who have selflessly served our nation can find the good paying jobs they deserve is a top priority of the McDonnell Administration.

The Governor again made the case for federal assistance for Louisa County in the wake of the August earthquake and the two discussed Virginia’s coming appeal of FEMA’s initial rejection of that assistance request.

The Governor also spoke to the President about the strong support in this community and across the Commonwealth for making Fort Monroe a National Park, and his strong personal support of such a designation.

The president is expected here in Chesterfield at around 2:40. We will carry the event in its entirety on NBC12-TV and NBC12.com.

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Big night for Decision Virginia!

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Written by Ryan Nobles

July 29, 2011 at 12:24 am

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Sunshine Week on NBC12

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This week was Sunshine Week across the country, an effort to bring a attention to transparency and openness of government.  We took advantage of the opportunity to introduce you to two of my favorite organizations doing incredible work shining a light on government business.

On Thursday we talked to Megan Rhyne. She is the Executive Director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. They lobby the state legislature to prevent limits on public access to government work. They also help average citizens obtain information by helping them with the FOIA process (Freedom of Information Act)

We talked about all of the good things VACOG is working on during a live interview on NBC12 First at 4:

Then on Friday we welcomed David Poole, the Executive Director of the ever expanding Virginia Public Access Project.  VPAP is an incredible tool to track down everything you could ever want to know about about campaign finance. A resource that is very important in a state like Virginia that has no campaign donation limit.

VPAP recently expanded and is now covering donations to County Supervisors in Henrico and Chesterfield. An incredibly important addition to a group of leaders that don’t often get much attention.

My conversation with David is below:

VPAP is also doing some incredible work tracking the progress of redistricting in the Commonwealth.

Written by Ryan Nobles

March 18, 2011 at 10:09 pm

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Performance Contracting: Should Virginia Do More?

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Note: *This story is a special contribution to Decision Virginia from former NBC12 Anchor/Reporter Andrea McDaniel

How Far are Taxpayers Willing to take the Revolution?   Looking at Alternative Ways of Doing Business
By Andrea McDaniel

Tea partiers, flush with their successful November 2 revolt, are anticipating the fruits of their success expecting to soon see less government and lower taxes. Budget battles though are only just beginning and they can be nasty as witnessed by the current legislative fight and loud protests which started in Wisconsin and are now spreading to other states.

With the still struggling economy, job losses and revenues way down, cutting the size of government and taxes are admittedly daunting challenges. Interest alone on Virginia’s debt has grown 50% in 3 years. Virginia’s $14 billion dollar a year budget was balanced only after lawmakers made $4 billion in painful cuts and more are recommended.

Virginia cities and counties are struggling too. Grayson County residents recently rallied to protest a 44% property tax increase. County officials say they had no choice given their economic realities and state funding cuts.

The Petersburg School System is facing a more than two million dollar budget shortfall for next fiscal year. Last year it was more than 8 million. Petersburg’s Superintendent said teachers can expect no raises for what would be the fourth straight year while none of Petersburg’s seven schools met the state’s 2010 “Adequate Yearly Progress” requirements. Petersburg’s newest school building is 34 years old.

Clearly taxpayers are in no mood to fork over more money and are ready to hold politicians feet to the fire. How do these newly-elected leaders turn campaign slogans into workable solutions?
Governor McDonnell said government can work smarter and cheaper by running the state more like a business and trim state bureaucracy by cutting down the current 24,000 pages of state regulations—ideas that will take years to fully implement.

Another of his campaign proposals that could reap potentially big savings is cutting the state’s power bill. Energy costs are becoming critical as oil prices skyrocket—an 8 percent jump Wednesday alone. Three succeeding governors have issued executive orders that state agencies take measures to reduce their energy bills. All three orders came with no money to pay for the new programs. This is where “performance contracting” could make a big difference. Basically it means that energy service companies, known as ESCO’s, upgrade a public building and taxpayers repay over the life of the contract, usually 15 years, using the energy savings realized from the renovations.

Trane is one of 15 ESCOs certified in Virginia. Local Trane representative Larry Cummings says current technology can save millions of dollars and that savings would allow government buildings to get long overdue energy renovations without hiking taxes or floating bonds.”

The Virginian charged with overseeing the state’s energy performance contracts agrees. “Performance contracting has been a boon to the Commonwealth,” Charlie Barksdale said. It uses existing dollars to upgrade aging, rundown state buildings instead of taking more money from taxpayers, he explained. The money has already been allocated, he said, but right now it is going to utility companies to pay heating bills. The renovations cut down on utility bills and that savings is then used to pay off the renovation loans.

Energy service companies (called ESCO’s) put their profits on the line instead of leaving taxpayers holding the bag. It’s gaining popularity at the state level and is just beginning to catch on locally.

Here’s how it works: agencies invite 4 ESCO’s to do preliminary audits of the agency’s energy use and then submit proposals on how much the agency could save with their recommended renovations.

Each company’s proposal is screened, negotiations are opened with the best two and then a finalist is chosen to provide a more comprehensive “technical audit” which contains hard numbers on how much the renovation will cost and how much energy savings will be realized. “It’s all itemized, Barksdale said. I make sure the technical audit has a fixed price make the contractors pull out even the contingencies (costs which turn out to be less or more than expected) as a line item.”

The technical audit is then used as the basis for requesting a bank loan which comes through an existing line of credit from the state Treasury. The loans are repaid from the money the agency saves on its heating and air conditioning bills and the contractor’s on the hook if the energy savings don’t pan out. The company has to pay the difference between the loan payment and the actual energy savings realized.

If it is such a good deal why hasn’t Governor McDonnell issued an Executive Order requiring state agencies to perform energy audits to get the process rolling as he promised during the campaign?

As Governor, Bob McDonnell will examine state agencies top to bottom and require state agencies to partner with Energy Savings Performance Contracting companies. ~~www.bobmcdonnell.com

Email and voicemail messages to the Governor’s office have so far not been returned.

Why aren’t more state and local buildings using performance contracts? “They are beginning to,” Barksdale said. The state currently has $200 million in performance contracts a jump of $160 million in the last five years, cutting the state’s energy usage by $20 million dollars a year–$20 million that is now going toward upgrading aging state buildings.

There could be more building involved but apparently inertia of long-time state bureaucrats has to be overcome along with state employees’ fear of losing their jobs. Barksdale believes it is a needless fear because state maintenance crews are already too lean and inadequate maintenance results in higher energy costs.

As Trane’s Cummings puts it, “it’s a bit of an education process. The federal government instigated performance contracting and has used it for the last 30 years but it has gained momentum here in the last 5 years or so. Trane has done two large projects (in Virginia).”

The first was a $40-plus million dollar renovation of the Damn Neck Naval Base which won a Presidential award. Geothermal was the best choice for Oceana Naval Base: “To save on energy and maintenance we put the equipment underground to protect it from the elements.” Geothermal uses water and earth to heat and cool the buildings.
Cummings says locally, schools stand to benefit the most. “They usually have about 80% of the buildings in a county, so they have the biggest potential savings,” he says. College dormitories are a good bet for renewable energy: “They use lots of water—there would be a good use of solar power to heat water” and save energy dollars, Cummings adds.
Talk of geothermal and solar begs the question: Is this just a way for ‘progressives’ to push their ‘green’ agenda by using incentives, a type of ‘crony capitalism’ and the savings are not real? The companies get contracts but the taxpayer gets hit paying for someone’s political agenda?

“No,” said Barksdale, “to me it is all about the numbers when assessing whether to use new green energy options like biomass or solar versus conventional heating sources. He said he believes options like biomass are appropriate “only under the right circumstances.”

Barksdale points out another plus for performance contracts is they generate lots of work and that means jobs. “It’s huge,” said Barksdale. The ESCO’s have to bring in crews to do the work, crews who have to stay in hotels, eat in our restaurants, etc.,” a boon to the local economy. You don’t have to go to taxpayers to get extra money for renovations because it is already budgeted—you are just changing who you pay that money to,” Barksdale stressed.

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Written by Ryan Nobles

February 25, 2011 at 7:36 pm

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As the House de-funds Planned Parenthood, Obama defends group

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By: Ryan Nobles – bio | email

Abortion is never an easy issue for any politician and Barack Obama is no exception. While the President has a consistently reliable pro-choice political record, he never wants to spend too much time on the issue. Such was the case when we asked him about the controversial sting, by the conservative group LiveAction on a Richmond clinic.

The President deflected the premise of the question, instead trying to focus on the things he believes most Americans care about (jobs, the economy, etc.) But he wasn’t afraid to defend the work of Planned Parenthood at the same time.

Fast forward to today (Friday). After a lengthy and passionate debate, the Republican led House of Representatives voted to de-fund all of Planned Parenthood’s Title X funding. It is important to note that the Federal Government does not provide taxpayer assistance for abortions of any kind. However, pro-life politicians have often believed abortion providers should not receive taxpayer funding for any other services as well.

Here is my story on the House vote and how it pertains to  President Obama’s position from NBC12:

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – It is a major development in Washington, The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to completely de-fund Planned Parenthood. Momentum in the fight to strip the organization’s funding came after an activist group went into a local clinic and captured allegedly damning video.

Earlier this week NBC12 asked President Barack Obama if the video warranted a review of Planned Parenthood’s funding. Funding which is now in danger.

It started at a clinic in Richmond, and ended on the floor of House. In an unprecedented vote, lawmakers passed a continuing resolution to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

Pro-life politicians have often gone after the abortion provider, while pro-choice politicians like President Obama have rushed to its defense. In our exclusive interview, the President deflected the impact of the video sting.

“I think sometimes these issues get manufactured,” he said “they get a lot of attention in the blogosphere.”

..you can read the full story on NBC12.com

President Obama’s complete statement on Planned Parenthood can be seen below:

Meanwhile, LiveAction president Lila Rose released the following statement in response to what President Obama had to say. You can see that after the jump:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ryan Nobles

February 18, 2011 at 6:59 pm

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Obama says he can work with Cantor

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By: Ryan Nobles – bio | email

President Barack Obama and Eric Cantor need to work together in order to get things done in Washington. Both claim it is something they can and are willing to do.

Here is my report based on my one on one interview with the President on Wednesday:

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – It is not a surprise that a station from Richmond was granted access to the President on Wednesday. He spoke to stations in Milwaukee and Cincinnati as well. All home to the top leadership in the House of Representatives.

By coming doing an interview with NBC12, he was pushing his message on his biggest critics’ turf.

The President of the United States, let us ask him whatever we wanted, but make no mistake, he found a way to get his message across.

“The vast majority of people right now, what they are thinking about right now are jobs and the economy,” said the President.

Read the rest of my report on NBC12.com..

We will have much more on our interview with the President tomorrow on NBC12.

UPDATE: You can watch last night’s report below:

Written by Ryan Nobles

February 17, 2011 at 12:17 am

Follow Decision Virginia on facebook

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By: Ryan Nobles – bio | email

Ok.. I know we are a little late to this party, but I have officially set up a Decision Virginia connection on facebook. For someone who prides himself on his use of social media in reporting, I’ve been resistant to going forward with an actual “fan page”, but a “fan page” is exactly what I have set up.

If you like getting regular updates on Decision Virginia posts, or breaking political news, that might not make it on the blog immediately, please “Like” my new page on Facebook.  facebook.com/RyanNoblesNBC12

It gives me a little more flexibility to do some interesting stuff that we can’t necessarily do on twitter. Like video, polls, a sortable archive of photos, etc. I also realize that there are a lot of people on facebook, who haven’t made the twitter jump yet, and may never will and I’d like to expose them to our reporting here.

So go now.. “like” facebook.com/RyanNoblesNBC12

Even if you aren’t that interested, do it now so it at least looks like a lot of people “like” me.

Thanks in advance, and as always, thanks for reading DV!

Written by Ryan Nobles

February 4, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized