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Virginia Tobacco Commission Pork Update for 2009-14

by Lewis Loflin

Update: Legislative audit is critical of Virginia's tobacco commission

By Anita Kumar, June 13, 2011 Washington Post

RICHMOND - A tobacco commission created to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars in Virginia's most economically depressed areas spent too much money on projects that did not generate jobs or boost salaries, according to a critical legislative audit released Monday.

The long-awaited study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission said the tobacco commission is too large, does not meet frequently enough and fails to scrutinize projects paid for with $1 billion from a legal settlement with the nation's largest tobacco companies.

The Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission needs to do a better job documenting the performance of its grants in Southside and Southwest Virginia, the audit concluded. Only 11 percent of its projects can even be measured for results....

Read the full story...

What they failed to note was their poor to non-existent record keeping, to much secrecy, informal and unprofessional conduct.

In 2014 the TIC has been rocked by scandal yet there's no hint of reform.

The Virginia Tobacco Commission that awarded $32 million in "energy research" grants designed to tap into the billions being spent on the global warming hysteria. In fact it was a high-priced jobs program for their fellow white-collar parasites feeding on the public teat.

They have spent over $750 million and have nothing to show for it. They funded worthy projects such as $300,000 to make 50 webpages. They just awarded (in 2008) $32 million for worthless pork-barrel energy research.

Tobacco commission porked-out $14 million for regional economic development

The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission approved more than $14 million in pork-barrel waste under the guise of "economic development" according to state Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol. The commission met at Mountain Empire Community College, which like community colleges across the region, suffered a 5% budget cut because of shortfalls in Richmond. Among the idiotic projects they approved:

Another $6.1 million of a total $17 million to develop the so-called Southwest Virginia Artisan Center in Abingdon to be housed at Virginia Highlands Community College, whose academic programs also suffered budget cuts in 2007. Abingdon, about 14 miles from Bristol, is the wealthiest community in Southwest Virginia.

Some studies they won't produce claim the 29,000-square-foot center "could attract" tourists. "It will house gallery space, retail areas and offices for The Crooked "Money" Road and the Round the Mountain artist organization." These organizations have so far produced nothing. In other words it's an expensive taxpayer funded crafts shop that has nothing to do with tobacco farmers getting new jobs.

My favorite part is, "create 202 jobs during the construction phase." But how about after the construction phase? The Scott County Economic Development Authority garnered $4.3 million to build the $7.2 Duffield Regional Technology Center that "has the potential to create 125 to 150 jobs."

Update January 2015: the Scott County project sits idle and empty while the Artisan center has produced no measurable benefit to the general public. Washington County BOS plans to tax and spend another $60,000 in the hopes of boosting tourism.

After years of these promises it's about time they deliver. Again it's more research into using coal for energy uses, which it already does. Duh. The Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center got $400,000 to develop an energy research and development program - in 2015 still nothing. Ref. BHC Oct 26, 2007

Here is a sample of just what the Virginia Tobacco Commission alone gave away in August 2008:

Heartwood Artisan Center, Abingdon, $4 million. This $17 million arts/crafts center is in the wealthiest community in the region. This is related to the Virginia Highlands Festival whose attendance has been down for three years as of 2009.

Birthplace of Country Music Alliance, Bristol, $297,400. This is an $11 million country music museum. Presently in a space in the Bristol Mall, their employees claim they don't sell enough junk to even pay the rent. So who will pay the upkeep of converting an abandoned garage to store their country music junk?


Bluestone Business Park, Tazewell, $250,000. (corporate welfare)
Lee Theater renovation, Pennington Gap, $220,000. (A theater?)
Stone Mill Business Park, Abingdon, $200,000. (free office space for non-profits getting government grants.)
Dickenson Center for Education, Clintwood, $200,000. (Their public schools are being starved for funding.)
Mountain Empire Community College, Big Stone Gap, $187,892. (Produce some play centered on country music.)
Wise water system upgrade, $136,000. (corporate welfare)
Southwest Virginia trail feasibility study, $70,000. (pork)
Daniel Boone Center exhibits, Scott County, $70,000. (tourism pork to get other government grants,)
LENOWISCO site study, Duffield, $50,000. (pork)
Song of the Mountains, Marion, $49,000. (the name says it all or perhaps Pork of the Mountains?)

Plus an additional $36.5 million for energy research in both Wise and Abingdon. RAM again served almost 6000 residents in three days. Another new record I've been told. As for medical services? They did request some of some of the millions, here is what is in the public record:

Town of Pennington Gap Lee Theater - Learning Center Renovation (#1607) $974,216 requested The Town seeks to continue its renovation of the Lee Theater building. The Lee Theater/ Learning Center will provide a venue for live musical and theatrical performances while also providing space for distance learning activities.

Funds are also requested to continue the renovation to make the building's flooring structurally sound and to improve the interior of the auditorium for performances and start-up of the learning center. Total project cost is $3,479,518. Other funds include: TICR FY03-06 grants totaling $230,000 (largely completed and expended for acquisition, planning and sitework); Town $8,250 (completed); ARC $109,581 (approved); USDA-RD $25,000 (pending); VCEDA $112,240 (to be requested); foundation $204,107 (pending); private fundraising $25,000 ($20,000 collected). Staff comments and recommendation: Outcomes are primarily a mix of educational and tourism-derived. The historic downtown theater will be an affiliated venue for Crooked Road performances.

Virginia Tobacco Commission - FY09 Southwest Economic Development Staff Recommendations - July 2008 11 a location for MECC classes and a site for VECTEC e-commerce training, among many other uses. However, the building can not be occupied until the flooring support is increased to meet building codes. Staff recommends an award of $220,000 for structural repairs contingent upon a dollar for dollar match secured by the grantee.

VECTEC is a load of nonsense where the state felt small business owners couldn't afford to spend $200 at a community college to learn to do a website so they will do one for you costing thousands of dollars each. One business was selling little metal cars from a post office box. Their website is at http://www.vectec.org/. Among some of the their wonderful training already available at any community college is "Basics of E-Mail." They operate out of Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.

They approved $169,000 to Virginia Intermont College in Bristol to quote, "The money will support the college's unique tourism curriculum initiative, which is designed to assist the economic development needs of the region and state by training leaders in the tourism field."

The following was turned down in July 2008 because officials said they will not fund anything to help citizens directly, just "economic development" as they define it. To quote them, "support to expand healthcare services to schools and churches along with employers is a low priority for TICRC funding."

Mount Rogers Health District Mount Rogers Health Works (#1647) $206,386 requested Funds are requested to expand the services of a mobile medical unit throughout the Mount Rogers Health District. This mobile unit provides testing/screening and educational opportunities on-site at industrial facilities, allowing the workers greater access to these services.

Currently these services have been provided to industries in Bland and Wythe Counties with funding obtained from the Wythe-Bland Community Foundation. However there is not funding available to expand coverage into Washington, Smyth, Carroll, Grayson Counties or the Cities of Bristol and Galax. The mobile services would also provide clinical experience for students nurses.

Total project cost is $351,720. Other funds include: VDH/Mount Rogers $84,843 (awarded); Bland, Bristol, Carroll, Galax, Grayson, Smyth, Washington and Wythe Counties (funds included in local funding for health departments) $46,191 (awarded); Wythe-Bland Community Foundation $14,300 (awarded) Staff comments and recommendation: Although the project illustrates a positive partnership between the Health District and local industries to improve the health of 2,500 - 3,000 employees, a request for operational support to expand healthcare services to schools and churches along with employers is a low priority for TICRC funding. Staff recommends no award.

But that doesn't stop VCEDA from spending $2 million for a Wal-Mart parking lot in Grundy, Virginia. The fact is Obama Care will no more serve those of our region than most of this pork. It doesn't cover eye classes or dental work.

To quote an internal audit of the Virginia Tobacco Commission in 2008:

Given the existing state of the Southside and Southwest economies, it is fair to ask whether the expenditure of over $400 million by the TICR since the year 2000 on "regional transformation" projects has had the desired transformative effect on the regions...Despite this spending, population in the region continues to decline, wage rates still lag behind the rest of the state, there is persistent high unemployment and poor educational attainment is still endemic.