Terry Kilgore and the Tobacco Commission.

Lewis Loflin Confronts the VA Tobacco Commission

From the minutes, Full Tobacco Commission Meeting, Thursday, July 31, 2008 Holiday Inn Bristol, Virginia

MR.HAWKINS: "Is there anyone who would like to make a comment, this is the public comment period, or questions? Please identify yourself. I would ask you to brief, if you would, because we have some planes to catch."

MR. LOFLIN:

My name is Lewis Loflin, and I'm a resident of Bristol, Virginia, and what I do is track what our state government is doing with (our) tax dollars. A number of these projects I have seen (in person), and I also have an extensive amount of paper(work) on the Tobacco Commission. With all due respect, there is still a problem with accountability. I spent Friday at the remote area (medical) in Wise. All (of) this money, $452 million, is mostly going to fund IDAs, and it seems on the outside it's doing nothing but funding government bureaucrats, consultants, contractors.

For the ninth straight year we've set a poverty record. I notice(d) most of the license plates, they are Virginia residents. It's not like two-thirds of them are coming from West Virginia. They are Virginia residents. How many jobs do tobacco farmers have that the Barter Theater created? What do these kinds of projects do for a typical man or woman who lives in this district who needs to earn a decent living? Thank you.



MR.HAWKINS:

I think your comments are well placed, and I certainly understand your concern. We've always had a concern about making sure that what we did was long-term stability in the community, and always pleased to have comments from the public. The monies we're dealing with are really not tax dollars, and they are moneys that tobacco companies are sending to us through the state, so it's not taxable money, as such. That's something we always have to be aware of.

The other part about the Barter Theater, other things may not have a direct impact on jobs, but they bring to an area a certain identity and a certain quality of life that will attract investments in outside communities that may not be there without that type of investment. There are people in large corporations that when they look at a community, they look at quality of life, they look at the aspect of the cultural life of the community, and the Barter Theater is a major attraction for the State of Virginia, and it's done a lot for us.

We tried to raise the standard of living for the entire community and invest as best we can in the future. Most of what we've done, and particularly the scholarships and the many jobs that have been created, there are thousands of jobs that have been created directly from things we've put into play, that change the dynamics of our communities, and hopefully by the next generation we will have a better educated workforce and be able to address the economies this time and this place. Your continued vigilance of looking at us is good, because we try to be as transparent as possible. I look forward to working with you, and if you have any comments, please let me know, and thank you for being here.

MR. LOFLIN: I appreciate it, sir.

Taxpayer subsidies for classy entertainment for rich people must really help create real jobs. Perhaps the patrons could leave an extra 50 cent tip for the waitress working at the Holiday Inn making $2 an hour. But Mr. Hawkins claims are contradicted by their own study. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Jul 20, 2008) to quote,

Yet the state-appointed commission that doles out the money has not adopted methods of measuring its overall return on investment, an outside group that reviewed the spending noted in a recent report that suggests it do so. The tobacco commission may consider what recommendations to adopt at its next meeting, scheduled for July 31 in Bristol...

The review panel suggested eliminating the formula to target more money for regional projects. It also recommended that the commission put more resources into providing access to higher education for residents of rural areas, noting that "increasing the education levels of young people and adults is the only long-term answer that will lead to economic transformation."

The panel also suggested that the commission is too large and its committee structure is unwieldy. It has nine committees, all but one of them led by a member of the General Assembly, which the panel said has possibly encouraged some grant applicants to shop around among committees for funding.

"It's a good report," said chairman Hawkins, adding that he agrees with some of the recommendations...

I was there, nothing has changed. In fairness I don't know what will work in this local culture and national business climate.

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.

More Fiber-Optic from the Tobacco Commission

As current vice chairman of the Virginia Tobacco Commission, Kilgore was pleased with the Commission's decision to award $16.3 million in technology grants to the state of Virginia for the 2009 financial year, $8.4 million of which goes to projects in Southwestern Virginia...Kilgore announced that LENOWISCO, Inc was awarded funding for the Fiber Backbone Last Mile project in the amount of $1.25 million dollars.

This will allow LENOWISCO to construct 13 miles of backbone fiber and install 210 last mile user connections, providing services to the areas of St. Charles and Monarch in Lee County. Scott County Telephone Cooperative was awarded $1.25 million, making it possible for Scott County Co-Op to build additional fiber optic gigabyte ring to serve 930 residents and 70 businesses from East Gate City to Big Moccasin and Rt. 23 to Yuma Road locations, and providing increased redundancy for the two networks. Ref. Times-News January 15, 2009

Mr. Kilgore was a founding member in 1999 and the Commission has awarded 1,049 grants totaling more than $501.9 million across south central and south west Virginia, along with $234 million in payments to tobacco growers and quota holders. (Most of those wealthy and often absentee land owners.) Its mission is the promotion of economic growth and development using proceeds of the national tobacco settlement. It hasn't worked yet as their own internal study shows. Mr. Kilgore (R-1st), of Gate City, represents Scott County, Lee County and parts of Washington and Wise Counties.