Reform and the Tobacco Commission
For decades, the tobacco industry fueled the economy in Southside Virginia. In recent years, this has changed, as a result of increased regulation and ill health effects, and reduced consumer demand. The Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission was created through a settlement with the tobacco industry, with the goal of spending these funds to rebuild the Southside economy.
However, a recent legislative audit of this commission has been determined that the pains taken to replace lost jobs have been largely unsuccessful, despite the grand amount of money put towards the endeavor. Released on Monday, the audit by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission stated that, in spite of more than adequate funding, the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission could not successfully produce more jobs or increase workers’ salaries. Furthermore, in its evaluation of the tobacco commission, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission criticized the massive size of the tobacco commission, the infrequency of regular meetings, and the commission’s inability to regulate projects funded from a $1 billion legal settlement.
While some see the audit as harsh, Walt Smiley, the head of the study, had a few positive words to say about the tobacco commission’s actions. In its 12 years, the commission has made some great improvements. Bouncing back from an embezzlement scandal in 2001, the commission now effectively regulates where its funds are going. The tobacco commission is also largely responsible for funding a project which installed broadband Internet throughout numerous rural Southern Virginian towns.
The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission recommends that the tobacco commission get back to basics, focusing on economic development in Southside Virginia. The Review Commission suggests that the tobacco commission have a lengthier process in determining which local and regional projects to fund. As mentioned, the Review Commission also believes that it is necessary to downsize the 31-person board of the tobacco commission. With more than a billion dollars in funding in the past decade, the Review Commission believes that there is still a chance for a bright future for the tobacco commission and that there remains a real chance for the commission to revitalize the Southern Virginia economy.
As mentioned in previous New Dominion Project posts (including here and here), there is a great need to stimulate the economy in Southside Virginia. Hopefully, the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission will take these recommendations to heart and successfully boost the economy in rural Virginia.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of members of the NDP Steering Committee.