News Briefs

News Briefs

Local and VCU

Va. is 3rd in Advanced Placement test rankings

Virginia ranked third nationwide in the percentage of public school students earning a score of 3 or higher on the Advanced Placement examinations.

The College Board said today that 22.9 percent of 2009 graduates earned a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam. That’s compared to 21.3 percent of 2008 graduates. Maryland ranked first and New York was second.

Nationally, 15.9 percent of 2009 seniors scored at least 3 on their AP tests, which give students the opportunity to earn college credit.

Virginia led the nation with the largest five-year gain in percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher, up 5.8 percentage points from 2004. Maryland, Georgia and Maine followed, each with an increase of 5.4 percentage points.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Va. legislators accepted more than $250,000 in gifts in 2009

Members of the 2010 state legislature took in more than $250,000 in gifts last year — a 24 percent decline from the previous year.

The Virginia Public Safety Alliance was the largest gifter in this year’s reports, shelling out $11,882, according to a report released today by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan watchdog of money in politics.

VPSA was followed by Dominion with $11,735 and the China-US Exchange Foundation, with $11,496. That money paid for a trip to China for Sen. Chuck Colgan and his spouse.

These gifts are included in the annual Statement of Economic Interest disclosures, which legislators are required to file by Jan. 8 each year.

The reports filed this year cover gifts that exceed $50 in value and trips that exceed $200 in value.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Committee backs bill that would require Internet retailers to collect Va. sales tax

Legislation forcing Internet retailers to collect Virginia sales taxes is headed to the state Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee this morning approved the measure, by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, 10-1.

Opposed by Amazon, the bill would require online stores to impose the 4.5 percent sales tax on all purchases in Virginia.

The bricks-and-mortar stores say it’s only fair that their Internet competition collect the tax, a portion of which is kept by retailers as a commission. But because the on-line businesses can sell products tax-free, they have a leg up on traditional retailers.

The Virginia Retail Federation, which is pushing the measure, says the bill could generate $17 million a year. Such cash could help balance the recession-wracked budget, which has a hole of $4.2 billion.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch

National and International

Round 2: Snow slams Mid-Atlantic, makes way to Pa., NY, after killing 3 in Michigan

Plows that have been rolling around the clock for days in the nation’s capital, Philadelphia and Baltimore won’t be heading for the garage any time soon as a second major storm in a week moved into the snowbound region Wednesday.

Snow was falling from northern Virginia to Connecticut by early Wednesday. The storm started in the Midwest, where it was blamed for three traffic accident deaths in Michigan on Tuesday.

Along the East coast, thousands of workers were scrambling to plow and salt roads. Maryland officials said salt supplies used by road crews were dwindling in some parts of the state. A spokesman for Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation said drivers’ shifts were running as long as 16 hours.

“It can be exhausting, mentally and physically,” said Jerry Graham, a state plow truck driver in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh County.

Areas that dodged last week’s storm, which buried some areas in nearly 3 feet of snow, won’t be as lucky this time around. Airports in the New York City area joined their counterparts farther south in canceling many flights, while the city’s 1.1 million school children had a rare snow day Wednesday, only the third in six years. As much as a foot was expected there.

Brief by The Associated Press

Trade deficit jumps sharply in December

The U.S. trade deficit surged to a larger-than-expected $40.18 billion in December, the biggest imbalance in 12 months. The wider deficit reflected a rebounding economy that is pushing up demand for oil and other imports.

The Commerce Department said the December deficit was 10.4 percent higher than the November imbalance. It was much larger than the $36 billion deficit that economists had expected with much of the increase coming from a big jump in oil imports.

For December, exports of goods and services rose for an eighth consecutive month, climbing 3.3 percent to $142.70 billion. The increase was led by strong gains in sales of commercial aircraft, industrial machinery and U.S.-made autos and auto parts.

Imports were up 4.8 percent in December to $182.88 billion, led by a 14.8 percent surge in oil imports which rose to the highest level since October 2008.

For all of 2009, the deficit totaled $380.66 billion, the smallest imbalance in eight years, as a deep recession cut into imports. However, economists believe the deficit will rise in 2010 as U.S. demand for imports outpaces U.S. export sales.

Brief by The Associated Press

US slaps new sanctions on Iran Revolutionary Guard

The Obama administration on Wednesday slapped new sanctions on several affiliates of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, targeting one person and four companies for penalties over their alleged involvement in producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction.

The Treasury Department said it is freezing the assets in U.S. jurisdictions of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Rostam Qasemi and four subsidiaries of a previously penalized construction firm that he runs. The sanctions expand existing U.S. unilateral penalties against elements of the Guard Corps, or IRGC, which Western intelligence officials believe is spearheading Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

The announcement came as the administration is pressing to impose fresh international sanctions on Iran over its failure to prove its nuclear program is peaceful. U.S. officials are lobbying for action at the U.N. Security Council, which has already hit Iran with three sets of sanctions.

Brief by The Associated Press

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