These ideas take on added significance with a new Governor, the deepest financial recession in 30 years; the need to reform our state’s spending habits and design a system that makes future budgeting a bit easier. The General Assembly looks as if it will approve outside audits of all major agencies of state government. Hopefully these audits will inform agencies on how their programs may be outsourced to the private sector and provide examples of how similar efforts worked in other states and major cities. Such a report would be a huge asset to any long-term government reform effort.
Over the years I have worked with Alan Louderback, both when he served in the General Assembly and afterwards. He is a known budget hawk, a mindset very much needed right now. These ideas come from him and are in no particular order, but they do make good sense.
Create the position of Auditor General with the authority to review programs, their effectiveness and offer recommendations on how to improve the efficiency of these programs including mergers or sending them to the private sector. Agencies and departments that are performing functions which are not a core responsibility of government should be eliminated. No government operation should compete with private business.
Our new administration needs to establish measures of success in health and welfare areas to determine how many recipients are being successfully helped and at what cost. The same needs to be done with the twenty-some job training programs scattered over several agencies.
Pay the Commissioners of Revenue and Treasurers a commission to collect and forward sales tax; pursue delinquent taxes and accounts receivables. The Tax Department can be downsized as a result.
Move the Office of Substance Abuse to the Department of Health. Eliminate the Virginia Agriculture Research Council function — research can and will be done by state universities and the private sector. Sell the government warehouse operation and building that will likely net $32 million. Merge Military Affairs and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Eliminate all government service jobs which can be performed by the private sector: plumbers, electricians, landscaping, printing, etc. should be provided by the private sector. This will begin to reduce long term retirement liability, personnel and human resource responsibilities as well as reducing staffing levels.
Rail, public transit and road funds should be merged together so our state government is forced to prioritize transportation projects and use these funds more economically.
All government fees should cover the cost of that particular service provided by the government and no more. For instance, state parks should operate on entrance fees that cover the cost to run each park or the operation of these parks should be contracted out under a careful lease arrangement so that the taxpayer’s interests are maintained. Park entrance fees should not pay for costs not associated with our state parks.
Surplus assets should be identified and sold. The state should sell all government buildings except those in Capitol Square and rent office space from the private sector which will add to the tax base of localities. Rental office space needs to be reviewed and renegotiated by bringing all state agency offices in a particular area together into one location. It makes no sense to have state agencies spread all over a city or town. This also applies to vacant land and other assets.
Analysis is needed of private pay versus public pay by locality. Two major studies published in USA TODAY in the past eighteen months have shown that nationally, public employees are paid more than the private sector and their tax paid benefits are far better as well. A careful analysis of Virginia public employees and their private sector counterparts is needed in order to properly analyze state government employees.
The state should change its mileage reimbursement calculations to react more quickly to gas price changes and not rely on federal standards that currently results in overpayment of expenses. The length of time that state vehicle are kept before replacing them should be extended. The state should require carpooling to work sites instead of state workers driving individually in state owned vehicles.
Museums should not close on holidays and Sundays when families and tourists are most likely to visit. Days closed should be during the week. Revenue will increase with more convenient hours.
Finally, future budgets should incorporate prior year actual budgets in order to compare outlays with proposed spending. This would allow a move toward zero based budgeting.
There are a lot of other ideas for reforming state government but these will give the readers a taste for what can and ought to be done as a beginning effort to rein in government spending for the long run.