Governor Kaine is drafting his last budget message and readying his final two year proposed budget for public view before Christmas. The incoming McDonnell Administration will have that document to work with for about a month before taking control of the state reins. That isn’t a lot of time, but here are some thoughts.
First, Governor Kaine’s proposal will give McDonnell something to either hide behind or re-craft depending on how aggressive he and his team want to be in their first year. Our state’s one-term limitation on governors almost requires big changes to be part of the first year in office, and McDonnell has that kind of capital given the resounding victory they enjoyed this fall.
Second, the upcoming two-year budget will require substantial reductions in current spending. The easiest action will be to hack away at state government with across-the-board reductions rather than taking a look at core functions of government and eliminating those things that are ‘nice-to-haves’ but not “core functions.” Reducing and eliminating lower priority programs will better protect core services so that, in turn, they can be better operated.
Third, there are a number of experts in Virginia and around the country who have worked at re-tooling state and local governments who could greatly benefit the McDonnell Team. One such expert is Bill Eggers at Deloitte who has written a number of books and articles on bringing government into the 21st century. The Reason Foundation’s Len Gilroy has worked with state governments across the country including California, Florida, Texas, Louisiana and others. There are former Delegates Jack Rust, Alan Louderback and Chris Saxman. Maurice McTieg of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is a walking factory of ideas. Bill Leighty, the former Chief of Staff to Governor Mark Warner and to Tim Kaine for two years, can be a huge benefit to a dedicated effort to reduce government while maintaining core functions. And, of course, the Thomas Jefferson Institute has made a name for itself by proposing creative alternatives to current government programs and policies.
Bob McDonnell has a huge reservoir of good will and scores of experts who will be happy to help out in crafting a trimmed down state government where core functions are the priority.
There are those who call for new taxes rather than reducing government programs or totally eliminating those that government shouldn’t be involved in at all. Reducing government intrusion into our personal and business lives will have a positive impact on economic growth while tax increases will only hinder it.
These state reductions will include cuts to monies that flow back down to counties and cities, requiring local governments and school systems to seek efficiencies and possibly eliminate programs. It’s clear that many local governments grew much too quickly during the housing boom a few years back. They grew the base of government as if the revenue increases would never end. Of course, that was a reckless way to operate and now they must reduce spending and re-evaluate what is important and what is not.
The current recession is not likely to end quickly. A total “remake” of state and local government is required in face of this new reality. Government simply must cut back, evaluate its true core functions and take action to restrict the growth of government in the future.
It is clear from this year’s campaign for governor that Bob McDonnell agrees with this basic philosophy. The stars are aligned for him to take bold actions to redirect government and boost economic recovery. This is a huge and exciting opportunity for Bob McDonnell and the budget team he is gathering around him.