Since publishing its first study in February of 1997, the Thomas Jefferson Institute has become the most influential public policy foundation in Virginia. According to many in our state, this foundation is now the most respected non-partisan voice suggesting creative alternatives to current state and local government programs and policies.
When this foundation first organized, the initial statewide endorsements came from then-Attorney General James Gilmore, then Lt. Governor Don Beyer, United States Senator John Warner and Congressman Tom Davis. Letters from these key Republicans and Democrats helped launch this foundation.
Twice in 1999, Governor Gilmore attended special events to support the work of the Thomas Jefferson Institute – a reception in Richmond and an exclusive dinner in Northern Virginia that Congressman Tom Davis chaired. And in December of 2000, Congressman Davis began hosting the first of three private dinners in support of the work of this foundation.
This Jefferson Institute Review outlines several programs that this foundation has sponsored over the past four years. Five of these projects are discussed in more depth, although all of the projects mentioned illustrate the impact this foundation is having on public policy here in our Commonwealth of Virginia.
Center for the Advancement of Life Sciences at Virginia Tech.
In September of 1998, the Thomas Jefferson Institute published an Economic Development Issue Paper entitled, Plant Biotechnology: A Proposal for Economic Leadership. This Issue Paper was authored by David Sebring, a 30 year veteran of IBM involved in business development, and Dr. Gary Evans, PhD, the Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Institute and one of the world’s top experts for plant biotechnology. Virginia’s Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Barry DuVal sent this issue paper to Virginia Tech for its careful review.
The Vice President of Development at Virginia Tech, now the President of this major university, and the Vice President of Administration invited Michael Thompson, Chairman and President of the Thomas Jefferson Institute, John Alderson, Board member and Co-Chair of the Institute’s Center for Economic Development, and David Sebring, the author from IBM, to the Tech campus to discuss this paper in depth for two days. Meetings with the top research scientists and department chairs on the campus were held. These Tech leaders agreed that there was great potential for Virginia in the concept outlined in this issue paper and that the university should pursue those recommendations.
A series of meetings were held over the following two months and an exciting new program direction was designed for Virginia Tech. It was agreed that this new direction into bioinformatics could position Virginia to take a national and international leadership role in this new industry that marries information technology and biotechnology.The Thomas Jefferson Institute took the lead to schedule key meetings in Richmond with the three key Cabinet Secretaries whose responsibilities touch on this project: Don Upson, Secretary of Technology; Barry DuVal, Secretary of Commerce and Trade; and Wilbert Bryant, Secretary of Education. It also set up a major briefing for Boyd Marcus, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, and several key administration officials in June. In October, there was a full briefing with Governor Gilmore, Cabinet Secretaries and top university officials. The Thomas Jefferson Institute brought to that meeting the new Vice President of IBM in charge of bioinformatics for that major company. He urged the Governor to bring the full support of the state behind this new and extremely important effort.
In December of 1999, Governor Gilmore announced his intention to fund the first two years of a six-year, $100 million program. As part of this state commitment, the Tobacco Commission in April 2000, committed $12 million to fund the first two years of administrative overhead. This funding will generate substantial federal monies and private sector investment in this new Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. This effort enables Virginia to be a major competitor in this new field of bioinformatics that many say will eclipse information technology over the next 20 years. The impact that this project will have on Virginia’s is substantial and it originated with the September 1998, Issue Paper published by the Thomas Jefferson Institute.
Institute Budget Reform Idea Gains Bi-Partisan Support
In December 1997, the Thomas Jefferson Institute published a detailed study on how Virginia’s government could save hundreds of millions of dollars by managing its operations in a more business-like fashion. This study, Downsizing Stale Government: Doing More With Less, received national publicity and its impact continues. An update of this study will be completed early in 2001 – in time for discussion and debate during the campaigns for state office.
Major legislation has been introduced from a concept first brought forward in the Introduction to this Downsizing State Government study. Senator Warren Barry, Chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, immediate past Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and senior member of the Senate Finance Committee has introduced legislation that would limit the increase in General Fund spending year-to-year to the rate of inflation and population growth. The “excess” funds would be placed in a “Virginia Investment Account” and earmarked for use in a limited number of areas: transportation infrastructure, school infrastructure, research and development, paying down the state bonds and emergencies such as a major hurricane or flood. Any monies over 5% of the last budget would be returned to the taxpayers. This idea comes directly from the Foreword of the Downsizing State Government study.
<3^ The Thomas Jefferson Institute has worked closely with Warren Barry, a member of the Board of Directors of the
Thomas Jefferson Institute, on the philosophical underpinnings of this legislation and has helped craft bipartisan support for this budget management idea for our state.This legislation, a direct outcome of work published by the Thomas Jefferson Institute, could have a substantial impact on the future of our state and help bridge the gap between fiscal conservatives (who want to limit the growth of government) and those concerned about the credible infrastructure needs in Virginia.
Education Reform Ideas for Virginia
David Wheat is the Thomas Jefferson Institute’s Public Education Scholar and Director of its Center for Excellence in Education K-12 project. He has written the Institute’s K-12 education studies and issue papers. He took the leadership role in writing the history and government Standards of Learning in Virginia when those nationally recognized standards were developed.David Wheat’s first study (1997), Understanding Virginia Report Card -Why Standardized Test Scores Vary from One Community to Another\ had a large impact throughout the state. Newspapers carried stories showing how local school districts compared, how the study showed strengths and weaknesses in various school systems, and many papers carried editorials supporting the study. Several local School Boards held public hearings to discuss this study and the impact was significant.The second study. Deficient Diplomas: Is It Time for a Graduate
Warranty Program? struck a similar chord. The Washington Post carried a front-page story based on this study. School districts have discussed implementing a graduate warranty program and some have done so following this study.The third major study (2000) was called, ” Value-Added Accountability — A Systems Solution to the School Accreditation Problem.” This controversial study had a substantial impact on the thinking of the current decision-makers in this area of public policy. It focused on the need to carefully evaluate the use of the Standards of Learning (SOLs) in determining how and when local schools maintain their accreditation. These Standards of Accreditation (SOAs) were reviewed and suggestions were made by Wheat on how to protect and defend the SOLs while accreditation of local schools are carefully reviewed. This study had an immediate impact and its conclusions and suggestions continue to reverberate with our public education policy makers. The issue brought forward in this major study will continue to be important as the state strives to protect its Standards of Learning and, at the same time, hold the schools of this state accountable for its academic achievements or lack thereof.
The following two examples illustrate the kind of impact that the Thomas Jefferson Institute’s work in public education is having here in Virginia.First, a Superintendent in a well-known county of Virginia recently wrote that he had read the Institute’s studies and the various issue papers David Wheat has written for this foundation, and he had disagreed with the poor marks those studies gave his school system. However, he had carefully reviewed the situation in his district and our studies and came to the conclusion that David Wheat was correct and this Superintendent had been wrong. He then asked David to visit with him to help him design a program to improve the school system in his county! That effort was done and the Thomas Jefferson Institute helped finance that work by David Wheat.Second, David Wheat’s study on Deficient Diplomas took note of the fact that fully 25% of our high school graduates who attend public colleges and universities in Virginia are required to take remedial math and/or English as freshmen. The study suggested that our high schools “guarantee” a diploma by agreeing to pay for any remedial courses required by graduates from their high schools. Several county school systems have discussed implementing a graduate warranty program and a few have
already done so. Legislation has been introduced to require this guarantee by our state’s high schools. Again, the Jefferson Institute is having a significant impact on our state’s education policy.The Thomas Jefferson Institute has published two major studies focused on higher education in Virginia. These studies, along with two issue papers, have created a great deal of interest in our state and have encouraged the Jefferson Institute to establish a Policy Working Group on Higher Education. This group of key leaders will continue to focus attention on the creative ideas brought forward in the past and planned for in the future by the Jefferson Institute.The first major study on higher education (1998), “Compensation of Campus Faculty — How Virginia Compares Within the Region ”, was controversial and influential within the policy-making establishment in our state. This study showed that when campus salaries of our professors are compared with peers in other states, and when a cost-of-living adjustment isfactored into the analysis, our instructors are, in most cases, paid within the “norm” for higher education.A second major study (2000) was called, “The Virginia Citizenship Initiative – The Road to Deregulation, Real Accountability, and Renewed Citizenship in Virginia’s System of Higher Education. ” This study brought the idea of increased competition and accountability to the discussion of the future of higher education in our state. It is the basis for the continued work of this foundation in this field and it is the study that brought together a
distinguished group of leaders in the Institute’s Policy Working Group on Higher Education. Eric Cohen, the Editor of the distinguished quarterly national publication, The Public Interest, will direct this higher education effort.
Future work by the Thomas Jefferson Institute’s Center for Excellence in Education will continue to offer positive public policy alternatives for our important K-12 education system and our system of higher education.
Virginia Tax Model Created by Thomas Jefferson Institute
The Thomas Jefferson Institute completed work on a unique tax model for Virginia in the fall of 2000. This tax model will allow the Jefferson Institute to professionally analyze and comment on various tax proposals offered by public policy leaders in our state. The Thomas Jefferson Institute selected the highly respected economists at the Beacon Hill Institute in Boston to design this tax model. And the Jefferson Institute then turned to the advice and guidance of several leading economists in Virginia to be certain it would be reliable and effective in the public debate.
This special eight-member Board of Economists was formed to review this model and to make sure it accurately reflects the situation in Virginia so that tax suggestions (increases and decreases) can be professionally analyzed as to the impact on our job base and our state economy. Professional economists will also run this tax model that can analyze the impact of sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes and gas taxes.This tax model will give the Thomas Jefferson Institute a special authoritative position in the upcoming debates on Virginia tax policy. It is the initial model that the Thomas Jefferson Institute will use to develop a detailed spending and tax model for our state that will allow it to analyze the specific impacts of tax and spending on the many individual sectors of our economy.
Sensible Growth Promotes Compatible Policies
An order to bring a responsible voice to the local controversy surrounding economic development in our state, the Thomas Jefferson Institute issued two major publications in 1999.The past Chair of the Fairfax County Park Authority and current member of the Fairfax County Soil and Water Conservation Board, Greg Evans authored the first publication. It was entitled, “Preserving Virginia’s Heritage: Approaches for Protecting Open Space.” This issue paper outlined many alternatives currently available to local officials for maintaining and expanding open space in their communities. The author also suggests various other alternatives that might be considered.
A major study was published called, “Sensible Growth – The Politics and Practicalities of Metropolitan Expansion,” was written by Dr. David Schnare, a twenty plus year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency. This study has had a big impact with legislators, local officials and others.
The author has been asked to speak to several local, state and national meetings to discuss the ideas outlined in this study. And after several legislators requested this foundation to sponsor a morning briefing in Richmond on this topic, it is being organized for early January 2001.
This issue of blending economic development with suburban expansion will continue to be a major focus of the Thomas Jefferson Institute.
Other Projects Offer Reasonable and Creative Alternatives
Tax Reform Agenda for Virginia. This study in 1997 caused a “stir” and was a major catalyst for the tax reform campaign that was launched that year by Governor Jim Gilmore. Lt. Governor John Hager publicly stated that it was this study that convinced him increased taxes were not needed.Innovations in Government Conference. Over 100 local officials and several state legislators attended this conference where the speakers discussed the successes and failures of various local governments in efforts to become more efficient. Representatives of Indianapolis and Charlotte as well as Virginia’s Commonwealth Competition Council discussed how various cities and counties have combined functions, contracted out responsibilities, privatized entire departments, and encouraged workforce efficiencies. The response to this conference was very favorable.Fairfax County Budget, Anal yzed A budget expert reviewed the FY ’98 budget for Fairfax County and found tens of millions of dollars that could be saved through various “better government” and “better management” techniques.Campaign \97 Issue Papers. In this first set of bi-annual campaign issue papers, the Thomas Jefferson Institute
concentrated on topics of public education, the environment and transportation. Several candidates used these issue papers in their campaigns for statewide office and for the House of Delegates. Many credited the facts in these reports with helping them in those races.Downsizing State Government. This study outlined where hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayers money could be saved through better budget management practices by the state government. Many public policy officials carefully reviewed this studyand the Thomas Jefferson Institute has been urged to update this study by several Members of the General Assembly. This update will be completed in early January 2001.Pension Reform in Virginia. This study showed the dramatic impact that would be created in the retirement funds of state government employees if their retirement funds were privatized, giving each of these employees the option of carefully and responsibly investing their retirement funds in stocks and bonds. The recommendations in this study have the support of the Chairman of the Virginia Retirement Fund and several others in leadership positions in state government. Robert Carlson of Fairfax County, the most recent appointee to the
Virginia Retirement Fund, wrote the Introduction. His assistance with this study helped secure this appointment.Off-the-Record_BreakfastBriefings. These special briefings are limited to 20 people in order to have meaningful discussions with the guest speakers who attend this Jefferson Institute private briefing breakfasts. Speakers have included Cabinet Secretaries, Congressmen, the Governor’s personal staff, leaders in the General Assembly, and other key public policy leaders. These breakfasts have been very successful in bringing serious discussions to public policy leaders in Richmond, Northern Virginia and Roanoke.Campaign V9 Issue Papers. The second set of Jefferson Institute biannual campaign issue papers were sent to all candidates running for the State Senate and House of Delegates. This year the impact of these five reports was significant. The paper on protecting open spaces. Preserving Virginia’s
Heritage: Approaches for Protecting Open Space, has become a key support document for the Governor’s and Speaker of the House’s proposal to protect Virginia’s open spaces. And the author of the Issue Paper, Using Technology to Restructure Higher Education, is now serving on the Governor’s Distance Learning Steering Committee. The papers on K-12 and higher education have also had impact on the leaders of our state. The ideas in these Campaign ’99 Issue Papers will have impact for a long time, as was the case when this foundation published its set of Campaign ’97 Issue Papers.Dialogue on Virginia Policy Focuses on Major Issues The Thomas Jefferson Institute has initiated a new publication in 2000 that focuses on major issues facing our state and offers a pro/con debate on that topic. Over 5,000 copies of this publication are sent to business, legislative and media leaders throughout Virginia. The reaction to this publication has been overwhelmingly favorable.