Government seems to plod along in the same basic rut year in and year out. Taxes are collected and the same old programs are funded without much thought as to why, what the original purpose was, how effective it is, or if there is a better use of these funds in today’s world. There is no priority listing of state government programs so the least important can be cut out in tough economic times.
Bob McDonnell will enter his first year as Governor in a strong position to take creative, out-of-the-box actions that will have the support of the voters who swept him into office on November 3rd. He can change the way state government functions.
How exciting would it be if the new Governor decided to dramatically change the budget that outgoing Governor Tim Kaine presents in mid-December. The financial crisis faced by our state government opens up a true opportunity to rearrange the chess board. Priorities of public safety, education, the social safety net and transportation need to be analyzed and determined if the current dollars spent are being maximized or if better methods can be implemented to reach our goals.
Because of federal government programs that seem to be curtailing a strong private sector rebound, our state government can’t bet on a robust recovery anytime soon. Indeed, we had best re-evaluate our priorities and our spending if we hope to keep Virginia’s economy as strong as possible.
Programs will need to be critically evaluated and reduced or eliminated wherever possible. It’s been ten years since the state’s own agencies identified more than 37,000 state jobs that could be evaluated and potentially turned-over to the private sector. Assuming an average of $68,000 per job including benefits, if only half of these jobs could be sent to the private sector, and if the federal government’s savings of 30 percent for outsourcing jobs could be found here in Virginia, we could realize a savings of $377 million a year or almost $755 million over the two year budget cycle. This transfer of state jobs to the private sector should begin immediately.
And the possibilities for public private partnerships abound. There are private companies anxious to bring their resources to help Virginia reach its goals. One company alone has $2 billion, and maybe as much as $5 billion, to help with our roads and our public education buildings. Another has talked about taking over the management of our state lottery (federal law may need to be changed but that should be easy in today’s economy) and offering somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion and maybe more for this opportunity. Yet another company has an interest in taking over the management of the college investment fund and may pay as much as $8 billion for that management asset. All of these investments would be time-limited so at the end of the time-period the state would regain control of the programs or assets.
And of course the state does not need to be in the liquor business and can rid itself of the ABC stores while not losing the $130 million or so a year it collects in taxes and fees. Creative minds are already working on this and the possibilities are exciting to say the least.
Why doesn’t Virginia contract out the maintenance of its primary and secondary roads to the private sector in a public bidding process that would require quality work in a timely manner? We should do this on a test basis immediately and be prepared to expand the program if the test is successful. Other states have found this idea to be successful. It is time for Virginia to move in this direction.
Our education system needs to look at what is best for the students and not what continues yesterday’s way of doing things just because that is what we have done and the school bureaucracies don’t like change. This includes charter schools, tuition tax credits for students in at–risk neighborhoods for scholarships to get into better schools, reading programs that work, public private partnerships for rebuilding our aging school buildings, distance learning where practical, and open enrollment for students to attend any school in their county or city that has room for them Newsweek magazine’s cover story a couple of weeks ago said that the average four year degree now takes six years and seven months. So giving our student five years of tax subsidized college credits to gain a four year degree is something that should be seriously considered. We could move more Virginia students through our higher education system, get our young people into our economy and paying taxes more quickly, and accomplish this without the need to hire additional professors and build more classrooms. More than six and half years to gain a four year degree should no longer be acceptable.
Jobs are the key to our future. We must recruit businesses to Virginia. We must offer incentives for business in Virginia today to expand. We need to make sure that what we are teaching our kids are the tools needed in today’s and tomorrow’s economy. And we need to build a modern inter-connected transportation system that focuses on congestion relief and not political pork. Congestion is a job killer and we must focus on relief of this nightmare in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
Our new Governor has only four years to make his mark and move on. This isn’t much time and he needs to take his electoral mandate and move government away from the past and into the future. These are potentially exciting times for Bob McDonnell. He can truly change the status quo.