Category Archives: Government workers and pensions

Rethinking Online Classes at U.Va.

President Sullivan

President Sullivan

By Peter Galuszka

Just two years after the University of Virginia weathered a crisis and the short-lived resignation of its president for supposedly not embracing online education fast enough, Mr. Jefferson’s school is taking a cautious approach about Web-based courses.

This is a good thing, despite the excitement over having thousands of distant students sign up for MOOCs, or large scale college online courses, and expect to instantly log on to all the good things universities offer with supposedly few of the negatives.

Although U.Va. does participate in offering online courses through Coursera, they are not for college credit and Virginia is not following the example of Georgia Tech which is offering an entire degree program via the net.

The Daily Progress reports that U.Va. administrators and professors are worried that it is too easy for unseen students to cheat on the courses – an important consideration due to U.Va.’s strict honor code. Other problems are the high dropout rate of MOOCs and the fact that they may be best suited for introductory courses because professorial classroom involvement is important for more advanced ones.

These views raise questions after all the hype about MOOCs, including many posts on the blog. A special irony is that just two year’s ago, U.Va.’s highly capable and popular President Theresa Sullivan was forced to resign in Board of Visitors putsch led by chairman Helen Dragas supposedly because of her lack of enthusiasm in embracing new technologies.

One well-known blogger wrote a gushy lead paragraph on a posting stating that “Helen Drags gets it.” Err, maybe not, because Sullivan was reinstated after a huge outcry within the U.Va. community and after major, negative world media coverage.

Elsewhere, MOOCs do seem to be gaining some traction. One at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill noted that a Tar Heel course got 30,000 sign ups on-line.

But a University of Pennsylvania study showed that of 16 open online courses the school offered, fewer than half of all registrants even watched the first lecture.

So, it seems that MOOCs are going through a period of adjustment. And, they are politically charged since many conservatives, still angry over social changes in the 1960s and 1970s, see MOOCs as a way to overcome what they view as the overweening political bias of cossetted universities.

As the Daily Tarheel at UNC reports: “Rob Schofield,, director of research and policy development for the left-leaning think tank N.C. Policy Watch, said though MOOCs have many positive aspects, there are drawbacks.

“This problem is especially worrisome in the current political environment in which far-right politicians are doing everything they can to de-fund public schools and universities and turn them into on-the-cheap education factories,” he said.

Luckily for the Old Dominion, the University of Virginia is evaluating MOOCs with its eyes open.

The Richmond Elite’s Bizarre Self Image

richmond-times-dispatchBy Peter Galuszka

If one wants to know one source of Richmond’s malaise, she or he need look no further than the pages of the Richmond Times Dispatch, the mouthpiece of the city’s elite. This is especially true when one reads this morning’s edition. The inadvertent revelations about the city and what is wrong with its leadership are stunning.

Some background. Last week, Style Weekly, an alternative newspaper in the city, published a hard-hitting cover story taking a ground-up view of just how awful and neglected the city’s school buildings and system are. The coverage is very much contrary to the image Richmond’s “leadership” wants to sell about the city.

As the schools are mismanaged and families are abused, the Richmond elite, and the RTD’s editors are pushing other pet projects such as building a new baseball stadium in historic Shockoe Bottom to replace a crumbling one elsewhere and a chamber of commerce trip to Tampa by 159 “leaders” to learn how another city works.

Full disclosure: I am a contributing editor at Style but had no input to the school story. I did file two blog postings about the schools story and received a number of highly insightful comments by readers. The basic problem, as several put it, is that  the schools are a mess is that the middle class has moved to the suburbs, the upper class sends its children to private schools and many of those left aren’t in a position to join the debate are have much influence. One out of every four people living in the city is poor.

The TD’s coverage today is a wonderful blueprint about exactly what is wrong with the elite’s thinking. Examples:

  • The front page features a catch-up story featuring short 125 word essays written by seven city council members and nine school board members. Three council members, Reva Trammell, Michelle R. Mosby and Cynthia Newbill – didn’t respond, perhaps wisely. The story states that judging from the responses, “momentum is building” for “substantive change.” The council, the school board and the mayor are working together. Mind you, this is not based on any real reporting—such as shoe leather in the school halls. Instead, one gets to read what the leadership responsible for the horrific problems thinks about them – sort of like interviewing the foxes after they raid the chicken coop. An added extra: the RTD claims it sent out its questionnaires before Style published its story, sort of like backdating stock options.
  • Flip to the “Commentary” section and a piece by John W. Martin, CEO and president of the “Southeastern Institute of Research in Richmond and frequent opinions contributor to the TD. His piece is basically an extended apology for proposing a new stadium in the middle of the blooded ground of the country’s second-largest slave market – standard stuff. Especially bizarre is the art. It is a cartoon drawing of what appears to be an interracial couple happily walking near what could be a combined slave memorial ballpark. The man is white, blond, wears a Richmond polo shirt and is flipping a baseball. His arm is around an African-American woman in sports togs and carrying designer shopping bags. In front is an apparently mixed-race child in a Flying Squirrels baseball cap happily holding out his glove to catch the ball from dad. The effect is downright creepy. It insults the intelligence of the readers and hits a very sensitive raw nerve, given Richmond’s sad history of race relations and the TD’s historic support of segregation five decades ago when it really mattered.
  • Let’s move to the Op-ed page where there is piece by Nancy Bagranoff, dean of the University of Richmond business school and upcoming chair of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. She was part of the chamber’s trip to Tampa to “learn” how they do it (while Richmond’s school buildings crumble). Her important takeaways seem to be that Tampa puts lights on its bridges, that it is a big port city, the region has distinctive personalities and that there are some universities there. Her conclusion: “I fell love with Tampa during out visit, but “I’m still married to Richmond.” Now that is extremely helpful.
  • Lastly, there is an impenetrable story by TD publisher Thomas A. Silvestri about several fictitious people discussing Tampa. Unsure of the point, I read the endline bio of Silvestri. It says he used to head the chamber and did not go on the Tampa trip because he’s been there before.

So, there you have it folks. Instead of real reporting, you have Richmond’s elite, some of whom are responsible for the problems, interviewing themselves. And that is a big reason why the city is in such a huge mess.

McAuliffe Peruses Tobacco Commission

tobacco leafBy Peter Galuszka

What’s going on with the Tobacco Commission? Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants to know and is asking for a detailed accounting of its finances over the past five years.

The Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission, created in 1999 with a $1 billion endowment from lawsuit settlements with four major tobacco companies, has been under the gun for years.

The idea was that Virginia would take its settlement from a $206 billion nest egg 46 states won from Big Tobacco and put it to good use. Some states allocated their share solely for health concerns and to convince people, especially children, not to start smoking.

Virginia used part of its funds for this, but also created a slush fund supposedly for economic development in counties affected by changes in the tobacco economy from Southside to Southwest Virginia that grew bright leaf and burley tobacco.

The commission has always operated in a kind of “Andy of Mayberry” fashion without much oversight and that has caused some big problems. The worst was in 2010 when former state Finance Secretary John W. Forbes and later commission head was convicted of using $4 million in tobacco money for personal purposes, like fixing his house.

A 2011 report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission gave the commission mixed reviews, noting that some projects it funded made sense but others did not.

JLARC praised the commission for its worker training programs and helping expand high speed broadband to rural areas. But it said that the commission needed a better and more sophisticated way of tracking the impacts of projects it funded. Two years earlier, a commission headed by former Gov. Gerald E. Baliles had come up with some similar findings but the commission adopted only eight of 22 of them. One of the Baliles’ recommendations was to have a JLARC study made of the commission but it was not pursed at the time.

One area of concern for the McAuliffe administration is the $20 million in grants provided to Liberty University’s Center for Medical and Health Services spent over the past two years when the commission was making less than $60 million on interest payments.

One could argue that having a medical center in Lynchburg would help residents in Southside but another issue is that Liberty, founded by fundamentalist Protestant preacher Jerry Falwell, is a religious institution. The late Falwell was a major political player. The school is starting an osteopathic medical school which is interesting since it chose not to found a traditional one, although osteopathic doctors receive much the same training as medical doctors.

Speaking of politics, the co-chairman of the tobacco commission is Terry Kilgore, a Republican politician. By coincidence, his twin brother, Jerry, is a former attorney general, gubernatorial candidate and a lawyer for Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the former head of Star Scientific and the man who paid or gave now-indicted former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife Maureen more than $160,000 in gifts.

At one point, Williams who has not been indicted in the GiftGate matter and is expected to be an important prosecution witness against the McDonnells, tried to push for tobacco commission help with his nicotine-based dietary supplements.

There could be a political motivation with McAuliffe’s query but the tobacco commission has always been a ripe target for good reason.

N.B. Maurice Jones, McAuliffe’s nominee for Commerce Secretary and the former publisher of The Virginian-Pilot, has been targeted by a probe by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for possible improper lobbying while he was a HUD deputy secretary. It appears there will be no criminal charges but the Jones matter will be part of a Capitol Hill hearing today. Republicans are certain make some political hay out of the matter. Full disclosure, I worked part time for Richmond’s Style Weekly (still do) when Jones was Pilot publisher and oversaw Style. I know him personally.

Tar Heel Grief Just Down the Road

By Peter Galuszka

It’s sad to see mccrorytwo states to which I have personal ties – North Carolina and West Virginia — in such bad ways.

The latest raw news comes from the Tar Heel state where we are seeing the handiwork of hard-right- Gov. Pat McCrory who has been on a tear for a year now bashing civil rights here, pulling back from regulation there.

The big news is Duke Energy’s spill of coal ash and contaminated water near Eden into the Dan River, which supplies Danville and potentially Virginia Beach with drinking water. Reports are creeping out that the McCrory regime has been pressuring the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to pull back from regulation.

According to Rachel Maddow, DENR officials had stepped in with environmentalists as plaintiffs on two occasions in lawsuits to get Duke Energy to clean up coal ash. But when a third suit was filed, McCrory, a former Charlotte Mayor and career Duke Energy employee, influenced a third lawsuit settlement against Duke to be delayed.

Also, not long before the Eden spill, the City of Burlington released sewage into the Haw River which flows into Lake Jordan serving drinking water to Cary, Apex and Pittsboro. DENR allegedly did not release news of the spill to the public.

Late last year, Amy Adams, a senior DENR official, resigned to protest the massive cuts McCrory and Republican legislators were forcing at her department, notably in its water quality section.

McCrory’s been on a Ken Cuccinelli-style rip in other ways such as cutting back on unemployment benefits in a top manufacturing state badly hit by the recession and globalization. He’s shut down abortion clinics by suddenly raising the sanitation rules to hospital levels, much like former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell did in Virginia.

A reaction to McCrory is building, however. Recently, I chatted with Jason Thigpen who served in the Army and was wounded in Iraq in 2009. When Thigpen returned to his home in southeastern North Carolina, he was upset that the state was sticking it to vets by making them pay out-of-state college tuition in cases where some had been state residents before deploying. So, he started an activist group to protect them.

Next, Thigpen decided to run for Congress. His views fit more neatly with the Republican Party but he simply could not take what McCrory was doing in Raleigh so he became a Democrat and is a contender in a primary this spring.

Why the switch? “I just couldn’t see what the GOP was doing with my state in Raleigh,” He told me. “Also, I didn’t like what they were doing with women. I had served with women in war and they come back to North Carolina and they are treated like second class citizens,” he said.

West Virginia, meanwhile, is still struggling with its drinking water issues from a spill near Charleston. Although drinking water for 300,000 is said to be potable, children are reporting rashes.

Somehow, this conjures up another story involving a Republican governor – Arch Moore.

Back in 1972, Moore was governor when Pittston, a Virginia-based energy firm, had badly sited and built some damns to hold coal waste. After torrential rains, the dams burst and a sea of filthy water raced down the hollows, inundating small villages and killing 125 people. The state wanted a $100 million settlement from Pittston for the Buffalo Creek disaster, but Moore interceded and they settled for a measly $1 million.

Moore was later convicted of five felonies after he was caught extorting $573,000 from a coal company that wanted to reduce its payments to a state fund that compensated miners who got black lung disease.

Does anyone see a pattern yet?

Meanwhile, we in Virginia should breathe a sigh of relief considering just close it was dodging the bullet last election.

A Sad Day for the Commonwealth

mcdonnell-1By Peter Galuszka

It’s a sad day for Virginia.

Former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife have been charged by federal authorities with 14 felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and obtaining property through their office in connection with their relationship with Jonnie R. Williams, former chief of Star Scientific.

The indictments represent a new threshold for the Commonwealth, which prides itself on having corruption-free officials. For decades, the state has believed in “the Virginia Way” dating back to the days of gentlemanly cavaliers who always did the right thing.

The fact that Gov. and Mrs. McDonnell played their wholesomeness card so often just makes the entire situation seem so tawdry. McDonnell once was considered possible presidential timber.

A cursory read of the charges shows a politically ambitious family caught between presenting a salable image and their disastrous personal financial situation linked to some bad real estate investments before the 2008 financial crash.

The indictments claim:

  • McDonnell’s 2009 election staff approached Williams in March 2009 about using his private plane for campaign purposes. McDonnell told me personally at WRVA studios last summer that he had known Williams long before that. The indictment says that the two “had never met and they had no personal or professional relationship.”
  • In December 2009, governor–elect McDonnell and his wife were at a Four Season Hotel in New York for a political meeting. Williams approached McDonnell’s staff for a meeting and ended up buying Maureen McDonnell an Oscar de la Renta dress for the upcoming inauguration in Richmond. In an email, Mrs. McDonnell said she needed financial help with her clothing because, “We are broke, have an unconscionable amount in credit card debt already, and this Inaugural us killing us!!”
  • Not only did Mrs. McDonnell regularly solicit funds from Williams but so did the governor, as a string of emails shows.
  • The McDonnells allowed their images and their position to be used to help Williams and his struggling company with a dietary supplement named Anatabloc.
  • McDonnell directly spoke with Williams about the possibility of loaning him thousands of dollars to cover failing resort properties he had bought.
  • Williams sought and received help from the McDonnells in trying to get researchers at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University to research the chemical element that is the key to Anatabloc. The McDonnells promoted the product at the Executive Mansion and Mrs. McDonnell flew in Williams’ private aircraft to Florida and Michigan to promote it.
  • The McDonnells repeatedly sold stock in Star Scientific, Williams’ company, before Dec. 31 deadlines so they could avoid reporting it on state reports.
  • McDonnell and his family used Williams to play at an exclusive golf course in Goochland County although Williams was not present. They also borrowed Williams lakefront house worth several million dollars. Williams sent an expensive foreign sports car for McDonnell’s use and Maureen sent Williams a photo of the governor driving it.
  • Williams bankrolled a McDonnell daughter’s wedding luncheon as well as a trip for two children to a “bachelorette” party in Savannah.

If what the charge says is true, the McDonnells were living a double life to deceive voters. They projected a wholesome, God-fearing family while they were actually grabbing what they could to live the high life while trying to stay afloat in the secret financial morass they kept away from public eye.

My takeaway? Enough Virginia mythology. It is time for a real State Ethics Commission.

Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

rachel_maddowBy Peter Galuszka

“Investigative reporting, R.I.P. In-depth reporting is dead. If not dead, it’s comatose. Reeling from declining revenue and eroding profit margins, print media enterprises continue to lay off staff and shrink column inches.”

Err, maybe not. James A. Bacon Jr., meet Rachel Maddow.

The quote comes from advertised “sponsorships” in which an outside entity can help fund reporting and writing on this blog. It’s a morphed form of traditional journalism and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided the funding source is made clear.

But what might be jumping the gun is the sweeping characterization that in-depth reporting is dead. That is precisely the point of Maddow’s monthly column in The Washington Post.

She notes that it was local traffic reporters and others who broke the story about Chris Christie’s finagling with toll booths to punish a political opponent. She shows evidence of other aggressive reporting in Connecticut and in South Carolina, where an intrepid reporter got up early one morning, drive 200 miles to the Atlanta airport and caught then disappeared Gov. Mark Sanford disembarking from an overseas flight to see his Latin American mistress when he had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Closer to home, it was the Post, which has seen more than 400 newsrooms layoffs over the past years, that broke GiftGate, the worst political scandal in Virginia in recent memory. The rest of the state press popped good stories, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch that has been somewhat reinvigorated despite nearly 10 years of corporate cheerleading and limp coverage under publisher Tom Silvestri. The departure of the disastrous former editor Glenn Proctor, Silvestri’s brainchild, helped a lot as did the sale of the paper by dysfunctional Media General to Warren Buffett.

To be sure, there are sad departures. The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative, did a great job reporting the forced and temporary ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, but it has folded.

Funding, indeed, remains a huge problem, even at Bacon’s Rebellion where we all write pretty much for free. One solution, Maddow notes, happened in a tiny Arkansas town that found it was located over a decaying ExxonMobil fuel pipeline. The community raised funds to help hire more reporters to break through the news.

She suggests: “Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

Hear! Hear!

McAuliffe’s Ethics End Run

mcauliffeBy Peter Galuszka

Kudos to Terry McAuliffe.

Virginia’s new governor has taken strong and important steps to force the state into much needed ethics reform by issuing an executive order setting a gift acceptance cap of $100 for himself, his staff and members of state agencies.

He’s also allocating $100,000 to set up a state ethics commission to collect information on gift giving and probe transgressions, although details of how it would work are still hazy.

McAuliffe is performing an obvious and needed end run past the General Assembly, which for years has done as little a possible to address Virginia’s laissez-faire ethics rules which are among the most lax in the nation.

The only proposal so far after months of scandal involving former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and Star Scientific, a dietary supplement maker, is lame at best.

Pushed by House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), the proposal would ban officials and family members from accepting gifts of more than $250.

It also would set up an “advisory” committee to “educate” officials on ethics but would have no investigative power, making it little more than window-dressing. As now, officials would have to file reports but no one is tasked with officially vetting them.

McAuliffe’s smart ploy takes the initiative away from the General Assembly although his executive order cannot address what elected officials do. That’s obviously a problem, but McAuliffe has raised the bar and legislators cannot ignore that.

I’ve been reporting on Virginia politics off and on since the 1970s and I’ve seen several ethics reform initiatives come to nothing.

This time, there is hope, thanks to McAuliffe who is making a surprisingly strong showing in his first days in elected office.

A Toothless Ethics Proposal (No Surprise)

mcD.pixBy Peter Galuszka

Virginia finally seems on a path toward toughening its ethics rules after the Giftgate scandal involving Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. but — predictably — the deal reached by the two parties is toothless.

The arrangement proposed by a bipartisan group within the General Assembly would cap gifts to officials and their families at $250 and require biannual reporting of giving. But it would fall far short of creating an ethics commission with real power.

More than 40 states have ethics commissions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and most have subpoena power.

The Virginia proposal being pushed by House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) would do nothing of the sort. It would create a state ethics advisory commission (note the word “advisory”) made up of politicians and others.

In other words, it would not really investigate anything and would have no subpoena power. It would “educate” politicians about the rules, advise the General Assembly on ethics laws and help make sure that disclosure statements are filed online.

The deal would not do much with campaign financing, either, and lobbyist-supplied goodies such as free food and travel would be permissible.

In all, it would be a tiny step forward. It would require reporting of gifts to family members of officials and ban gifts to those family members worth more than $250. But the lack of a real ethics commission with independent power to probe and issue subpoenas means that Virginia would still have among the weakest ethics rules in the country.

As for increasing reporting of disclosure statements, the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project already does that, although it, too, has no teeth.

No one is required to check the reports filed by officials, although the information would at least be out there. It will be up to the news media and concerned citizens to do the legwork. And if they turn something up, where do they go?

When former Executive Chef Todd Schneider, later convicted of misdemeanors, had information about the McDonnells, he went to Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, who then sat on the information or months.

And regarding “educating” politicians about the rules, McDonnell certainly ought to have known them. He had been attorney general himself.

Sadly, this weak effort will do little to clean up the state’s political gift giving.

The McDonnell Track Record: Incremental Improvement

So long, farewell, adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, shalom.

So long, farewell, adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, shalom.

by James A. Bacon

Governor Bob McDonnell’s four-year term in office is drawing to a close. Sadly, it appears that the governor will be remembered mainly for his atrocious judgment in accepting more than $150,000 in gifts and loans from a Richmond businessman. While the Giftgate scandal deservedly dominated the headlines in his last year or more in office, it obscured the many accomplishments, mostly positive, of his administration.

I’ll let others re-hash Giftgate, if they are so inclined. I’ll focus instead on McDonnell’s legislative and administrative track record. With one very big exception — restructuring taxes to raise more money for transportation and pushing mega-projects of dubious merit — he did well. Perhaps his most unsung achievement, despite his reputation as a cultural conservative, was governing as a pragmatist. While there was no ducking the culture wars entirely during his tenure, he downplayed them.

McDonnell focused on pocketbook issues. He kept a tight lid on General Fund spending. He reduced unfunded liabilities $9 billion by restructuring state pensions from a defined-defined benefit program to a hybrid, defined-contribution program. He enacted sweeping reforms of the K-12 educational system. He did more to restore the civil rights of felons than any governor in state history, and his policies drove down the recidivism rate to the second lowest in the country. He invested heavily in environmental clean-up. Finally, he demanded significant reforms to the state Medicaid program before approving expansion of that program under the Affordable Care Act.

For whatever reason, most of these accomplishments garnered little attention. Virginia’s truncated press corps and shrunken editorial hole simply doesn’t allow for the kind of journalistic coverage the issues warrant.

I won’t dwell on the abominable transportation-funding package, which shredded any vestige of the user-pays principle in order to transfer wealth to drivers from non-drivers. And I’ll omit any commentary about the Charlottesville Bypass and the Bi-County Parkway, ill-conceived projects by any measure, and the U.S. 460 connector, a speculative economic development project coupled with Hampton Roads port expansion. Regular readers know that I am no fan of McDonnell’s transportation policy.

Upon entering office in 2010, McDonnell inherited a horrendous budgetary dilemma from his predecessor Tim Kaine. Rather than increase taxes, as Kaine had proposed, McDonnell reined in spending and resorted to a series of budgetary gimmicks — short-changing VRS contributions, accelerating tax collections on retailers — that he has mostly wound down. Since then, he has done a reasonable job of allocating resources within tight General Fund budgetary constraints. He had critics on the left who charge that he has not spent enough on education, mental health, Medicaid expansion, whatever. But those voices will never be satisfied. For the most part, he stood on the side of the taxpayers.

McDonnell has done a commendable job on the environmental front, investing $430 million in water-treatment and combined-sewer-overflow projects and reducing pollution runoff from agricultural and urban areas. Water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, still lamentably bad, turned the corner; oyster and blue crab populations rebounded. The Old Dominion posted a record number of clean air days in 2013. Under McDonnell, Virginia was the first state in the country to convert its vehicle fleet from gasoline to natural gas. And here’s a story you probably never heard: Virginia re-established its native elk herd population in Buchanan County; the goal is to reach 400 animals.

The governor’s most unheralded reforms came in education. Virginia increased the percentage of educational money going into the classroom from 61% to 64% of budgeted resources. The state doubled the number of K-12 STEM academies, enacted scholarship tax credits to facilitate school choice for poor families, established a transparent A-F grading system for schools and set up a failing-school takeover program. McDonnell also effectively eliminated teacher tenure and streamlined the grievance procedure.

The administration did a competent, if not inspired, job on the economic front. Despite sequestration and a slowdown of the federal-spending growth engine, Virginia added 193,000 net new jobs and unemployment fell 1.8 percentage points to 5.6% over his four years in office. Although McDonnell made job-creation a clear priority, he was satisfied to work largely within the antiquated institutional framework — agriculture, tourism, corporate recruitment, overseas trade missions — that has been in place for decades. He did push long-term reforms in workforce preparation, steering funding to programs in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines. And, using innovative public-private partnerships, he allocated billions of dollars to relieving transportation bottlenecks for Virginia’s ports in Hampton Roads. Less successfully, he tried to open up transportation access to the air cargo sector at Washington Dulles International Airport. McDonnell did very little to support smart growth; indeed, the administration back-pedaled on reforms implemented by the Kaine administration.

All in all, McDonnell will be remembered for his tweaks to existing priorities and institutions. One big reform — setting up the Office of Transportation Public Private Partnerships — likely will lead to innovative financing arrangements for all manner of projects, from toll roads to air rights over rail lines and interstates, from privatizing operation of the state’s traffic management centers to leasing out public right-of-way to cell-phone towers. Otherwise, the record has been one of cautious, incremental reform. In the final analysis, McDonnell will leave the state somewhat better than he found it but he did little to increase its long-term competitiveness as a place to live and do business.

Virginia’s Pension Picture: Among Most Improved

most_improved

Here’s the good news: Virginia ranks among the seven “most improved” states in the union measured by the reduction of unfunded pension liabilities between 2009 and 2012, according to data published by the Institute for Truth in Accounting. Here’s the bad news: The commonwealth still has billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities.

Have fun compiling your own charts using the Institute’s State Data Lab. Submit the best ones to Bacon’s Rebellion. I’ll publish those that tickle my fancy.

–JAB