At Long Last, a Budget that Citizens Can Understand

One of Gov. Mark R. Warner’s final acts as governor will be to present his version of a “transparent” budget understandable to the public. Buried in his speech to the General Assembly joint money committees Monday, he previewed the budget he will submit in December.

Jettisoning the program structure which has existed since the 1970’s, the new budget will be organized around “the identifiable services that each agency provides.” Within the budget bill and budget document, each service will be associated with its related funding, and will provide quantifiable objectives and performance measures. All information will be accessible to the public through the Web.

Including performance measures with the budget numbers will allow citizens to appraise the program’s effectiveness. For example, the governor noted,

If our objective is to reduce the number of repeat juvenile offenders, we will be able to tell what the Department of Juvenile Justice spends on that service, and how many juveniles are convicted of a new misdemeanor or felony. If our objective is to help welfare recipients obtain jobs, we will be able to tell how much the Department of Social Services spends on training, and we will measure how many welfare recipients are employed six months later.

Budget transparency represents a big step towards public accountability. We look forward to seeing what the governor comes up with.

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  1. NoVA Scout Avatar
    NoVA Scout

    If he makes measurable progress on this, it is a huge accomplishment for which even we Republicans should credit him. The budget presenation is byzantine and opaque. I’m waiting to see how well Warner does, but it’s an important step forward to work on making it an understandable document. This was a key component of one of both Fitch’s and Connaughton’s campaigns. Maybe M. Warner pays attention to our primary battles.

  2. Not Larry Sabato Avatar
    Not Larry Sabato

    Nova Scout, Memory Check!!! Mark Warner proposed doing this during his campaign, and it was listed under “a honest budget”. It probably takes this long to even get all that information from agencies, which is very scary.

  3. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    As a state employee, let me just say that there is less here than meets the eye.

    A few individuals draw up the “service area” objectives and measurements. They are not always the individuals who understand the service areas; the pr arm of agencies are heavily involved. As I understand it, this is just an “exercise” for this budget cycle; the old budgeting methods will still be used.

    Of course, I see the utility of improved transparency that this new process promises, but I submit that the real challenge will be to cut through “service area bs” and ask hard questions about the stated objectives and the allocation of resources to those objectives.

    Someone with an open mind and a little bit of knowledge will be able to find a lot of potential savings and/or efficiencies.

  4. Terry M. Avatar

    VITA was actually involved in the primary recategorization of service areas.

    Then, in late spring, agencies were made to restructure strategic palnning around the service areas.

    For some agencies, those that have very concrete deliverables and objectives, this may work well. For others, that are policy analysis oriented and advisory in nature, it will work less well.

  5. Chris Saxman Avatar
    Chris Saxman

    I am glad that the Warner Administration took up this suggestion of the Cost Cutting Caucus that we need a transparent budget document. Initially, they rejected the notion; however, we continued to press the issue and we consider this a first step. The template we have seen, while not perfect, is better than what we have.

    Much of the credit belongs to Dels McQuigg, Reese and Rust, the Thomas Jefferson Institute, Geoff Segal at Reason and the House Reoublican leadership who let us continue to push this necessary reform.

    We will continue to push for more transparency and accountability in the budget.

    The Governor complimented the Cost Cutting Caucus and myself to the press corps after his money committees meeting, but honestly there is a lot of pats on the back to go around.
    Now the hard work begins….

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    This in fact was a concession reese got from Warner in exchange for his vote supporting the record tax increase. Unfortunately I don’t believe there is anything codifying this as a requirement for future administrations, nor do I believe is this independently audited. I for one would like to see such measures taken in order to make sure we in the public get a true view of the numbers.

  7. Chris Saxman Avatar
    Chris Saxman

    let me check on what the code now says exactly. I agree with you on the other issues though…

  8. Chris Saxman Avatar
    Chris Saxman

    As you can see below, HB1838 written by Delegate Gary Reese was passed unanimously by both chambers.
    We, the Cost Cutting Caucus, had a follow up meeting with the Warner Administration later that year after it became law. They told us that they were not going to follow the law. Interestingly, they are charged with carrying out the laws. We continued to work with them to change their thinking and clearly they did. It only took two years. Not bad by government standards. This was a HUGE passion of Del. Reese and he was instrumental in getting this passed.

    HB 1838 Taxpayer’s Budget Bill of Rights.
    Gary A. Reese (all patrons) ….. notes | add to my profiles Top of Form
    another bill?Log inLIS Home- – – – – – – – – – – – – -MembersCommitteesMeetingsCalendarsCommunicationsMinutesStatisticsLobbyist-in-a-Box
    Bottom of Form
    Summary as passed: (all summaries)
    Taxpayer’s Budget Bill of Rights. Provides that the Executive Budget and the Budget Bill be set forth in a format and use language that is easily understood by the citizens of the Commonwealth. The bill also requires the Executive Budget and the Budget Bill include specific outcomes, functions, and goals that are related to expenditures and provisions for additional public access to information contained in the Executive Budget and the Budget Bill.
    Full text:

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    I stand corrected on the code part. Still needs independent audit, which I believe was something Reese had also originally tied to his campaign pledge not to vote for a tax increase without “budget reform”.

    Thanks for the info.

  10. While we are piddling about codification, the fact remains that, as currently published, the state budget is a disgrace to the human race and an insult to taxpayers.

  11. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Promises are cheap. Show me the document. I’ll reserve judgement until I see the product. Sure the budget is confusing — can anyone even FIND or pick up the federal budget? How much sense does it make? The document some want will end up being 5,000 pages long.

    One prediction: With the new document, apples to apples comparisons to previous years may prove impossible. Those of us who track state spending (the budget is meaninless — follow the spending reports) will still be relying on the comptroller and the auditor. Thankfully the Governor and the legislature cannot overrule accounting principals unless they want to get slapped by Wall Street.

  12. Your state tax money being wasted also:

    State money approved for arts center

    Richmond Times-Dispatch Sep 2, 2005

    About $1 million in state funds are being released for the planned performing-arts center in Richmond.

    The Virginia Performing Arts Foundation got word this week that Secretary of Finance John M. Bennett had approved the group’s first two requests for a little more than $1 million.

    This year, the General Assembly and Gov. Mark R. Warner approved a total of $8.5 million for the arts center, but the money is subject to dollar-for-dollar matching requirements. In addition to the two requests now approved, the foundation has two others pending. Those requests total $513,652.

    State officials said the grant funds must be used for capital expenses associated with the arts center, which will cost an estimated $112 million.

    The center includes an expanded Carpenter Center, an adaptable music hall, a community playhouse and a jazz club in the 600 block of East Broad Street, where the Thalhimers department store once stood.

    In 2003, City Council pledged $27.8 million to the arts center and agreed to make $12 million available initially for “pre-construction” expenses, which would include permits and architectural fees.

    Mayor L. Douglas Wilder has questioned whether the foundation has properly spent $7.6 million of city funds that have been released.

    The foundation also has received a pledge of $250,000 from LandAmerica, but details about the gift were unavailable yesterday. Charles H. Foster Jr., LandAmerica’s chairman of the board, is a member of the arts foundation’s board of directors.

    J. Stewart Bryan, chairman of Media General Inc. and the former publisher of The Times-Dispatch, is a member of the foundation’s board and is active in its fundraising.

    Media General has pledged to contribute $1 million to the foundation over five years in cash and in-kind support, which could include promotional space in The Times-Dispatch, as well as research and printing.

    The foundation also reports that small donations continue to be received for the project. A total of 916 people combined to give $102,182, providing the dollar-for-dollar matches required by the challenge grants. — Will Jones

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