Continuity in the State Finance Agencies

Stephen Cummings, Secretary of Finance

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The lead story in Tuesday’s  Richmond Times-Dispatch was a curious one. Its headline promised great drama, which was not delivered, and it missed the real story.

The headline, “Retirements Transform State Finance Agencies,” promises great drama. The primary agencies in the Finance Secretariat are the Department of Accounts (DOA), Department of the Treasury (Treasury), Department of Taxation (Tax), and Department of Planning and Budget (DPB). Since January, the directors of three of those agencies (DPB, DOA, and Treasury) have retired. At Tax, the long-time assistant commissioner for tax policy and the chief economist and director of revenue forecasting have retired.

One could speculate over the recent announcement of Manju Ganeriwala (Treasury), after 13 years as agency head and the earlier retirement of David Von Moll (DOA), since they had both been reappointed to their jobs by Youngkin. Why would one retire from a good position after being reappointed? On another level, Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch hinted that John Layman, the revenue forecaster at Tax, had been forced, or at least nudged, into retirement.

To his credit, Youngkin appointed experienced professionals, instead of political hacks, to replace the retired agency heads. At DOA, he elevated Randy McCabe, a long-time employee at DOA and Deputy Comptroller in recent years, to the head position of Comptroller. Anyone who has worked with McCabe over the years can attest to his excellent knowledge of accounting and state government and to his willingness to provide assistance to anyone who asks.

Youngkin appointed Michael Maul to be director of DPB. Maul has been with DPB for over 30 years and was the senior section manager in the agency, having managed all but one of the sections at one time, either on a permanent or acting basis. (DPB does not have the position of deputy director.)

At Tax, Youngkin did go outside the agency for a replacement for the retiring Ganeriwala, but it was to an individual with extensive experience in Virginia financial matters. He appointed David L. Richardson, who had retired after nearly 44 years at the McGuireWoods law firm in Richmond, specializing in tax-exempt bond financing for public entities and nonprofit organizations. Over at Tax, a senior manager was promoted to the deputy commissioner for tax policy post. Still unfilled is the position of chief economist and director of forecasting, which is a key position

In summary, there has been a spate of retirements in key financial agency positions, but those vacancies have been filled with people with a lot of experience in the respective agencies and in state government generally. Rather than those agencies being “transformed,” they will continue to operate largely as they have been operating in the past.

On the other hand, the story largely skimmed over the transformation of the office of the Secretary of Finance. Youngkin’s appointed Secretary, Stephen Cummings, is a former international investment banker without any experience in state finance, in general, and in Virginia, in particular. His Senior Advisor, Daniel Kowalski, has budget experience, but on the federal level, including with the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate Budget Committee, and the U.S. Treasury Department in the Trump administration. Deputy Secretary Charles Kennington has experience in Virginia government and budget matters, most recently as a policy analyst with the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. On the other hand, the other deputy secretary, John Markowitz, has no such experience. According to the RTD, Markowitz “previously had worked for Transurban North America, a private transportation company that partners with Virginia and other states on public-private transportation partnerships.”

In summary, three of the four individuals charged with overseeing the financial affairs of the Commonwealth have little or no experience in, or knowledge of, state government in general and Virginia government in particular, nor of state budgeting and finances.