Deconstructing the Warner Farewell Speech: Back to the Good

Gov. Mark R. Warner may well be remembered in history as the “good government” governor. Arguably, he has done more than any of his predecessors to bring best business practices to Virginia state government — no mean accomplishment when you consider that Virginia was already considered one of the two or three best run states in the country long before Warner came to office.

In his farewell speech to the General Assembly, Warner noted that government operations is a topic he gets “jazzed” about, and he listed a number of accomplishments. (I add my comments in italics.)

  • We’ve maintained our triple-A bond rating – one of only six states in the nation to have that sterling credit rating. (Warner did a great job responding to the last recession with timely spending cuts. Too bad he felt he had to raise taxes after the crisis had passed. See previous post.)
  • We’ve leveraged the state’s buying power with centralized purchasing – savings more than $95 million in fiscal year 2005 alone. (True. But don’t forget, Warner is building on procurement reform launched under Gov. Jim Gilmore.)
  • We’ve improved collection of money owed the state, producing over 110 million more dollars each year. (Kudos!)
  • We’re finally managing real estate more like a business would, which could save more than $68 million over the next decade. (More kudos! Under Warner, the state has developed the first-ever comprehensive inventory of its real estate assets and obligations. Now it’s time to take the next step and track real estate utilization — find out how much of that office space is actually being used.)
  • We’ve undertaken school efficiency reviews in 9 school divisions, identifying almost $10 million in annual savings – a figure that will grow as more divisions participate. (Kudos. But in a multi billion-dollar budget, it’s only a start.)
  • Virginia leads the states in a cutting-edge consolidation of information technology. (Double kudos. This initiative hasn’t saved as much money as hoped, but it has significantly improved the quality and security of the state’s IT infrastructure. Also, giving credit where credit is due, Warner aggressively used public-private partnership legislation that the Gilmore administration had put into place.)
  • And for the first time in history, we’ve fully replenished our Rainy Day Fund to its Constitutional maximum of more than a Billion dollars. (Bravo!)

I’ve heard many stories, none of which have made it into print or even onto the blog, of the businesslike attitude that Warner has brought to government. Rest assured, this list of accomplishments is an abbreviated one. The Governor and his team deserve a lot of credit for Virginia’s rating by Governing Magazine as the best run state in the country. Let us hope that Gov.-elect Tim Kaine can maintain that distinction.

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10 responses to “Deconstructing the Warner Farewell Speech: Back to the Good”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Are we a little conflicted here?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 10:21, No I’m not conflicted. I just recognize (a) that Warner is building on the accomplishments of those who came before him, and (b) that the job of reforming state government processes never really ends. As long as we concede the validity of those two statements, I think we can say that Warner has done an excellent job in this area.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    How did the consolidation of information technology significantly improve the quality and security of the state’s IT infrastructure?

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 12:57, For details, I refer you to my column, “Mission Creep.”

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    The only budget cuts were Higher Ed. The budget actually increased during the Recession.

  6. Terry M. Avatar

    And those higher ed budget cuts were significant and resulted in much higher tuitions.

  7. E M Risse Avatar


    If mobility and access (aka, transport congestion) are among the Commonwealth’s most important dysfuncitons and if congestion got worse every year for the past 40 would not that impact the rating of the person in office for the last four?

    Just a thought…


  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ed, agreed: Warner did next to nothing to address the root causes of congestion/land use dysfunction. But, then, neither did any governor who preceded him. When we talk about congestion/land use dysfunction, we’re not talking about the failings of a single governor — we’re talking about the failings of an entire political class.

    That’s why Tim Kaine’s utterances on the subject are potentially revolutionary. His remedies will probably be insufficient and misguided, but at least he’s putting land use onto the statewide agenda, something that no one else has been able to do until now.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    For details, I refer you to my column, “Mission Creep.”

    The original reasons for creating VITA were that they would be able to deliver better service, project control and cheaper contracts with vendors. They never did any of those things. Past agency surveys have shown that the agencies are clearly not convinced that VITA is providing better or cheaper services. Project management is a joke. They simply added layer after layer of paperwork with more to come after the NG move. Now that VITA has taken over, the agencies can no longer buy hardware and software from the vendors even though the normal advertised prices are cheaper than VITA’s negotiated amounts. It appears that a few of the favorite agencies (VDOT, DMV, VITA) saw some savings and “avoided costs” (whatever that really is) according to the presented spreadsheets but I question if the agencies aren’t really paying more. From looking at the budgets it appears that almost every agency is requesting more funds than in previous years to pay their IT expenses.

    I would agree that the NG deal is no longer about saving money but I question Mr. Huang’s other claims that our technology situation is better with VITA or will be better with NG. I don’t know about all the agencies but I know that 3 of the biggest agencies have been planning, practicing, and executing disaster plans for years. And I know from personal experience that the data that is stored off site can be easily retrieved in a couple hours. I also know from personal experience that we are already able to work from various locations whenever needed. Many agencies do this any time there is a snow closing, flood, holiday, anthrax scare, etc. I don’t know what to think about his statement on the reliability of cell phone and internet service. I don’t believe VITA or NG will be able to control those factors unless they take over Verizon and/or Comcast…

    Will this deal actually create jobs in areas of Virginia that suffer lagging economies? That remains to be seen. Promises, promises, promises… We’ve heard that many of the current employees will be hired and we’ve also heard that NG is bringing in employees from other areas such as New Orleans. We will just have to wait to see how many state employees will be dismissed after the guaranteed 1 year. And if they do lay off these employees, is that better? (I’m not saying they should have to keep employees that are not up to snuff. They should have been terminated years ago.) Of course, it would be cheaper to hire less experienced, lower-paid labor but what does that do to the overall economy in Virginia and the technology profession as a whole?

    I would like to see how much the state is really paying NG. For example, how much are they going to get from special funds like the tobacco fund, tax packages, reduced building permit fees, etc. These amounts may not be in the monthly check but they are all coming from the taxpayers.

    It’s easy to be romanced by the enthusiasm displayed by Huang, Warner and “the boys” but where are the real details supporting their claims? How did they arrive at the notion that the state would have paid an additional $240 million (over the $2 billion?) to be able to continue?

  10. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 9:39, You raise a number of good questions, and I have no answers for you. The fact is, I have no expertise in this matter and am not in a position to comment intelligently on the fine-grained details of VITA.

    Sec. Huang will be leaving Richmond in just a few days, and he’ll be replaced by Aneesh Chopra. If what you say is true, then a number of the problems should come bubbling to the surface. A new Secretary of Technology is far more likely to confront them because he wasn’t the one who created them. Conversely, if all goes smoothly, then I suspect that you may either (a) be missing the big picture, or (b) exaggerrating the significance of routine problems.

    Let us wait and see what happens.

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