Kudos to Kaine When Kudos are Due

Before I launch into a criticism of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s latest budget proposals in the next post, let me pause to say something nice about the governor. Not only has he increased budgetary transparency (see my previous post), he has labored diligently behind the scenes to improve government efficiency and accountability. The challenge of running the state bureaucracy doesn’t generate newspaper headlines, but the end result of Kaine’s unpublicized endeavors is the freeing up of hundreds of millions of dollars to allocate to more pressing priorities.

Here’s what Kaine noted in his speech yesterday:

We had a head start on identifying savings because of the work we did to address the shortfall in fiscal year 2008. The budget I present to you today carries nearly all of the 2008 reductions into 2009 and 2010, saving $232 million in each year of the new biennium. We found additional biennial savings of approximately $137 million by streamlining operations and reorganizations, thanks to the diligent efforts of our state employees. …

These savings provide us both a cushion in a time of declining revenues and the ability to make targeted investments in areas where Virginia needs to improve.

I have also called for increased accountability in the Commonwealth’s spending. Through my performance management initiative, we have established goals to measure how well our agencies are delivering services. … My budget proposal includes tools to begin collecting outcome data on several of the state’s most critical funding commitments – the Comprehensive Services Act, Community Service Boards, and K-12 education. This information should help our agencies make wise choices that will better serve our citizens. …

I have increased support for the Productivity Investment Fund which provides seed capital to state agencies for innovative ideas that will serve citizens better and more efficiently. The budget also includes language clarifying the use of the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA) to encourage the private sector to introduce technology-driven transformational initiatives.

Kaine credits these efficiencies with being able to boost spending for other priorities without raising taxes. This is exactly the philosophy of government I espouse: Pay for new priorities with savings from reinventing, streamlining, consolidating, eliminating or otherwise rationalizing old priorities — not raising taxes.

Through my other work, I had a ring-side seat to watch the state overhaul the way it administers its vast real estate portfolio. On the one hand, one could argue that the changes are long over due — they simply emulate best practices in the private sector. On the other hand, never estimate how difficult it is to achieve structural change in a government/political setting. Believe it or not, state government is blessed with many dedicated employees who do excellent work under often-trying conditions, and my sense is that the change agents are getting strong support from this governor.

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