Northam Appoints Layne as Virginia CFO

Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (right) congratulates Aubrey Layne for his appointment as Secretary of Finance. (Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

In an important signal of how he plants to govern, Governor-elect Ralph Northam announced yesterday his appointment of Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne as his Secretary of Finance. Layne will replace Ric Brown, who is retiring after serving three consecutive governors in the office.

Layne, an administrator with a non-partisan, technocratic bent, works well with Democrats and Republicans alike. He served on the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) during the McDonnell administration, and then was recruited by Governor Terry McAuliffe to oversee the commonwealth’s transportation agencies. According to Virginia Public Access Project data, he has contributed to Democrats, Republicans and independents over the years.

Layne made his mark as a pragmatic administrator willing to delve into the public policy thickets. He spent much of his first year as transportation secretary digging out of controversial public-private partnerships set up during the McDonnell administration while he had served on the CTB. He canceled the U.S. 460 tolled highway between Suffolk and Petersburg after it became clear that the project could not obtain a federal wetlands permit. He also reworked the terms of the multibillion-dollar Downtown-Midtown Tunnel project in Hampton Roads.

After putting out fires, Layne was heavily involved in rewriting legislation governing public-private partnerships. Then, under the framework of the new law, he implemented a partnership to upgrade the Interstate 66 transportation corridor in a process relatively free of angst and controversy. Also under Layne, the Virginia Department of Transportation implemented a scorecard for measuring and prioritizing proposed road and highway projects. The purpose of the scorecard was to base transportation investments on objective criteria relating to congestion, safety, the environment and economic development rather than politics.

One knotty issue eluded Layne’s technocratic touch: the Washington Metro. Severely under-funded over the years, the Metro commuter rail system needs $1.5 billion a year more over the next ten years to address maintenance backlogs and other issues that have led to deteriorating safety, on-time service and ridership. But Virginia shares power in the governing authority with Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the federal government, which gives the state limited leverage to effect reform.

Layne will have his hands full as finance secretary. While the short-term budget outlook has brightened this year and next, Virginia faces immense long-term challenges dealing with an ever-growing Medicaid budget, massive unfunded pension liabilities, intense clamoring for more money for K-12 schools, higher-ed, and mental health, among other priorities, and the continued unwinding of various gimmicks used to balance the budget in the last recession.

What’s more, if Northam pushes to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program under the authority of the Affordable Care Act, he undoubtedly will look to Layne to find the state’s 10% share to finance the expansion. Layne could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

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8 responses to “Northam Appoints Layne as Virginia CFO”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m a fan of Lane for all the reasons you name and no… the I-66 tolls nor the Hampton tunnels got done without uprisings. Also credit him with dealing with the US 29 issue in Charlottesville – did not please the bypass or I-29 folks but he did get major and effective upgrade accomplished.

    If not mistaken, Lane also played a role in changing the way that transportation taxes work in Virginia – having gone from a 17 cents per gallon to a percent of sale.. as well as increases in the sales tax – that also included a dedicated funding source for transit and rails.

    And at the end of the day – the biggest, baddest congested urban regions in Virginia got dynamic tolling with free mass transit and carpooling – without building new roads which the State simply cannot afford.

    Beyond that , we now have a metrics-based highway funding system- Smart Scale that has effectively tamed the Chamber of commerce/Developer political yahoo juggernauts.

    Medicaid should be easy if not for politics because it essentially pays for itself as well as addresses the opioid, mental health and low-income worker issues. In other words – it makes fiscal sense and there are indications that the VIrginia election was about health care and more obstinance from the yahoos might have even more consequences at the next election. Let’s see how many got that message.

    I also expect Lane to have more success with Metro that his predecessors just based on his performance with US 460, Hampton Tunnels, and Smart Scale..

    He’ll have his failures also if not already – but you gotta give him credit .. he has moved the bar … and I think he’s got some more achievements yet to accomplish.

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Great news. Layne has done well with transportation and the skills should transfer. And let’s all salute Ric Brown, who stuck around longer than I expected. During my now four + decades of observation, Virginia has been well served by strong cadre of non-partisan financial professionals, most of them coming up through the ranks in state and local government, some from the business world. Layne stands on some serious shoulders. Hence my earlier inclination to defend Von Moll. I remember our shipyard tour, Aubrey!

    1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

      Brown is a good man. I hope he enjoys his retirement.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    so.. you get those “far left” Democratic Governors Kaine, Warner and McAuliffe , credit for choosing such a responsible finance guy?

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Yep. Not all of us are the blind partisan you are, Larry.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    aw geeze.. ouch!!

    you gotta admit… McAuliffe is not your typical tax & spend guy.. and he supported the ACP … hired Lane and Brown… and .. I think
    helped elect the next Dem… Gov.

  6. “Medicaid should be easy if not for politics because it essentially pays for itself as well as addresses the opioid, mental health and low-income worker issues. In other words – it makes fiscal sense . . . .”

    That “pays for itself” argument is where the debate ought to be. The long term investment WILL pay off; but that’s the problem, it is long term, and in the short term we will have bills to pay. And there may be much better care delivery schemes out there than Medicaid. Amidst all the distractions of the R’s mindless attempts to put a stake in the heart of the ACA, simply because of its origins, we refuse to talk about what should replace it!

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Where is the proof that expanding Medicaid will pay for itself? Every budget session, supporters of more spending on everything from the military to schools to roads to transit to higher education to health care argue that, in the long run, spending more now means spending less later. While that can be true, we see little evidence that the extra spending from say the 1990s or 2000s have allowed us to reduce budgets at least in real terms. As Walter Mondale said “Show me the beef.”

    And, be honest with yourself, a number of you do argue for more spending on most of these items.

    And there is the problem with today. Wages have generally been stagnant for a long time. State and local taxes, especially the latter, have increased consistently and often significantly faster than growth in income or population or inflation. Many people are worse off financially because of state and local taxes.

    We have been and are still importing poverty from other nations, just so certain segments of the economy can have cheap labor and public sector workers have career stability. Where do we think most of the large number of poor children in public schools come from? No other nation is as foolish and corrupt (crony capitalism) on illegal immigration.

    Public sector pensions are deeply in debt. Some on the left want people without defined benefit pensions to pay higher taxes so that public sector workers can keep their defined benefit pensions.

    Yet, we say “spend more” on fill in the blank. See above. Somebody besides taxpayers needs to start losing. Expand Medicaid if you will, but immediately refund 100% of the first year’s expenditure in the form of cuts to other state health care spending on low-income people and in the form of mandatory reductions in private sector health care premiums, at least in real terms. Force the savings. Put some pain in the health care segment of the economy. Put our new Governor’s reputation and administration on the line.

    Virginia is on the road to be another Connecticut. Big public sector, high taxes and a large dependent population. That’s not my grandfather’s Democratic Party.

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