Saxman the Axman: Chop Spending

The liberal Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis projects a $1.2 billion shortfall in the state budget in the upcoming 2008-2010 state budget. The problem, according to authors Michael Cassidy and Cory Kaufman in a Times-Dispatch column today, is not excessive spending but insufficient revenue. Despite Gov. Mark R. Warner’s 2004 tax increases, they write, “Virginia never fully replaced the resources consumed by the car-tax relief effort” of the Gilmore administration.

That’s one point of view. Then there’s the perspective laid out by Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, in a counterpoint column: “Revenues to the commonwealth have increased by more than 50 percent in just three budget cycles — one of which included a recession where revenues were flat-lining to declining.”

Perhaps Virginians should be seeking ways to curtail spending, Saxman says — not by cutting programs but “challenging ourselves to find ways to improve efficiency, thus better serving Virginia’s citizens in a more cost-effective manner.”

Saxman suggests fully implementing the recommendations of the Wilder Commission from earlier in the decade, implementing findings of the Cost Cutting Caucus and the Kaine administration’s operational review teams, making the state budget more transparent to the public, and focusing on the drivers of state spending: Medicaid and K-12 education.

Concludes Saxman: “Virginia’s place in the world’s dynamic economy must not be set by two-year mindsets with statist, linear and short-term thinking.”

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15 responses to “Saxman the Axman: Chop Spending”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Bacon, You need to read Mr. Saxman’s article a little closer. He is suggesting in plain language that the state should redefine its commitment to Medicaid and public education. By “simply” backing out commitments by reducing the percentage growth in Medicaid [and by extension, the constitutional requirement to fund fully public education], you can slow spending. I guess that is the types of word games Congress plays. Again he cites the old canard that ALL public spending is tied to the rate of inflation and population growth. And again, I challenge Mr. Saxman and you to show me the proof. Perhaps if you tied the growth of Medicaid to the growth in the population eligible for the program, then I would buy that. Otherwise, it is just another myth that population and inflation are the ONLY drivers to public spending.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Right On. It’s time to stop that nonsense in its tracks.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 11:12, Even the Kaine administration is way ahead of you on this. The Kainiacs see potential in (1) using IT to cut Medicaid administration overhead costs, (2) encouraging Medicaid recipients to take more responsibility for their own health care, and (3) doing a better job of ensuring that Medicaid patients get preventive care. It is possible to both reduce the rate of Medicaid cost increases while improving the quality of care delivered to Medicaid recipients.

    If you care either about the taxpayers or Medicaid recipients, defending the Medicaid status quo is morally indefensible.

  4. Chris Saxman Avatar
    Chris Saxman


    Point to me where I say we should “redefine our commitment to Medicaid”. All I suggest is that we try to manage the rates of growth 2 points as a goal.

    I have never said that public spending IS tied to the rate of inflation and population growth. In some areas, it is below P&I growth and some areas it is ahead.

    The point of the article lost on the brave anonymous posters is that 1) tax increases for the sake of balancing the next budget could threaten long term economic growth rates and the subsequent revenue to the Commonwealth which would seriously undermine funding to K-12 and Mediciaid 2) that many of our efforts in the past six years to control costs have not been implemented 3) unless you control the RATE of growth of public spending to be equal to or less than equal to economic growth rates you will constantly rely on tax rate increases which will slow down our economy.

    And if you want proof of that, it won’t take long to find.

    A growing economy employs more people who are more likely to get private health insurance, contribute to society, not commit crimes, pay more taxes and require fewer services from the government.

    An economy that does not grow will experience higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of crime, higher rates of growth in government services and higher rates of growth in taxation to pay for it all.

    I think I know who Anon 11:12 and I am not surprised by his reaction to the article. He wants to argue for higher rates of taxes to pay for K-12 because that will clearly solve what ails public education.

    The difference is clear – liberals want to raise taxes in Virginia so that they can take care of as many people as possible.

    Conservatives want people to be able to take care of themselves.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    “unless you control the RATE of growth of public spending to be equal to or less than equal to economic growth rates you will constantly rely on tax rate increases which will slow down our economy.”

    Agreed. But limiting spending to below economic growth rates is a lot different from limiting spending to P&I. They are barely related.

    Conservatives want to have more poere and influence than Liberals, and Liberals want to have more power and influence than conservatives. The difference is only in the sales pitch they use to reach their goals.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Repaired.. bridges”….

    ….. “Of course, Ekern warns, the state’s 20,823 bridges get older and the cost to repair and replace them “increase every day.”

    … The answer to Education and Medicare are not disimiliar in my mind…

    … Do we live within our means or not?

    … no one’s personal home budget is automatically increased to help them keep up with “rising costs” – indeed “tightening thy belt” is not an uncommon approach…

    the roads/bridges are simple.

    start using TOLLs and let the user pay.

    Medicaid is simple.

    Means test everyone and set it up to pay primarily for catastophic and not normal incidental except for the indigent.

    Schools – are harder – in my mind.

    80% of the budget is … salaries..

    cutting teaching positions to “balance the budget” seems full of trouble…

    Education is mired so deeply in a process that (in my mind) essentially defines the opposite of innovation and efficiency that without some form of competition – it won’t likely change…

    Interesting also – the two major industries that have yet to leverage computers effectively to improve their product is… medical care .. and education.

    You can get online and check your bank balance anytime but can you get online and look at your medical record (or have your specialist do it?)…

    or.. can you get online and look at your kids test scores or find out what he/she does particularily well at or really has problems with?

    JB said something about the need for “bold thinkers”.

    … I.. and lots of others are – waiting…

    the andidote to “tax and spend” is …. “just say no”…..apparently

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Saxman, I apologize for reading more into your article than was there. It was more of a knee-jerk reaction to the host who is always citing the need to tie any increase in government programs to the rate of inflation and population growth. Now on to other things. Question: what is holding back the General Assembly from implementing all of the recommendations that you cited? Where is your bill to privatize the ABC Board or do away with the Compensation Board, or close Richard Bland College as recommended by the Wilder Commission? The House had the courage to refuse to pass a budget during the Gilmore Administration why not now? If these recommendations are so worthy, then take action! Introduce a bill with 60 sponsors! Cut funding to non-state agencies! Talk and op-ed pieces are no substitute for action! Do it!

  8. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Where are the simple numbers?

    1. Last budget – spent
    2. Projected budge – forecast
    3. Actual revenues.

    Then we can do the higher math to figure out how much of a cut is in projections or actual revenue.

  9. Chris Saxman Avatar
    Chris Saxman

    Actually, we have pushed many bills that were a part of the Wilder commission recommendations including ABC privatization – which I worked on with Delegate Loudeback who sponsored the bill. As you know, just because a bill is filed does not guarantee passage. Also remember, that the Wilder Commission was an executive branch entity not legislative. There have been numerous attempts to eliminate the Comp Board.

    The House has NEVER not passed a budget. You are referencing the 2001 budget battle in which the House and Senate did not agree to AMENDMENTS to the EXISTING two year budget. You said the House refused “to pass a budget during the Gilmore Administration”. That is intentionally inaccurate.

    If you would like to see what I have done to reduce spending during my six years in the GA, I would be more than happy to share them with you. There has been plenty of action most notably in working WITH both the Warner and Kaine administrations to realize significant structural changes in the way Virginia operates.

    But if you want chapter and verse, I would be happy to do so.

  10. Ghost of Ed Wiley Avatar
    Ghost of Ed Wiley

    Del. Saxman – your complaint about non-state agency spending might ring true were it not for your own record. Your amendments to the budget would have given $10,000 to the Proton Beam Cancer Therapy Center at private Hampton University, $10,000 the Briery Branch Community Club in Bridgewater to upgrade the recreational facility, and $200,000 to the American Shakespeare Center in one year alone.

    Of course, this pales to your previous requests for tax payer money to go to the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation ($35,000), the Shakespeare Center ($450,000 this time), the restoration of “historic” Monterey High school ($100,00), and my favorite – the New Dixie Theater ($200,000.)

    Interestingly, these spending requests came the same year as you proposed eliminating the Sexual Predators Program ($954,208) and the construction of a Sexual Predator Facility ($4,670,000). Interesting spending priorities for a “Cost Cutter.”

  11. Chris Saxman Avatar
    Chris Saxman

    Ghost – you are right about most of those and I will check on the sexual violent predators program and facility. Originally the plans called for siting that next door to a children’s center and an interstate. That might have been where those amendments come from although i do not recall submitting any on that facility.

    Sometimes, amendments are submitted and our names are attached because the requests come from our district. I caught one that was sent in for $2 MILLION dollars once.

    I do not recall the one for Hampton University either. But will check.

    This year I did not submit any requests for non state agencies and will no longer do so. There are many worthwhile projects out there but there is no measurable criteria once the money is spent on them.

    Lesson learned – but going in the right direction.

    One should note that Virginia amendments to the budget state or non state do not increase overall spending in the biennial budget. The amendments, if adopted, shift money to something else. Unlike the federal earmark system in which they add to the bottom line.

    I actually tried to take money away that was going to go to non states in my district in the House budget and redirect it to sheriffs and police departments in my district for weapons and in-car computers to help catch “bad guys” and was told that it would happen but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.

    FYI – the New Dixie is a performing arts center that is renovating an old movie theater – The Dixie.

    Chris Saxman (cannot get logged on)

  12. Chris Saxman Avatar
    Chris Saxman

    Found the budget amendments that you are referencing and still cannot find the Hampton U one. I guess it was put under my name, but I cannot recall that one at all.

    The Sexual Violent Program was going to be placed in Staunton directly next to the Commonwealth Center for Adolescents and Interstate 81. I told my colleagues that I thought that was a very bad idea and was told I had to submit an amendment in order to get that accomplished.

    We had to find another location for the facility and I think we decided, in a caucus meeting, that it was going to go to where it is today which I think is Brunswick or South Boston.

    So, that will be an issue that will be raised in the future against me but it was in the best interest of the children who are at the Commonwealth Center.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Saxman – I suggest that you and the members of the CCC create a website and on that website list all of the cost savings recommendations from Gov. Allen’s Blue Ribbon Strike Force to the present and indicate all those that have been implemented and the $$$ saved the taxpayers. That would give some of us the assurance that the CCC is doing something to save serious money and not just pennies.

  14. Chris Saxman Avatar
    Chris Saxman

    I will certainly look at the Allen Strike Force and the Wilder Commission for some updates; however, I was not in the legislature during Allen’s term. I would imagine that there are many things from both that have yet to be implemented. In fact, I do know that one of the exercises recently undertaken was to go back and look at both reports and see what remained.

    Very soon, the CCC will be posting on our blog Operational Review Team reports in 12 areas of state spending.

    We teamed with the Kaine administration to look at the horizontal spending between the silos of bureaucracy. I think the reports are coming along quite nicely and should offer us significant operational savings in the long term.

    The CCC looks at the long term spending whereas the House Appropriations and Senate Finance deal with the biennial budgets. We have been very careful not to tread on their respective areas of legislative authority.

    But if you want assurance of “serious money” being saved, I would look for the ORT reports which we are reviewing now. The key to this effort was that the legislature and the executive branches are working together on them. This is truly a first and significant because we all have buy in on the effort.

  15. Fortunato Avatar

    The Kaine Administration has a well-publicized “Scorecard” which they use to track goals and accomplishments. Too bad they didn’t have many goals relating to improving efficiency and cutting costs–they could have had things in place before the revenue-spending gap appeared.

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