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AFP Politics Blog – Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009

– News: Pew Center commends Virginia for budgeting, management, Tuesday, 5:40 p.m.
– News: House GOP kills bipartisan redistricting, Tuesday, 5:40 p.m.
– News: Statement of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on stimulus, Tuesday, 5:40 p.m.
– News: Gov. Kaine announces initiative to prepare dropouts for entry-level tech jobs, Tuesday, 12:20 p.m.
– News: Shannon announces endorsements, Tuesday, 12:20 p.m.
– Video: C-SPAN historians survey of presidential leadership. Length: 56:14.



News: Pew Center commends Virginia for budgeting, management, Tuesday, 5:40 p.m.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine called attention today to a new report by the Pew Center on the States that commends the Commonwealth’s data-based and results-oriented approach to budgeting and management as an effective decision-making strategy for addressing current fiscal challenges. Virginia was among four states—along with Utah, Maryland, and Indiana—to be highlighted in the report by the Pew Center’s Government Performance Project.

“This is yet another affirmation of Virginia’s budgeting and management strategies, and another honor for our widely praised Virginia Performs initiative,” said Gov. Kaine. “In today’s uncertain fiscal climate, our data-based approach to budgeting allows us to effectively set priorities and make any necessary budget reductions targeted ones, ensuring that every dollar of state money is effectively delivering the results our citizens expect.”

The report, titled “Trade-off Time: How Four States Continue to Deliver” praised the Commonwealth’s “tradition of good governance.” In particular, the Pew Center notes “Virginia Performs has created a culture of evidence-based decision making that allows Virginia’s leaders to systematically tackle the state’s budget crisis and increase agency productivity.” While acknowledging that declining revenues create difficult choices for all state budget makers, the report argues Virginia “will be better positioned to weather bad times” because of its budgeting and management practices.

Launched in January 2007, Virginia Performs is an interactive Web site that allows citizens to review measurable performance targets for state agencies and institutions and to monitor the Commonwealth’s progress on key areas across regions and in contrast to other states.

The Virginia Performs site focuses on seven key areas and outlines the state’s long-term goals for each: Economy, Education, Health and Family, Public Safety, Natural Resources, Government and Citizens, and Transportation. Within each area, selected societal indicators are used to help answer the question “How is Virginia doing?” Approximately 50 indicators are used, ranging from third grade reading scores to cancer incidence. Where available, data is used to compare Virginia to nearby states and national rates.

In 2008, Virginia again received the top score in the Government Performance Project’s “Grading the States 2008” report, the nation’s only comprehensive, independent analysis of how well each state performs in serving the public. In the first such rating in three years, Virginia achieved an overall grade of A- for performance, along with Utah and Washington. In 2008, Virginia also received its third consecutive top-ranking from as the “Best State for Business.”


News: House GOP kills bipartisan redistricting, Tuesday, 5:40 p.m.

Just after dawn Tuesday morning, Virginia House Republicans unceremoniously killed a variety of bipartisan bills that would have alleviated lines at polling places and made it easier for more Virginians to vote.

The Elections subcommittee of the House Committee on Privileges and Elections voted 4-2 Tuesday morning to kill election reform bills that had already passed the state Senate. The subcommittee votes ensure that the full House of Delegates will not have the opportunity to vote on reforms for no-excuse absentee voting, senior citizen absentee voting, and bipartisan redistricting. Earlier this session, the same subcommittee killed identical bills carried by House members.

“Last year, Virginia saw record turnout and long lines at polling places,” said Del. David Englin, who serves in the minority on the subcommittee. “Instead of working together to help more Virginians vote, House Republicans chose to kill these reforms before they could ever see the light of day.”

“Government ultimately belongs to the people, not elected officials,” said Sen. Creigh Deeds. “Yet, our broken redistricting process allows for legislators to protect their own interests by drawing districts that protect incumbents and political majorities. When I’m governor, Virginia voters will be the ones to choose their elected officials instead of allowing legislators to choose their voters.”

Deeds’ legislative proposal, SB 926, would have created a commission with an equal number of members appointed by leaders in both political parties. A seventh independent member would have been chosen by a majority vote of the six appointees. The commission would have been bound by criteria for drawing legislative districts that excludes the use of previous voting results, demographic data, or the addresses of incumbents.

As governor, Deeds promised to appoint an advisory commission, similar to the commission laid out in his redistricting reform bill. Using the veto and amendment powers granted to the Commonwealth’s chief executive, he would ensure passage of a redistricting plan advanced by the advisory commission.

For the last seven years, Deeds has proposed the creation of a redistricting commission-chaired by a non-partisan member-that would remove partisanship and incumbent protection from the drawing of legislative and congressional districts. Last year’s proposal, SB 38, is identical to this year’s and passed 33-5. In 2007, Deeds’ Senate Joint Resolution 352 was the first time a bi-partisan redistricting proposal passed a chamber of the General Assembly. SJR 352 passed the Senate with the support of seven Republicans but was defeated on an unrecorded vote in a House of Delegates subcommittee. [See: SB 38, 2008; SJR 352, 2007]


News: Statement of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on stimulus, Tuesday, 5:40 p.m.

“Today President Obama kept faith with the American people. Less than one month after taking the oath of office, he signed the landmark American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“I thank and congratulate President Barack Obama for this impressive and hard-won victory.

“This is the day America starts back. Resources to help America are now available. At the Department of Transportation we will make sure the transportation money in this law gets Americans to work quickly.

“Transportation is a great enabler of economic growth, the lifeblood of commerce. It moves people to jobs and goods to the marketplace. Without strong transportation arteries, economies stagnate.

“We will use the transportation funding in the Act to deliver jobs and restore our nation’s economy. We will emphasize sustainable investment and focus our policies on the people, businesses and communities who use the transportation systems. And, we will focus on the quality of our environment. We will build and restore our transportation foundations until the American dream is returned.

“We will invest in jobs to expand transit capacity and modernize transit systems. Transit is a centerpiece of my focus on livable communities and our Department will work closely with Vice President Biden’s “Middle-class Taskforce” on transit initiatives.

“We will invest in jobs to allow Amtrak to add and modernize cars and engines and upgrade its tracks.

“We will invest in jobs to expand airport capacity and make safety improvements.

“We will invest in jobs to build and rehabilitate and make safer roads, highways, bridges and ports.

“And we will invest in jobs to launch high-speed rail in America. This will transform intercity transportation in America, reduce our carbon footprint, relieve congestion on the roads and in the skies, and take advantage of a mode of transportation that has already benefited Europe and Japan for many years.

“There are those who argue that we need to waive environmental regulations to put people to work more quickly, but that is simply not the case. We have a backlog of worthwhile transportation projects waiting for funding that have already met those standards. We are ready to build a new transportation infrastructure and we will work to keep it green.

“I have met with state officials and other transportation stakeholders, and we have discussed how the money can be spent quickly to create jobs on projects that make long-term sense for our transportation systems in communities across the nation. We also reviewed the need for transparency and full accountability on this spending. We will do things by the book.

“We at the Department of Transportation are ready to go.

“I look forward to hearing the sounds of shovels and hammers and bulldozers and, in some cases, of moving that first shovelful of dirt myself.”


News: Gov. Kaine announces initiative to prepare dropouts for entry-level tech jobs, Tuesday, 12:20 p.m.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine today announced the launch of “PlugGED In,” an initiative to prepare high school dropouts for entry-level technology jobs while they prepare for the GED tests. The program will start as a pilot program in Southwest Virginia, where census data shows a high percentage of working-age adults without a high school-level credential. Attending on behalf of the governor, Virginia Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra joined U.S. Sen. Jim Webb for today’s announcement at an event in Russell County.

“We want to show that there is a path for all Virginians to enter the high-tech workforce of the 21st century economy,” Gov. Kaine said. “This innovative program will advance my workforce development strategic plan. Launching the pilot program in Russell County demonstrates that high-tech jobs are and will be available in all parts of the Commonwealth.”

“I am honored to be a part of the launch of this innovative education initiative in Russell County,” said Sen. Webb. “The PlugGED In program is a strong example of a public-private partnership that will work to ensure that employer demands are being met through a globally competitive, skilled workforce. I have every confidence that this initiative will strengthen the community and invigorate the local economy.”

The “PlugGED In” curriculum will prepare participants to pass the GED tests while also providing project-based instruction in the technology skills critical for entry-level employees. Classes will meet three nights a week at the University of Virginia at Wise’s Southwest Virginia Technology Development Center in Lebanon and will be co-taught by faculty from the Russell County adult education program and Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC). Individuals who complete the six-month program will earn a GED certificate, build a technology portfolio, have an opportunity to earn Microsoft certifications free of charge through partnerships with the Microsoft Academy and SWCC, and have a guaranteed interview with Northrop Grumman, which has a facility in Russell County.

“We are deeply committed to the notion that our economic future rests on our ability to tap the hidden potential of all Virginians,” Secretary Chopra said. “This bold initiative challenges us to cultivate that talent in a model that, if successful, can be replicated across the Commonwealth.”

Secretary Chopra and a planning team assembled by Virginia Board of Education President Mark Emblidge began work on the program and curriculum in early 2008. The team included representatives from the Literacy Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Department of Education, the University of Kentucky and Vanderbilt University. Other partners include Southwest Virginia Community College, the University of Virginia at Wise, Russell County Public Schools, Microsoft Inc., Northrop Grumman, and CGI Inc.

“When we got everyone to the table, we saw a real opportunity to align adult education with the needs of major employers,” Dr. Emblidge said. “Everybody wins — the student, the employers and the community.”

After the outlines of the “PlugGED In” program were developed, Northrop Grumman and CGI Inc. — which both established facilities in Russell County in recent years — signaled their eagerness to participate in a pilot. Students will receive guidance from volunteer mentors from both Northrop Grumman and CGI Inc., as well as career coaching from the community college.

“Northrop Grumman needs qualified IT professionals at our facility in Lebanon,” said Jim Tiscornia, Program Manager with Northrop Grumman. “The PlugGED In program will play an important role in helping us fill these needs.”

“This partnership aligns perfectly with Microsoft’s mission to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential,” said Linda Zecher, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Worldwide Public Sector. “We’re thrilled to be involved with this initiative because it confronts a serious problem with an innovative solution that will pay dividends to the community’s citizens and businesses.”

“Virginia has pioneered programs that meet adults where they are and help them earn a GED certificate quickly,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright. “Now we’re looking at ways to combine GED preparation with industry certification and training in the hard and soft skills young adults must have to succeed in the workforce.”

The Virginia Department of Education’s recent efforts toward expanded testing access and curriculum development have resulted in substantial increases in testing and credentialing. In 2002, 14,982 people took the GED tests in Virginia, and 11,830 GED credentials were awarded. In 2008, 24,492 people took the tests, and the commonwealth awarded 16,479 certificates. Using Virginia’s innovative Fast Track GED curriculum, many people are able to complete the program in just three to six months.


News: Shannon announces endorsements, Tuesday, 12:20 p.m.

Del. Steve Shannon (D-35) announced today that his campaign for attorney general has earned the support of a majority of Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee.

“Over the last several years, I have worked closely with this group of legislators to set the budget priorities of the state, and they are some of the folks in the House who know me best,” Shannon said. “These legislators work every day to make the Commonwealth a better place for our families, and that’s why I’m proud to have their support and their help in my campaign,” Shannon continued.

“Steve is a former prosecutor who will fight to keep our families safe, and he’ll fight to protect our jobs and our savings. I’ll be proud to call him Attorney General and I’m proud to call him my friend,” said Onzlee Ware (D–Roanoke).

Steve Shannon is a leader who will fight to protect our families, our businesses and our pocketbooks,” Delegate Bob Brink (D-Arlington) said. “Steve is a powerful advocate for Virginia’s families. He’ll keep fighting for the people as our Attorney General,” Brink continued.

Joining Delegates Ware and Brink were the following Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee, Delegates Bud Phillips (D-Castlewood), Jim Scott (D-Fairfax), Algie Howell (D-Norfolk), Mamye BaCote (D-Newport News), Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg), and Dan Bowling (D-Richlands).


Video: C-SPAN historians survey of presidential leadership. Length: 56:14.