Ken Plum: Keeping tabs on state government

ken plumThe Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) conducts program evaluation, policy analysis, and oversight of state agencies on behalf of the Virginia General Assembly as authorized by the Code of Virginia.

A highly professional staff of attorneys, social scientists, economists, and researchers conducts rigorous and objective studies on the operation of state government in a totally nonpartisan way guided by the public interest. I am honored to serve as chairman of JLARC with Senator Janet Howell serving as vice-chairman.

The agenda of the meeting of JLARC this week provides an example of the kind of work the Commission staff has been doing for many years. This past Monday the staff presented to the fourteen legislative members of the Commission reports on studies that had been completed this past year and progress reports on on-going studies. Copies of these and previous reports are available at jlarc.virginia.gov.

The Commission systematically reviews agencies of state government and reports on their operations and performance. This week’s meeting included a report on the “Operations and Performance of the Virginia Department of Education” that administers the state’s role in public education. Public education K-12 takes the greatest share of the state’s general fund budget at more than $6.5 billion, nearly 30 percent of state-tax-supported revenue. In total appropriations including state tax and non-general funds, the budget for K-12 education is exceeded only by the cost of Medicaid program services. The report included 17 recommendations and 6 policy options for strengthening the department.

The Commission also received the latest “Update on VITA’s Implementation of a Multi-Supplier Service Model.” The Virginia Information Technology Agency has undergone major changes in recent years from a centralized, single-source, private-sector service provider to a multi-supplier service model. Such a change is challenging for any large organization and especially for a $63 billion state government that provides a wide array of services to the public. Anyone who has experienced “the computer is down” as an explanation of why information cannot be secured or services cannot be provided at a particular time will understand its importance. The good news of the report is that the transfer to the multi-supplier model has been completed and that VITA can shift more of its focus to increasing its services to its user agencies.

The Commission has on-going responsibilities, including monitoring the Virginia Retirement System and reporting on state spending trends. The reports give legislators a pulse of how state government is performing based on good data and outcome measures. The “State Spending: 2020 Update” presented this week provides an overview of the $62.6 billion state budget for FY20. Nearly half of the total appropriations were in three agencies: Department of Medical Assistance Services, Department of Education, and Department of Transportation. Adjusted for growth in population and inflation, the total state budget grew by an average of 3.3% per year during the last decade; the general fund tax-supported budget increased by 2% on the average.

Want to learn more about the details of Virginia government and its operation? Visit the JLARC website listed above and review its archive of reports.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.


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