Column by Ken Plum
Gov. Bob McDonnell is to be commended for appointing a Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring to “make government simpler and easier to use, more efficient and more effective.” The 30-person commission made up of businesspersons and legislators has an ambitious schedule of completing its initial report in two months on July 16, 2010. The final report deadline of Dec. 1, 2010, suggests that there will not be a special legislative session to deal with the recommendations this fall.
All recent governors have made efforts to modernize and streamline state government. Under governors Warner and Kaine real progress was made in modernizing state government with award-winning use of technology. The Commonwealth received “best managed” recognition several times. There are several ways that Gov. McDonnell can build on this previous success, save taxpayers some money, and maintain the best managed state designation.
First, he can rein in the attorney general. In his first several months in office, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has embarked on questionable lawsuits that could easily cost taxpayers more than a million dollars. Suing the federal government over the health care reform bill may get headlines but does nothing for Virginians without health care. His recent fishing expedition against a former University of Virginia climatologist is pointless. If criminal activity is the point of his action, the information upon which he is acting should be turned over to a Commonwealth Attorney for prosecution. If anti-climate change ideology is the point of his effort as suspected by most, he needs to step back from attacking a university and its research efforts.
Public schools are the big ticket cost item in the state budget. Recent research has shown conclusively that the way to save money in education is to invest in preschool programs. A dollar spent on programs for three- and four-year-olds will return seven to ten dollars in savings by reducing the need for remedial programs, repeating of grades, and lack of job skills. Wise investments do save money in the long run.
The Governor’s Prisoner and Juvenile Offender Re-entry Council should come up with recommendations to stop the revolving door of the corrections system that has almost a third of Virginia’s prisoners return to prison within three years. Virginia has one of the costliest criminal justice systems in the country without any lower crime rate than most other states that spend less. The governor and the legislature will need the backbone and political will to enact reforms in this area.
The governor should push his independent redistricting plan like the one I have advocated for years as a way to save money on lawsuits contesting partisan redistricting plans and as a way to reform government by having voters pick the legislators rather than legislators picking their constituents.
I will return to this topic of government reform in the future. In the meantime I would be pleased to learn of your suggestions for reforming state government and saving tax dollars: [email protected].