Va.’s McDonnell proposes cuts to state agencies

Budget savings modest from streamlining plan

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Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing to eliminate two state agencies and combine seven others as part of his 2012 government-reform agenda - an impressive-looking plan but one that will save the state about $4 million from an $80 billion biennial budget.

Mr. McDonnell, who has made streamlining government a top priority during his 22 months in office, suggested eliminating 19 boards and commissions, and consolidating 23 boards and commissions into 11. Three professions - hair braiders, mold inspectors and remediators, and interior designers - would also be deregulated under his proposal.

Despite the relatively small savings - $2 million represents .013 percent of the $15.45 billion Virginia collected in general fund revenues last year - Mr. McDonnell said state government had to at least try to contain potential growth.

“In this tough economy, when families are struggling to make ends meet and business owners are facing declining revenues and tough choices, we simply cannot afford a government that just grows bigger and bigger with each passing year,” Mr. McDonnell said in a statement.

Delegate Scott A. Surovell, Fairfax Democrat, though, scoffed at the amount of savings achieved.

“It’s an atom in the bucket,” he said. “It’s a pretty list, but substantively, it’s pretty insignificant.”

Mike Thompson, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy and an adviser to Mr. McDonnell’s government-reform commission, said bigger plans are in the works. He said the commission’s recent report was just the second of four to be delivered to the governor.

“The big stuff takes longer because when you go to bring it up, you’ve got to make sure it’s accurate,” he said. “There were a lot of people on that reform commission who would like to go further, and we’ll see what kind of pushback we get from the legislature. … If you can’t get rid of licensing for hair braiders, we’ve got a bigger hill to climb than we thought.”

The Virginia National Defense Industrial Authority and the Board of Towing and Recovery Operators are the two agencies that would be eliminated under the plan.

It would also eliminate boards like the Small Business Advisory Board, the Child Day Care Council and the Hemophilia Advisory Board. Mr. McDonnell in April signed legislation eliminating 49 of the more than 350 boards and commissions in Virginia on which more than 4,000 people serve. Service on boards and commissions is generally unpaid, with members sometimes reimbursed for expenses.

Tuesday’s recommendations would also merge the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC), which doles out money for regional transit services, such as Metro and the Virginia Railway Express, and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), a body that has worked to craft long-term solutions to the region’s transportation woes.

The Republican governor issued two executive directives asking agencies to more effectively manage their resources, directing the Department of Human Resources Management to examine expanding a pilot 4-day, 10-hour workweek for state employees and seeking to cut costs of executive-branch and higher-education travel.

Mr. Thompson said other major ideas, such as the Virginia Department of Transportation’s public-private partnership office, also arose out of discussions from the commission, a 31-member group of lawmakers and members of the private sector.

Legislators have already accepted measures from the commission, such as creating a central inspector general for the state, along with other, smaller reforms - items such as requiring state agencies to post invitations to bid online and allowing them to save money by sending less certified mail.

Mr. Thompson, though, said big things were still in the works - including a potential head count of the 13,000 buildings and swaths of vacant land owned by the commonwealth that the state could sell off.

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