- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

RICHMOND With the state's fiscal picture growing steadily darker, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder has called an urgent meeting of the Commission on Government Efficiency this week to suggest specific cuts.
Mr. Wilder said he will be ready to propose specific cuts and consolidations when the 13-member commission convenes on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Richmond so Gov. Mark R. Warner and the General Assembly can begin considering them. Mr. Wilder is chairman of the commission.
"The time has come to make some specific recommendations, and if we don't do it now, then when?" Mr. Wilder said in a telephone interview.
"A month ago, the budget was supposed to be balanced, right? Well, it ain't. So why should we wait until December or even September to say, 'OK, here are some things we can think about'?" he said.
Sliding stock prices and related layoffs in Virginia left the state government with a $237 million revenue shortfall for the fiscal year that ended June 30, the worst performance in the 40 years since the state began keeping tax-collection statistics.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, told reporters on Wednesday that the shortage appears to be worsening and could top $1 billion for the current budget, endangering raises appropriated for state workers, school teachers and college faculty in 2003.
On Aug. 1, Mr. Wilder released a list of 10 suggested cuts for the panel to ponder, including the elimination of a position in the governor's Cabinet, selling state-owned liquor stores and the abolition of five state agencies or boards.
Mr. Wilder was forced to make cuts when he was governor and the state's finances were ravaged by the recession of the early 1990s.
One idea he said he intended to press on Wednesday was selling the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission stores. The stores are a drain on state resources and don't generate the tax revenue that privately owned liquor stores would, he said.
"If there has ever come a time to sell those ABC stores, it's now. You do not tax a state entity. Most people in Northern Virginia already go into Washington or Maryland where [liquor] is cheaper, and in Southwestern Virginia, they go into Tennessee," Mr. Wilder said.
Mr. Warner, who created the efficiency commission, was on vacation Friday and not available for comment.
"The governor is happy to listen to the chairman and the full commission because the shortfall we now face, on top of the one in the budget year we just closed, is so great that we're in the market for some good ideas," said Mr. Warner's press secretary, Ellen Qualls.
Whether the full commission is prepared to offer a list of specific agencies to cut is far less certain, said state Sen. Walter Stosch, Henrico Republican, a panel member.
"What former Governor Wilder is recommending is that the commission come up with a list of agencies to be affected by its work, and I am not sure we are prepared for that because we haven't developed criteria yet to evaluate those agencies," Mr. Stosch said.
He said Mr. Wilder's list last week contained no analysis of savings the state would realize from the specific cuts. To be effective, the commission has to study the process under which state agencies operate to assess the benefits of cutting or merging them, he said.
"For instance, we've identified 44,000 individual vendors the state deals with. Well, we have just over 100,000 state employees. That means there are roughly two state employees for every vendor we deal with. Intuitively, it sounds to me like we're dealing with too many people," said Mr. Stosch, an accountant by profession.
He also noted that most state agencies deal independently with a variety of computer manufacturers. By consolidating computer purchases for all state agencies, the government could leverage the buying power to purchase technology at lower costs, Mr. Stosch said.

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