Saturday, March 04, 2006

Spending is caring

As we come to the conclusion, hopefully, of the 2006 General Assembly session, we will once again face a battle over the budget.

The battle always comes down to how much we are willing to spend to show that we did something for a particular area of the budget. Meaning, we often get into the trap of showing constituency "X" how much we care by giving them "Y"% more than the previous year in direct conflict with take your pick from the Senate/House/Governor. House says 3% for something and the Governor says 3.5% and so on.

Yes, there are many areas of "need" and there are areas of "want". Some are legitimate on the surface and others are not as legitimate. The problem is we do not know and the budget document and the government itself cannot show you what will actually happen with that increase so that you can determine whether or not it was worth the increase.

Recently, we have heard from top officials that while they cannot tell us how many people actually work for the state and that they physically cannot show you what they do, we need a lot more money in the meantime. Sadly, this has not been the focus of the debate.

What is the focus is that we need to spend more. Showing the people how well we did it is secondary because we have a massive surplus and we need to show that we care. The reality is that it is we try to spend wisely, we just don't know if we do.

Some of us really want to know if your tax money is actually doing the job well and we think that shows a real concern (caring) about the product and not the price. Would one pay $10 dollars for a bowl of Ramen noodles? Probably not.

Would one dramatically increase transportation spending if one was told by a very high ranking VDOT (no longer there) administrator that instead of the 9,300+/- employees that we really only needed about 5,000 to run the department efficiently?

During his confirmation hearing, Secretary Homer was asked about staffing reductions at VDOT and he said that he did not want to set any specific goals for that.

Instead we have to show the people of Virginia that we serious about solving transportation problems in Virginia and that involves spending not caring.


  • Unless they are including contracted employees that may come and go within a fiscal year, I don't understand why state officials can't determine the number of state employees at any given month. Those numbers should be pretty easy to come by. I believe DHRM requires the agencies to give a tally of employees monthly or quarterly...

    Also, each agency should have a job description for every employee on file. Those descriptions may be a bit broad but certainly would be a start I would think.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/04/2006 1:42 PM  

  • anon,
    one would think that it is possible. but apparently not until we seriously upgrade our systems.

    By Anonymous Chris Saxman, at 3/04/2006 3:20 PM  

  • How is that coming along? Weren't there changes in both house and senate to cut the budget for the upgrade to enterprise systems?

    By Blogger Lucy Jones, at 3/05/2006 11:42 AM  

  • Is there enough time left to shift the debate to the House premise that we already have the revenue to handle the transportation “crisis”?

    By Anonymous Mike, at 3/05/2006 8:53 PM  

  • Lucy,
    Yes the house and senate have money in their budgets for the continuation of the enterprise application program. Naturally, there are disagreements over the amounts necessary to move forward on that. The good news is that the program is moving forward.

    Mike, there is time but not much. If the "needs" of the Commonwealth are around 200 billion in transportation infrastructure investment in 20 years, i don't see how we meet that without significant amounts of private capital. Especially when one considers the growth of Medicaid over the next 20 years.

    By Anonymous Chris Saxman, at 3/06/2006 9:06 AM  

  • Del. Saxman,
    Couple questions:

    1. What would the savings be on reducing VDOT by 4300 employees (I assume through attrition, since otherwise the WTA costs would be significant)? I would imagine the reduced costs in payroll, overhead, benefits, etc. would be fairly significant-- sure, not 200 billion worth, but still significant. VDOT certainly is in need of greater reforms, many of which we've already discussed here. How much more can we save and don't we owe it to taxpayers to do everything we can to fully implement those first?

    2. I assume you are including tolling applications as private capital, as well as expansion of PPTA opportunities?

    3. Finally, how do we change the debate? You comment that in the eyes of most, spending is caring. Yet shouldn't the focus be on results, not on inputs? I know that changing a long-standing mentality does not happen overnight, but shouldn't we be pushing in that direction. Performance based budgeting, measurable goals, those should be the driving forces behind our budgeting decisions, shouldn't they? With transportation, shouldn't we focus on what results we will achieve from our investments, instead of simply focusing on a bottom dollar amount?

    By Anonymous whitney, at 3/06/2006 9:41 AM  

  • savings through attrition worked out to be about 50 million when we reduced the workforce by 1,100 during Warner administration. So i think we are in the 175-200 million per year ballpark.

    private capital can be used in a variety of ways to finance large projects either in electronic tolling or in long term maintenance contracts.

    How does one change any debate? Change the debate...we are currently in another yes or no style debate and i am proud the House has offered significant reforms to meet our transportation needs. the problem is that there appears to be little conflict over our ideas. no conflict = no debate = no coverage

    By Anonymous Chris Saxman, at 3/06/2006 9:57 AM  

  • Chris, great job with replying to each of your questions, like an online town hall.

    By Blogger Not Larry Sabato, at 3/06/2006 12:25 PM  

  • NLS—I agree, thank you to Chris for taking the time to answer all these questions.

    Like I thought, 175-200 million would be pretty significant savings, especially if you were to add that on top of the other reforms and investments that the House is suggesting in their reform package.

    This is clearly only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is needed as far as reforms-- and not only within VDOT.

    By Anonymous whitney, at 3/06/2006 1:52 PM  

  • Chris,

    over at the republitarian's blog he says you're going to run for lt. gov..

    any truth to that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/06/2006 2:36 PM  

  • I just checked republitarian's blog and it is true - he did post that.

    By Anonymous Chris Saxman, at 3/06/2006 2:44 PM  

  • oooooohhhhhh!!!!!!!!

    you're so slick.......

    like a greasy eel!!!!

    We'll all take that as a non-denial.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/06/2006 5:37 PM  

  • Though I definitely appreciate the interest, anonymous posts on political issues should be made on other blogs. Let's try and keep this blog focused on policy.

    You can always email me directly and ask me specific questions though.

    By Anonymous chris saxman, at 3/06/2006 7:12 PM  

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