Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Here's how you cut costs....

Our good friend Norm has sadly closed up shop over at One Man's Trash, but during last year's legislative session he began digging into some of the "pork" in the Virginia State budget.

Last year, he found that the Senate requested $94.5 million for non-state agencies for year one(general fund dollars in addition to the $19.2 million in the introduced budget). They then made a total of $41 million in requests (on top of the $600,000 introduced budget) for year two.

That's a lot of "bringing home the bacon!"

In the end, the legislature and the governor approved about $37 million in earmarks.

Since transportation funding was the "critical" issue of the session, we took a look at VDOT's website to get an idea of some transportation projects in Virginia that could have used this $37 million.

Yet, $37 million wasn't enough, and in December, the Governor announced requests to spend another $7.5 million in our tax dollars on earmarks for pet projects (see page 49, if you're interested). That's nothing compared to the Senate's budget requests for this year that ask for a total of $112,954,241 in pork-barrel earmarks to non-state agencies!! See the list here.

(Note: Many of these requests are made by the very same Senators who find fault with using those same general fund dollars to fund investments in transportation projects. See more.)

Well, we at Americans for Prosperity agree that it's time to end earmarks. We've been highlighting examples of egregious spending since our Taxpayer Trust Tour this past summer. You can follow on our AFP-VA Blog.

While we understand that some will argue this is "small change" in the scope of a $74 billion budget, we believe this is the tip of the iceburg, the "gateway drug too higher spending," as our friend Senator Tom Coburn is fond of saying. If lawmakers can't control $37 million in earmarks, how can they seriously tackle the bigger spending problems the state faces?

As the members of the Cost Cutting Caucus work to tackle substantive reforms to government spending and operations, this is a pretty simple example of where we can begin to stop overspending.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Saving Schools through Cost Savings

The Petersburg City school system is in the news again. Back in December, we commented on Del. Saxman’s op-ed, “To Improve Failing Schools, Utilize Free-Market Principles,” in which he examined free-market reforms to help the failing schools in Petersburg.

Today, the Richmond Times Dispatch reports that a consulting firm hired to examine the school system has identified more than $19 million in cost-savings that can be implemented over the next five years.

One of the greatest concerns raised in the report was that Petersburg spends less per pupil on actual instruction compared to five other Virginia school districts with similar demographics, including Hopewell, however, the administrative costs on a per-pupil basis was the highest.
For example, Hopewell had 3.75 principals or assistant principals for every 1,000 students in 2004-05, Petersburg had 5.29. Hopewell had 16.05 teacher aides per 1,000 students, compared with Petersburg's 9.15.

When four of Petersburg’s seven public schools are unaccredited and the school system has the second highest high school drop out rate in Virginia, it appears clear that the same old way of doing business is not helping the students in Petersburg schools. Hopefully this report will serve as a first step in infusing some badly needed new ideas into the Petersburg school system.

Friday, January 05, 2007

No Child Left Behind - Don't amend it - END IT!

It is becoming quite apparent that the burdens placed on our public school system by the No Child Left Behind program are not worth the money we get from the federal government.

The program is not fixable. Well intended? Sure. So was my mom's attempt at a tuna and cashew casserole back in 1972 - but we have not seen another since! Really, one bad one in my 41 years is a pretty good record...

There comes a point where you sell a losing stock, replace a truck that costs more in repairs than a new one costs brand new and fire a football coach that is just not winning.

We're there! This is becoming the Donner party of public policy.

Don't amend it - END IT!

Your thoughts?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Salary Increase Requests

If you get a chance, take a look at the salary increases in the Governor's introduced budget amendments.
Some are rather substantial. If they were tied to performance, I could see the reason to pay them more. DPOR Director $98 k to $125? Superintendent of Public Instruction from $157k to $190K?

I also cannot understand how the Director of the New College Institute gets $160,000 a year and the Presidents of UVa, VaTech, VCU get $174,419. I know that these presidents have additional sources of compensation from their respective universities, but why does the NCI director make $18,000 more than the President of Longwood and $16,000 more than the President of JMU? And why does the Director of SCHEV make $170 thousand at all?

They are all very good people and quite competent, but what are we paying them to produce and should we begin to offer incentives for higher levels of performance. I would offer the superintendent of public instruction A LOT more if he could get the graduation rates up - as an example. Billy Cannaday is an EXCELLENT superintendent and I know we are not going to agree on certain issues in education and I am by no means picking on k-12 and higher ed, but the questions should be asked - what are we getting for our money? and what could we be getting for our money.

If we said get graduation rates of 9th graders to X% instead of Y%, how much would that be worth?

Over at VDOT, we are taking the Commissioner's salary from $163,591 to $187,460. Okay. I get that construction and maintenance costs have increased a lot but we just hired Ekern this year.

The point is this - We should review the whole structure of executive level compensation and put more incentives in the packages that we offer. Then we can hopefully do the same for more of state employees rather than trying to justify across the board increases that basically end up paying for across the board increase is the cost of living with absolutely zero impact whatsoever on performance.

Today the Governor announced the new website about performance and that is a very good thing. The next step is to tie pay to that performance objectively as possible.