Thursday, August 28, 2008

Privatization Paying Off in Indiana

From Reason's "Out of Control" Blog, we get this post on privatization efforts in Indiana, including the Indiana Toll Road lease and the positive impact those are having for the state.

Referencing Leonard Gilroy's article on the subject:

Without the toll road lease, these projects would likely have never materialized, or they would have necessitated tax increases to move forward. And Indiana has also earned over $360 million in interest on the upfront payment in just two years (over $185,000 per day, at current rates), which will be used to fund additional state and local transportation projects for decades.

More Illinois Budget Trouble

We posted the September issue of the Heartland Institute's "Budget & Tax News" earlier this week. If you didn't have a chance to read it, you may enjoy this article on the latest drama from Illinois...

Illinois Is Playing a Dangerous Game with its Broken Annual Budget Process
By: Sheila Weinberg
For the second year in a row the Illinois state government started its fiscal year, which began July 1, without an approved budget. Legislators passed a 2009 budget by the May 31, 2008 deadline, but the governor refused to sign it.

Lawmakers acknowledged the budget was about $2 billion out of whack, and on July 9 Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) vetoed $1.4 billion in spending.

About one week later the governor called lawmakers back to boost taxes or fees to stave off the cuts, but House members instead restored $480 million of cuts. Senators took no action, so the cuts remain. So does the budget imbalance.

Unfortunately, the budget game the state's politicians are playing is far from harmless.

Ted Hampton, a Moody's bond rating agency assistant vice president, recently issued a press statement saying a state that repeatedly starts its fiscal year without a budget is viewed as having "political polarization." That could adversely affect bond ratings, cost taxpayers higher interest payments, and make it more difficult to place state bonds, he added.

Continue reading...

"Getting Government Out of the Way"

In case you missed it, a great read by Dr. Ed Feulner over at the Heritage Foundation on the issue of minimum wage and unemployment rates.

Free enterprise has built America into the most prosperous nation the world has ever known. We have always embraced new ideas. We have always relied on the ingenuity of individuals and free markets to solve problems.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shine a light on education spending

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is kicking off a new education transparency intitiative.

In the pre-release: Shining the Light on Education Spending in Hawaii: Where Do Our Public Education Dollars Go?, Laura Brown notes:

Every year these DOE "cry wolf" tactics dupe the public into believing that Hawaii’s public education is under funded, but this time the Governor simultaneously released news that 651 DOE personnel recently attended a
conference at a Disneyland Resort in Orlando, Florida at a cost of at least $1.2
million. In response, a flood of skeptical comments from the public filled the commentary sections of the daily newspapers.

How can the Board of Education (BOE) believe that it must cut programs while the DOE carries over hundreds of millions of dollars? How can the Legislature annually appropriate millions in emergency funds not knowing that the DOE has more than enough money in the bank? A past superintendent testified before a Ways & Means committee that the DOE Budget Office does not communicate with the Accounting Office. In other words, there may be a budget “shortfall” on paper, but expenditures are consistently less than budgeted.

Humm, sounds like a familiar scenario... we look forward to seeing what the Grassroot Institute uncovers...

Less is more...

Seems like something we've said before here at VACostCutting...

Interesting commentary on the subject of creating a performance-managed government workforce from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Bacon talks budget

There have been a lot of headlines recently about the state of Virginia's budget (gee, sound familiar?), and already the debate is on as to how we should "fix" things.

Norm Leahy spoke with Jim Bacon to discuss their thoughts on just what needs to be done.

Take a listen over at Bacon's Rebellion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mackinac says "Contracting Out is In"

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently released its 6th sixth privatization survey of Michigan public school districts.

Their findings? Well, for the 5th survey in a row, they found that "the percentage of districts contracting for the management or operation of at least one of the "big three" support services - food, janitorial or busing - 42.2 percent, up from 40.2 percent in 2007. That is a rate increase of almost 5 percent."

Check out the other findings here. The conclusion

Done right, school support service privatization can save money and improve services -even if the privatization option is used solely to persuade public employee bargaining units to sharpen their pencils. This year's survey findings indicate that contracting out not only remains a widely accepted practice, but one that will likely grow in the future.

"Budget & Tax News" - September Issue

The September issue of The Heartland Institute's "Budget & Tax News" is now available. If you haven't checked it out before, it is a great national publication devoted to lower taxes and smaller government (two things we are all for here at VACostCutting!).

Of note, check out:

Expert Sees Problems with Drink, Rental Car Taxes, by Steve Stanek
"Any time you raise the price of something, you decrease its consumption." ... The taxes will take more money out of the local economy at an especially bad time, Gamrat said. "You're talking about delicate economic times at best right now," Gamrat noted. "The county executive [who led the fight for the new taxes] is encouraging those who live on the county fringes to buy elsewhere, and other people to spend less."

Budget Transparency Problems Are Identified in 50-State Survey, by Sheila Weinberg
Transparency is critical in each state's budget process, because that process is the principal vehicle through which state legislators and governors allocate resources collected from businesses and individuals.

Optimal, 'Right' Size of Government Provides New Political Paradigm, by Lewis K. Uhler and Richard Vedder
A growing body of research shows there is an "optimal" size beyond which government becomes a drain on a nation's economy. And government in the United States--local, state, and federal combined--has already grown far beyond that optimal size.


Monday, August 25, 2008

And the winner for transparency is...


So says the Sunshine Review Blog. For all of Virginia's recognition as "Best Managed State," apparently when it comes to transparency, we still have some work to do

Of note, Texas has accomplished:

  • posting state budget information online in a user-friendly format
  • streaming video of live House and Senate proceedings
  • passage of multiple bills related to transparency and accountability
  • Gov. Rick Perry signed an Executive Order in 2005 requiring school districts to post their check registers online if they failed to meet certain spending criteria
  • Texas legislators, working in tandem with the governor’s office, enacted the “Truth-in-Taxation” bill in 2005
  • Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has converted the state’s massive budget into a user-friendly package with the introduction of “Where the Money Goes,” which saved more than $2.3 million in her agency alone
  • The Texas Public Policy Foundation recently launched a new Web site,, which supplements “Where the Money Goes” with detailed budget analysis of state expenditures over the past 20 years, links to the online check registers of more
    than 150 Texas school districts, and lists of counties and cities that have posted their budget information online and more

Looks like we have plenty to keep us busy!

Educational cost savings

Here at the Cost Cutting Caucus, we've talked about the cost savings from school choice- specifically the cost savings generated when students do not attend public schools.

In Virginia- and across the country- state and local governments are increasing education budgets at tremendous rates- far outpacing actual increases in enrollment. What's worse, in many places, the increased spending does not appear to be producing measurable results in achievement.

Now, some taxpayers are finally saying enough is enough.

As the folks over at School Choice Virginia note, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that citizens in Connecticut are pushing for changes in what seems to be un-checked budget growth for education.

Over the past two and a half decades, the student population in Connecticut has increased only 10%. Yet the cost of schooling more than doubled — to $8.8 billion in 2006, up from $3.4 billion in 1981.
Cost savings ideas that have been proposed already include reducing usage of school vehicles, paying students not to attend the public schools (by attending private schools, vocational schools or home schooling), providing scholarships for students who graduate high school early, tax credits and implementing zero-based budgeting.

Commonwealth Competition?

The latest edition of Bacon's Rebellion is up, and this edition contains an insightful article by Leonard Gilroy on "Closing the Budget Shortfall."

Looking at the Commonwealth Competition Council, Mr. Gilroy finds that though the Council has done good work, its status as an advisory body rather than one with a mandate to ensure the implementation of recommendations leaves it relatively weak. He urges the Commonwealth to "develop more effective tools to systematically evaluate competition and efficiency opportunities across state government."

Luckily, some in the General Assembly understand the need to modernize the state’s efficiency tools. Earlier this year, Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, introduced House Bill 1238, which would replace the current CCC with a new Commonwealth Realignment Commission with more teeth to review the operations of state agencies and state-funded programs and promote privatization through competitive contracting.

The bill didn’t advance, but policymakers should revisit it in the next session. Whether or not that particular approach would offer the state a more powerful tool certainly merits a substantive policy discussion. Regardless, Saxman’s bill is exactly the kind of thinking Commonwealth taxpayers deserve to see more of moving forward.

“Everybody Healthy Nobody’s Fat Act of 2008"

Mike Maurer over at the Buckeye Institute just might be on to something with this idea over at the Buckeye Blog...

Reason Foundation: 2008 Annual Privatization Report

In case you missed it, earlier this month, the Reason Foundation released it's annual Privatization Report.

Of note, they found that taxpayers were saved $7.2 billion over the past five years through federal competitive sourcing. From the press release:

Competitive sourcing allows the private sector to compete for jobs and contracts that are currently performed by the government. Federal employees actually won 83 percent of the job competitions from fiscal 2003 through fiscal 2007. But taxpayers are the real winners: the Annual Privatization Report shows taxpayers save $25,000 for every job that is put up for competition because even when the government keeps the job it significantly improves efficiency and reduces costs.

You can view the whole report online here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Transparency in education, too!

Looks like our friends blogging over at School Choice Virginia are on the same page when it comes to transparency.

Here they look at transparency in education as a plus for parents.

Great quote from Australia's Education Minister:

“I do think transparency of information in and of itself will spur people to do better and they will all want to be seen to be doing better.”

Yes, we think so too.

Transparent budgets?

Barton Hinkle over at the Richmond Times Dispatch looks at the latest budget crisis in "State Leaders Will Have to Cut Somewhere -- But Where?"

Last week this newspaper suggested, in the editorial, "Hard Times," ways the commonwealth might close its fiscal gap -- from dipping into the rainy-day fund to layoffs to spending cuts. The paper voiced agreement with Gov. Tim Kaine that it is wiser to make selective cuts than to slash both essential and non-essential spending equally. The editorial singled out several agencies "whose functions are not crucial" to the state -- from the Virginia Tourism Authority and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

On the one hand, everyone seems pretty much in agreement this go round that we need to look at cutting spending- rather than once again raising taxes. On the other, the question looms of can we agree on where those cuts should be made?

Hinkle writes:

"Don't tax you, don't tax me -- tax that fellow behind the tree," the late Sen. Russell Long famously said. Virginia, facing a budget shortfall on the order of $1 billion, is hearing a variation on the theme: "Don't cut you, don't cut me . . . ."

If only we could actually get a clear view of where and how all that money was actually being spent rather than this mess....

Today's theme: accountability

Continuing on our theme of accountability, we find this great video from Empower Texans. It's a little long (about 8 minutes) but well worth the watch as they breakdown the "investment" Texas has made into public education and examine the results.

It makes you wonder, if that is the kind of results we're getting for our "investment" in the current educational system, maybe it is time to start looking for other options....

h/t Sunshine Review Blog for sharing this story!

Transparency and Accountability

Transparency and accountability in government- two of our key goals here at the Cost Cutting Caucus. And it seems to be a trend that is catching on.

Earlier this month, the Buckeye Institute in Ohio, announced the formation of a new Center for Transparent and Accountable Government. They will focus on collecting and making available to the public "state and local government budgets, employee contracts, public records policies and other information."

We think it sounds like a great idea, and we wish them much success!

For more, Jayme Siemer from the Sam Adams Alliance interviewed the new director of the the Center, Mike Maurer. They've posted the interview on the new website we told you about yesterday: No Taxation without Information.

Click here for the Interview

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"No Taxation without Information"

Check out this new site, a project of the Sam Adams Alliance.

From the site:
"No Taxation Without Information" is part of the Sam Adam Alliance’s transparency website Sunshine, a Wikipedia-like website. It enables people to find and share with each other information about whether state and local governments are effective, easy to reach, open, honest and responsible with taxpayer money.

We like the sound of that!

Four day school weeks?

It's making headlines across the country as school boards and governments weigh the option to help cut costs. In Nevada, Ohio, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Montana, Utah, and other states around the country the debate is taking place, and in some places the decision has already been made to move to a four-day school week. (Some reports have as many as 100 schools in 16 states already making the shift.)

Now Virginia schools are beginning to consider this as a cost-savings option.

Lights out. Computers off. Fewer county employees take government cars home. And maybe four school days instead of five.

A joint committee of supervisors and School Board members discussed austerity measures during their second monthly meeting yesterday morning.

A four-day school week would come with complications, such as requiring many parents to find day care for one weekday. However, School Board Chairman Hal Schaffer wants to study the issue further, with the possibility of extending instruction by 80 minutes per day. Closing schools one day a week would save the county on heating, cooling and transportation costs.

"When All Else Fails, Try the Head Smackingly Obvious"

In case you missed Bacon's Rebellion's August 4th edition, this article by Ronald Utt is definitely worth a read.

Want to relieve traffic congestion? Stop funding pork barrel and prioritize transportation projects that... (drum roll)... relieve traffic congestion.

Mr. Utt explains that voters just don't have confidence in their government to spend tax dollars wisely or effectively to create better transportation systems.

With the economy deteriorating and voters pressed by worsening employment prospects and escalating gas prices, opposition to pointless tax increases will stiffen. Perhaps elected officials may finally realize that the opposition to higher taxes stems more from a reluctance to pay Neiman Marcus prices for Dollar Store products than from any particular ideological objection to paying for transportation services.

Unless federal, state, and local officials take steps to improve management of transportation operations and restore voter confidence, voter skepticism will persist as congestion and safety standards worsen.

His suggestions, including conducting an independent audit, performing an independent performance assessment and actually implementing recommendations, are critical to truly fixing our transportation systems. Definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Blog: School Choice Virginia

As readers of the VACostCutting Blog know, educational choice is an important issue for us. (See here, here, here, here, here and here, just to name a few.)

And now, joining in the efforts to promote educational opportunities, we'd like to welcome School Choice Virginia to the blogosphere.

School Choice Virginia is a "501(c)4 organization working to expand educational choices for Virginia families to ensure every child has the opportunity to receive the education that best meets their unique and individual needs," and they are blogging about educational reforms here in Virginia and news from around the country.

We look forward to following their efforts.

"Diversity Lags In Va. Program To Help Firms", but at what cost to taxpayers?

The Washington Post notes that the Kaine "administration has achieved one of its top goals -- buying 40 percent of all state products and services from small, women- and minority-owned businesses."

And while it is encouraging to see the state reaching out to small, women- and minority-owned, businesses, this may be coming at a cost to taxpayers who may be footing a higher bill for goods and services.

Some companies in Virginia, including some with long records of working for the state, have lost contracts recently in the state's eagerness to hire small, women- and minority-owned businesses.

At least two companies are formally protesting losing bids to SWaM companies, which they claim come at taxpayer expense. In both cases, the losing bids were lower in cost than the SWaM bids.

Especially in light of the recent talk of yet another budget shortfall, shouldn't our first priority for state agencies be to find the best possible services or goods at the lowest possible cost?

"A lot of people are concerned about the cost factor," said Del. Christopher B. Saxman (R-Stanton), who heads the General Assembly's Cost-Cutting Caucus and has heard similar complaints about lower bids being rejected. "If it's costing the state money, then it's probably worth refining."

Should limited tax dollars be funding an agenda or be used to fund necessarily core services of government?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Check it out: Education Equality Project

The Education Equality Project gained support from Senator John McCain today.

Already supported by notable advocates for education reform, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former DC Councilman and founder of Democrats for Education Reform- Kevin Chavous, former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Howard Fuller, former congressman J.C. Watts, and many others, the Education Equality Project released the following statement regarding Senator McCain's remarks at the National Urban League's convention earlier this morning:

"We are gratified that Senator McCain has endorsed the principles of the Education Equality Project, joining education, civil rights, and elected officials across America who are working together to bring meaning ful reform to our nation's public schools. The members of the Education Equality Project believe that education reform is the civil rights issue of our time. Fixing our schools won't be easy and it will require strong national leadership--but nothing short of that will enable us to live up to our basic commitment to our children: to help them learn so they have a real shot at achieving the American dream. Education reform, like civil rights, is above partisan politics and must be embraced by all."

Read The Statement

School Choice: It's Time

From today's Daily News Record in Harrisonburg...

The Time For School Choice Has Come

By Katreena Crookshanks

Del. Chris Saxman’s announcement that a coalition of concerned citizens is forming School Choice Virginia provides the chance to examine why school choice is an option Virginians ought to have.

There are two principal reasons: one is money, the other the right of parents to educate children as they see fit.

According to the Virginia Department of Education’s report: Keister, Spotswood, Stone Spring and Waterman elementary schools did not make the Adequate Yearly Progress required under No Child Left Behind. Thomas Harrison failed to make the AYP for the third year in a row.
Consequently, the Harrisonburg City School District did not meet the AYP goals. The Harrisonburg City School District had six schools, with 4,528 students for the 2007-2008 school year.

According to the same Virginia Department of Education report, Rockingham County School District (with 20 schools and 11,850 students) met their AYP goals for 2007-2008. Harrisonburg City Schools’ approved budget for 2008-2009 is $60.3 million, about $10 million per school. The Rockingham County Schools budget for 2008-2009 is $164 million, about $8.2 million per school. Harrisonburg plans to spend nearly $2 million more per school.

If additional funding equates to increased performance, as some logic dictates, Harrisonburg City Schools should outperform Rockingham County Schools. And wasn’t passage of the lottery bill years ago supposed to ease school budget funding? Obviously more money, the mantra from the National Education Association and state and local school boards, is not working. When will “more money” be enough?

For the rest of the op/ed, click here.