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December 13, 2002

Panel finishes work on how to streamline government in Va.

From: Roanoke Times, VA - 13 Dec 2002

The commission, headed by former Gov. Douglas Wilder, issued a dozen proposals.


RICHMOND - Virginia could save more than $1 billion annually by consolidating government agencies, privatizing operations such as liquor sales and changing some of the state bureaucracy's basic business practices, according to a commission appointed by Gov. Mark Warner.

Warner's Commission on Efficiency and Effectiveness wrapped up nine months of highly scrutinized work Thursday, releasing a series of recommendations that will figure prominently in the governor's plans to reduce the size and cost of the state's cash-strapped bureaucracy.

"I can tell that the majority of these recommendations will form the core of my government reform efforts, and others hold great promise for even more positive change," Warner said in a written statement.

The 13-member commission, headed by former Gov. Douglas Wilder, issued a dozen proposals for consolidating government agencies and urged Warner to consider privatizing the state's liquor retail operation. Warner said he would support privatization only if the state could do it without losing recurring revenue that state liquor stores generate.

The agencies targeted for consolidation include the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, which would be merged administratively with the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond.

The commission also called for consolidating the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, the Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Department of Rehabilitative Services into a single agency, insisting the merger could improve services for the disabled.

The panel also suggested that Warner develop a plan to reform the administration and funding of city and county constitutional officers such as sheriffs, commonwealth's attorneys and commissioners of revenue. Some commission members had considered the possibility of calling for the elimination of the state Compensation Board, the state agency that oversees funding for constitutional offices. But the mere suggestion fueled angry protests from city and county officeholders in all corners of the state.

"We don't suggest at all that what we have here is a panacea," Wilder said. "We don't suggest at all that this is a blueprint for happiness and peace."

But Wilder said the commission's findings could help Warner shape a legacy as a government reformer.

"I would think he's very much interested in making a legacy," said Wilder, who was governor from 1990 to 1994.

Warner already has proposed mergers and eliminations of some state agencies as he tries to balance the state's two-year, $50 billion budget. He cut spending by $858 million in October and still faces a budget gap of more than $1 billion.

The two-year budget remains in effect until June 30, 2004. The spending plan originated with a proposal crafted last December by former Gov. Jim Gilmore. The commission proposed a change in the budget cycles to enable a new governor to craft a two-year budget at the end of his first year in office.

The commission, which included lawmakers and business executives, determined the state could save more than $500 million annually by merging agencies and contracting out its liquor business. It could save another $750 million by improving its procurement practices, its administration of computer technology and its management of real estate, the panel concluded.

"Clearly we've been able to identify some business practices that are not used in state government and should be," said Senate Majority Leader Walter Stosch, R-Henrico County, a member of the commission. "There will not be any significant resistance to what we're recommending."

© Copyright 2002 Roanoke Times