On the Record: Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D)
By Jason White, Assistant Staff Writer
Q: How did information technology (IT) reform become a major part of your agenda?
WARNER: In IT, it's because of my background [as a telecommunications executive]. There had been many reports of duplication in IT. It took me nine months to get a straight answer as to how much money the state spends each year on information technology and how many people it employs in that sector. The answers are $900 million and 2,400 people respectively.
Having been in the high tech field in the high-tech field in the private sector I knew there were areas for great savings and more efficient state government.
Q: Have you talked to other governors about ways to save money, ways to change state government?
WARNER:What I've spent a lot of time with, particularly with a lot the new governors, is saying: "You're going to have to make the cuts anyway, you're going to have to make the hard choices anyway. Use this as an opportunity not just to balance your budget, but use this as an opportunity to take on some of these issues that you know in the good times there won't be the political will to do."
Q: How receptive have Virginia lawmakers and even the media been to some of your reform proposals?
WARNER:The smoke and rhetoric has been about some other legislation. And the reason that we weren't as successful on two-term governor [a proposal to allow Virginia governors to serve for two terms instead of one], which fit into this reform package, was really a case of politics taking over. I got all the Democrats to finally vote for it and then sixteen patrons of the bill, Republicans, voted against it, even though it wasn't going to apply to me. That's politics.
The part that didn't get emphasized as much, but I think will be the real legacy this session for our administration, is 34 out of 37 of our bills passed. In all of these areas workforce training, VDOT reform [transportation], budget reform, IT reform, veterans care, mental health, water policy.
Q: Did you imagine when running for governor that a reform agenda would be the main focus of your first year in office?
WARNER: No. I didn't think it would be. But I also believe that if the state has got to go through its largest budget shortfall in the last 50 years, it is maybe the right thing to have someone with a business background rather than a political background.
Q: How has your business background influenced the way you approach these issues?
WARNER: I think I have more of an attitude that says you've got to find efficiency. The fact that I haven't been in office forever means that I might have a more of an objective view about what programs could be cut as opposed to having personal favorites that may or may not be the best deliverers of services.
We're having a struggle over some of the things the legislature did in the budget this year, and I know it's an election year, but they made some promises like a pay raise, which is based on contingent revenues, and they inflated some of the revenue assumptions. I've had people say that's just the way they do things. But we're about to go to war with Iraq, we've got Alan Greenspan saying be conservative it makes no sense, and that's why people don't trust people in politics. Don't make promises you can't live up to.
One of the lessons I heard loud and clear, for example, on the Northern Virginia transportation referendum, when I was saying to Northern Virginians: "Hey, give us some more revenue so we can deal with your traffic problems." There were some voters who clearly voted against it purely on the basis of no new taxes at any cost, but I think the majority of the no voters were saying: "Well, I don't trust you to spend these dollars wisely, show me that you've cleaned up your own fiscal house first before you ask me for more money."
That's why I tried to challenge the legislature to say let's use this session to take on these reforms. Through all the smoke and rhetoric, while other issues maybe garnered more attention, the bottom line is all these reforms passed. In the end, that'll be good for Virginians.
Q: If and when the economy does improve, what problems would you like to see the state address, what areas should get more funding?
WARNER: Education is the one that needs the most, because education drives the quality of your workforce and drives whether you are going to be competitive in a knowledge-based economy. I think we under-fund the environment. We're 50th in the nation.
One of the things with budget shortfalls is I think they are illuminative. You get a sense much more of what somebody's priorities are during a budget shortfall than you do during good times. . . .Whereas if these were good times, it's easier to just spread the money around.
Q: Are you going to run for any other offices in the future?
WARNER: I've got all I can take right here right now in Virginia. I've only had this job fourteen months and it feels like fourteen years. My only political plan right now is to get through this veto session and see if I can put together a tax fairness package we will deal with in a bipartisan way next year.