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Warner Looking for Extra Credit on a Great Report Card

By Michael D. Shear
Sunday, February 6, 2005; Page C04


Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) was beaming as he held aloft the oversize report card.

"Straight A's," he told reporters at the news conference to announce that Virginia had been named the best-managed state in the nation. "What do straight A's mean? It means we are giving good value to the people of Virginia."

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For three years, Warner has argued that his governorship will be defined by the state's fiscal health when he leaves office. Last year, he succeeded in a long-shot bid to raise taxes by convincing lawmakers and the public that Virginia's long-term future was at risk.

Now, Warner says the glowing report by Governing magazine and the Pew Charitable Trusts proves he was right.

"It is an excellent reflection on all of our work," he said.

The report issues grades in four categories: money, people, infrastructure and information. It also gives states an overall grade for how its leaders manage their resources. It is available online at results.gpponline.org.

Several states received poor grades, which the study's authors said reflected the struggle in many places to recover from "the worst financial storm since World War II, in which plunging revenues have coincided with surging costs."

Virginia received an A-minus overall, tying with Utah, and received A's or A-minuses in all of the individual categories. The report concluded that "Virginia has an ethos of good management that has genuinely been institutionalized."

The report takes direct aim at Warner's predecessor as governor, James S. Gilmore III (R). It accuses Gilmore of betraying the culture of good government by opening "a $1 billion budget shortfall in the late 1990s with a cut in car taxes that was politically popular but fiscally unsound."

Warner and lawmakers repaired that fiscal damage by approving "hard-won, sweeping tax reform" during the extended 2004 General Assembly, the report concludes.

That conclusion prompted some Republican legislators to dismiss the report. "I've never paid any attention to Governing magazine anyway," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem). "I think they have a liberal bent."

Gilmore said: "I have never believed that raising taxes on people is a good way of financial administration."

Lawmakers in the House of Delegates who opposed the 2004 tax increases have argued that a recent spike in tax revenue from a booming state economy made last year's tax increases unnecessary.

"The governor initially governed from a fiscally responsible point," said Del. Ben L. Cline (R-Amherst). "Last year, he abandoned fiscal responsibility for massive tax hikes and explosive spending."

The report says otherwise. It praises Warner and the legislature for doing what other states failed to do in the aftermath of the economic downturn.

Virginia earned its top grade for managing its money. It got an A for relying on long-term budgeting and maintaining a rainy-day fund to help ease the pain when the state's revenues shrink.

The state received an A-minus for managing its people, earning high marks for strategic workforce planning, hiring, training and evaluating employee performance.

"The Commonwealth's workforce plan is an example for all states," the report said.

The report gives Virginia an A-minus for managing its infrastructure and notes that even the long-troubled Virginia Department of Transportation has improved recently.

"Historically, one of Virginia's few management trouble spots has been its Department of Transportation. But there's been positive change there as well," the report says. "By fiscal year 2005, it was on track to finish two-thirds of [road projects] on time and nearly 90 percent within budget."

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