First Woman Appointed As Va. Finance Chief

Kaine announces appointments including Marilyn Tavenner, top, and Jody Wagner.
Kaine announces appointments including Marilyn Tavenner, top, and Jody Wagner. (By Steve Helber -- The Washington Post)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

RICHMOND, Dec. 12 -- Virginia Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D) named State Treasurer Jody Wagner on Monday to become the first female secretary of finance, a powerful budget-writing post.

Kaine also named Marilyn Tavenner, a former nurse who rose to become a health care executive, as his secretary of health and human resources. Tavenner, 54, will lead Kaine's efforts to confront rising health care and Medicaid costs.

The soon-to-be-governor also said Ric Brown, who headed the Department of Planning and Budget under Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), had agreed to stay on in the position. Brown, 59, is a 30-year veteran of the budget department.

Kaine called Brown "a wonderful institution in this commonwealth" and said no agency of government is more important than the budget office.

Wagner, 50, will take over from Secretary John M. Bennett, who helped Warner navigate the politics of cutting the budget during his first two years and raising taxes in the historic session last year.

She said Monday that helping maintain the state's AAA bond rating was "probably the major accomplishment" since her appointment in 2002 as treasurer, which reports to the finance secretary. She said her office has also begun to modernize the state's treasury functions without much fanfare.

Tavenner will inherit oversight of several of the state's largest and most challenging agencies, including those dealing with mental health and retardation, substance abuse, the disabled, the aging and the ill. She replaces Jane H. Woods, a Republican former state senator.

"Health care is so complex and expensive," Kaine said, "we have to have people in this secretariat who are change-makers and can adapt to difficult realities."

Kaine said one of Tavenner's main challenges will be to confront the rising cost of health care for the state, including the soaring expense of Medicaid, the state and federal health care program for the poor, disabled and elderly.

He said cuts proposed in President Bush's budget will make her job tough.

Former professional hockey player "Wayne Gretzky says you've got to skate not to where the puck is, but where the puck is going," he said in introducing her.

Tavenner said solving the Medicaid problem will take "a bipartisan approach." She also said the state is confronting a health care workforce shortage every bit as serious as the cost increases.

"That will be enough to keep me up at night, don't you think?" she said of both issues.

Cabinet secretaries and agency heads must be approved by a legislative resolution, but no governor in modern times has had a choice rejected, aides said.

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