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Va. governor to name team to reshape, shrink operations

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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell will soon launch an aggressive initiative to reshape and shrink state government, an attempt to make good on one of his signature campaign promises and leave a lasting mark on the state.

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As soon as this week, McDonnell (R) will name a team of 25 advisers that will spend months searching for ways to shave hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget and make government more user-friendly.

They will consider closing some of the state's 130 agencies, consolidating accounting and payroll systems, putting more forms online, privatizing state functions and eliminating annual reports.

"Right now, with this economic downturn, families and businesses are having to make adjustments and cuts. People are more willing to think outside the box and support a governor that wants to change the way you do business," McDonnell said in an interview. "We need to look at if there are smarter ways to do things."

He said he will call the General Assembly back to Richmond this fall for a special session to approve his recommendations if he can build support for some of them.

The most controversial by far will be his goal to sell the state's 350 liquor stores, which McDonnell pledged to do on the campaign trail last year. He estimates the sale could bring in as much as $500 million for much-needed road improvements, but his critics argue that any one-time proceeds would be offset by the permanent loss of $100 million in annual revenue that goes to other state services.

McDonnell is modeling his efforts on initiatives by former Virginia governors George Allen (R) and L. Douglas Wilder (D), current Republican governors Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and on reforms in Australia, Scotland, Germany and the United Kingdom.

McDonnell said he has met with Jindal and Daniels about their efforts. In Louisiana, Jindal formed a commission to identify $800 million in savings, including selling the state airplane and having inmates clean state buildings. In Indiana, Daniels formed a commission that recommended moving a slew of services, such as public safety and health, from the local to the county level.

McDonnell's first two months in office were dominated by the General Assembly session and budget cuts. Now, he has a chance to set the agenda, using this commission as well as two others on jobs and higher education and a possible special session on transportation.

Ed Gillespie, a longtime Republican strategist who was chairman of McDonnell's campaign, said the reform initiative will provide McDonnell an opportunity to demonstrate he can achieve what he talked about on the campaign trail, using an issue that appealed to voters of all backgrounds.

Conservatives in Virginia, who have long argued that state spending has ballooned in recent years, applaud the effort.

"State government has not shared the burden that the private sector has," said Ben Marchi, Virginia director of Americans for Prosperity, which lobbied for a decrease in spending this year. "State government has been a safe zone."


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