Q&A With Bob Levey
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, May 27, 2003; Noon ET
"Levey Live" appears Tuesdays at noon ET. Your host is Washington Post columnist Bob Levey. This hour is your chance to talk directly to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.
Today, Bob's guest is Gov. Mark Warner, governor of Virginia.
| Gov. Mark Warner |
In 2003, the General Assembly is working to enact Gov. Warner’s government reform agenda. The plan changes the way the state delivers mental health, workforce development, and veterans care services. It requires more discipline in state budgets and attempts to protect the Commonwealth from terrorism.
Student performance on Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests is rising in schools across the Commonwealth. The Governor’s Partnership for Achieving Successful Schools, or PASS program, leverages programs and personnel in Virginia schools to help make progress for the Commonwealth’s academically challenged schools. These schools face achievement deadlines under the Standards of Learning and the federal Leave No Child Behind Act.
Gov. Warner is married to Lisa Collis and is the father of three daughters.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Bob Levey: Good afternoon, Governor, and thank you very much for joining us today on "Levey Live." Virginia faces a budget crisis worse than any in recent memory. Can you give us any concrete sense of when things will get better?
Gov. Mark Warner: Thanks for having me Bob, I really enjoy these online efforts. As for the budget, we have had to eliminate close to $6 billion from the revenue stream. The good news is -- Virginia appears to be ahead of most of the other states in dealing with this economic situation. You've seen other states laying-off teachers, releasing prisoners early, etc.
I think the worst of the budget crisis is over. Our latest revenue numbers look pretty good. I am cautiously optimistic we will see an economic recovery starting by the third quarter.
Bob Levey: You're well known as a big fan of playing pickup basketball. I've never seen you play, Governor--but I've seen ME play. I can tell you that once you hit 45, the old gray legs ain't what they used to be. Are you ever going to give up hoops and take up golf?
Gov. Mark Warner: My jump shot was never very good, but I do have sharp elbows and a big butt. So, my game has not gotten much worse, but I don't get to play nearly as often as I'd like to. Bob Ehrlich and I did discuss a one-on-one to resolve any areas of dispute between Maryland and Virginia.
Annandale, Va.: Gov. Warner -- As higher education costs rise in Virginia, community colleges become more attractive options for families who want quality education at affordable prices. How do you see the role of these colleges over the next decade or so, and how committed are you to keeping them accessible to everyone?
Gov. Mark Warner: Community colleges in Virginia are particularly strong. Even in a knowledge-based economy, 65% of jobs won't require a four-year degree. So keeping a community college education accessible and affordable is a priority. I will be announcing a major new initiative involving community colleges and technical education over the summer, which I think will reflect my commitment to the system.
Syracuse, N.Y.: Melanie Scarborough really ripped you in Sunday’s paper for vetoing the law that wouldn’t allow illegal aliens to get instate rates for college. How do you respond? Aren’t you really condoning breaking the law?
Gov. Mark Warner: First, current federal law prohibits undocumented persons from receiving in-state tuition, so this law would have done nothing other than score political points at a time when anti-immigrant fervor is high in this country.
My amendment would have granted in-state tuition to those students who had been in the Commonwealth for five years, graduated from a Virginia high school, were in the process of trying to get legal status (so they were playing by the rules), and they or their parents had paid state taxes for at least three years.
So I think my amendment would have given this opportunity to a group of about 100 students who were actually trying to play by the rules.
Bob Levey: With a push from Mark Warner, Virginia recently passed a law that threatens big penalties against online spammers. Why such an emphasis on this? Is spam really among the toughest problems facing Virginia?
Gov. Mark Warner: It's estimated that close to 40% of Internet traffic today is spam. It costs consumers and businesses billions of dollars a year. It's been illegal. We simply put some teeth in the sanctions. If a few convictions can cut down on this illegal activity, so be it. Remember -- half the Internet traffic in the world passes through Northern Virginia.
Big Stone Gap, Va.: Will you be reaching out to any of the returning heroes from our military to run for office? I'm under the impression that Gen. Brooks, from Alexandria, is a Democrat (his brother is a Democratic legislator in Vermont, The Post reported last week), so would you consider asking him to think about running down the road for state-wide office when his military career is over?
Gov. Mark Warner: General Brooks did a great job briefing the media during the war. I would welcome his involvement in the political process. Maybe he could help in my press shop!
Bob Levey: Virginia figures to profit handsomely from the immense amount of military spending recently authorized by Congress. Will this bring the state out of the recession before such other defense-sensitive states as California and South Carolina?
Gov. Mark Warner: I think Virginia is better positioned to come out of this economic downturn not only because of our strong military presence, but also because a number of firms focussing on homeland security are located in Virginia. We also have a very diversified economy and even with the downturn in telecom and dot-coms, Northern Virginia's economy is the envy of most any region in the country.
Arlington, Va.: Given the budget issues, is any thought given to privitizing ABC stores? Is there any reason no to?
Gov. Mark Warner: I included funds in the budget to take a look at what the state might receive through privatizing the ABC. I think we ought to have that information to make a rational choice. Unfortunately, the Legislature took the funds out.
Burke Lake, Va.: A lot of people criticized former Gov. Gilmore for interfering with the actions of Boards of Visitors at Virginia universities. You might have been one of them. How do you respond to charges that you’re interfering just as much, if not more?
Gov. Mark Warner: First, I did urge the University of Virginia to be supportive of Virginia Tech being included in any ACC expansion. I was pleased that UVa strongly supported those efforts. This was more than about which conference a team plays in: the value, or potential downside, to Tech would be in the millions of dollars, as well as the lack of national exposure you get from playing on national TV cuts down on student applications. I would have made the same case if it was UVa being excluded from a conference. It was clearly in the Commonwealth's best interest, and I am hopeful there will still be a successful resolution.
Ballston, Va.: So how do you like living in Richmond as compared to Northern Virginia?
Gov. Mark Warner: The traffic's not as bad. There are some great restaurants in Richmond, but Northern Virginia is still home.
Bob Levey: How would you characterize your relationship with D.C. mayor Anthony Williams? Cordial? Less than cordial? Effective?
Gov. Mark Warner: Tony Williams and I get along very well. I think that's reflected not only in our good working relationship, but in working together on issues such as homeland security, tourism, and our recent joint efforts to find ways to clear breakdowns and wrecks from the bridges in a more coordinated fashion.
At our recent summit with the Mayor and Governor Ehrlich, Governor Ehrlich said it best: "We actually like each other."
I think that will go a long way toward finally allowing the Capital region to be viewed as a region instead of three separate jurisdictions.
Manassas, Va.: Has it been harder than you expected to apply business concepts to state government?
Gov. Mark Warner: I've been very impressed with the vast majority of the state workforce. However, I have found enormous opportunities to introduce more businesslike approaches. For example, we don't leverage our purchasing power when it comes to technology. We have every e-mail system known to man, and none of them talk to each other. We tried to correct that with a major technology reform bill this year. We are also looking at ways to bring greater efficiency to state procurement, fleet management, better utilization of the state's real estate portfolio, and HR policies.
These will all take some time, but I think these steps could save us hundreds of millions of dollars.
One problem with the one-term limit is that some state employees who might be resistant to this kind of change might try to "wait out" the Governor. That's one reason why I tried to get the Legislature to change Virginia's one-term limit this year -- unfortunately, unsuccessfully.
Falls Church, Va.: Governor,
I appreciate your efforts on behalf of securing a major league baseball team for the region. Do you think MLB is serious about moving the Expos after this season, and will Virginia be able to come up with the money and location for a ballpark?
Gov. Mark Warner: I think baseball would be great in Northern Virginia, and my second choice would be the District. The state has set up an authority (not using general fund tax dollars) that will fund some of the costs of a stadium. The ownership group would have to fund at least one-third of the cost. There is still a gap, and it's our hope that local governments could identify potential sources of revenue, such as a hotel tax, that might fill that gap.
I was pleased to see a recent poll which indicated a vast majority of Northern Virginians support MLB, and I think a team would be very successful in the region.
Obviously, questions about where a stadium would be built, and getting local buy-in, is critical.
Baseball has said they'll make a decision by the All Star break, but I've also seen reports that the decision could be delayed.
Bob Levey: What's your position on additional flights at Washington National Airport?
Gov. Mark Warner: I do hope we can get general aviation flights returned to National as soon as possible. These are the small private planes that don't bother neighbors, but do help business in the region.
Falls Church, Va.: Gov. Warner, I am worried that a mentally retarded and mentally ill man, Percy Levar Walton, is going to be executed tomorrow even though his IQ scores at 66, below the generally accepted number of 70 as mental retardation. Do you plan to give him clemency?
Gov. Mark Warner: The 4th U.S. Circuit issued a stay of execution, pending further evaluation of Mr. Walton's case.
Leesburg, Va.: Do you foresee Virginia ever raising the state cigarette tax to generate additional revenue? Kevin
Gov. Mark Warner: I suggested looking at our lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax. Since this an election year for the General Assembly, there was no appetite to look at increasing any tax revenues this past session.
I have said I will submit a tax reform plan to the Legislature next session, and I believe this issue will have to be included in that reform.
Doswell, Va.: What happened to all the state employees who got laid off? How many found other state jobs? Do they get any special consideration for state openings?
Gov. Mark Warner: They do get first crack at other state employment opportunities. If you want to contact me through my Web site (www. governor.state.va.us), I'll try to get you a more specific answer.
Bob Levey: The other day, when you were giving the graduation speech at Radford University, you told the graduates: "The unlived life isn't worth living."
Uh, Governor, didn't you mean that the UNEXAMINED life isn't worth living?
This is your chance to set the record straight.....
Gov. Mark Warner: You're right. I blew the quote. Who's your source, Bob?
McLean, Va.: Governor:
Elliot Segal of DC101 is doing a "Bras Across RFK" promotion to raise money to fight breast cancer. His station is also doing a "Brauction" to sell bras signed by celebrities, to augment the money raised. Gov. Ehrlich sent his in. How about it, Governor? Don't let MD one-up us!
Gov. Mark Warner: Show me the bra that Bob Ehrlich sent you, and maybe I'll consider it.
Bob Levey: Is the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge so solidly on course that nothing---not politics, not lawsuits, not federal deficits--can delay it?
Gov. Mark Warner: Never say never, but...
I have been impressed by the progress being made on the bridge and the fact that costs are within budget. I can tell you, from the Virginia side, that this emphasis on on-time and on-budget is the new mantra for VDOT.
Fairfax City, Va.: Gov. Warner, you cut support and funding to the Small Business Development Centers around the state. We have several centers that are hurting or have had to close. You say you support small business, so what are you doing for small business if you’re not funding the work of Small Business Development Centers?
Gov. Mark Warner: I regretted the cuts to Small Business Development Centers, but within the various state programs that support small business, I had to prioritize. One of the things I'm looking at is how to better document the actual value the SBDC's create.
Seattle, Wash.: I'm thinking of moving to the D.C. area. Please make your best case as to why why I should live in Northern Virginia, as opposed to D.C. or Maryland.
Gov. Mark Warner: I had to make the same decision when I moved from D.C. back in the mid-1980s.
I think Virginia has great public schools and a world class, public higher education system. The Northern Virginia community, particularly in the past decade, has been more entrepreneurial and offers more opportunity than the more established Maryland suburbs.
So my first choice would be NoVa, but wherever you settle, I think you'll find the region is a great place to live and raise a family.
Springfield, Va.: Why should illegal immigrants get in-state tuition when you will not offer it to family members of military personnel stationed in Virginia?
Gov. Mark Warner: Respectfully, the premise of your question is wrong. Military families can qualify for in-state tuition after only a year of living in Virginia, if they choose that as their residence.
Virginia has the highest per-capita number of military families anywhere in America, and I want to do all I can to support them.
Bob Levey: Many thanks to our guest, Governor Mark Warner. Be sure to join us a week from today when our guest on "Levey Live" will be Dave Hughes, the chief cook and bottlewasher of DCRTV, the Web site that's the bible of the D.C. radio and TV industry. Dave's visit will begin at noon Eastern time on June 3.
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