Is the VDOT surplus Tim Kaine’s fault? Does it matter?
It seemed to be the big elephant in the room throughout the day’s coverage of the release of a scathing audit on the Virginia Department of Transportation. (VDOT) More than $1 billion in state transportation funds were left on the table, while traffic remained bottled up, rest stops were closed and pot holes not filled. Someone had to be blamed, but was it former Governor Tim Kaine?
Kaine and his associates knew even before the audit was formally released that some of the blow-back would head in his direction. In an unconventional move, Kaine released a statement defending his guidance over VDOT as Governor. He claimed that the prudent use of the agency’s funds was in part because of the “toughest economic downturn in a generation.”
While the current Governor Bob McDonnell never mentioned his predecessor by name, despite direct questions from reporters, he made it clear that the team in charge during the previous administration did not make the best use of the taxpayer money.
“There was a bad set of management decisions made to be able to keep money in the bank that should’ve been spent,” McDonnell said.
Here is an extended clip of the Governor’s remarks on the topic from two different questions posed on assigning blame:
Kaine did get a boost from an ally in the State Senate. Dick Saslaw the Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation defended the prior administration by saying that Virginia carefully studies each and every transportation project and doesn’t spend a dime until they know it is a wise investment.
“I appreciate that the VDOT management employed a cautious approach during a period of great financial uncertainty,” Saslaw said. “And did not over-obligate funds, as we saw under the Gilmore Administration.”
Salsaw went on to say that as a Delegate, McDonnell supported reforms that forced VDOT to spend their money wisely.
Kaine himself is perhaps immaterial to the debate moving forward, but what he represents is key. During his remarks today McDonnell said he plans to cut down on the bureaucratic hoops that make getting road projects started difficult. Depending on exactly what he means, it could mean a more streamlined approach to completing road construction. An approach that while faster, will certainly have less checks and balances.
It presents an age old question in government. Would you rather have it done right or done on time?
Most voters would say both.
A huge challenge for McDonnell if he hopes to fulfill a major campaign promise.
Here is a rundown of today’s coverage of the VDOT Audit on NBC12:
*The full report from Governor McDonnell’s office
The entire statements from former Governor Tim Kaine and Senator Dick Saslaw can be found after the jump:
Statement of Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine on VDOT Audit
RICHMOND — Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine issued the following statement today regarding the private audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) commissioned by the McDonnell Administration:
“Typically when an audit is released with such anticipation, it’s because of a discovery that taxpayer dollars are missing. In the case of today’s audit — thanks to tight-fisted project management and sharp reduction in overhead during the toughest economic downturn in a generation — what’s clear is VDOT has cash in the bank to pay for the projects in the Six Year Plan as they are built. That’s good news.
“VDOT reforms enacted by the General Assembly were meant to yield exactly these results — and as intended the available cash has been budgeted to a maintenance or construction project. In 2002, there were $687 million in project deficits and about 10,500 VDOT employees. Today, there is a substantial cash balance and fewer than 7,000 VDOT employees.
“When the McDonnell Administration went to market this past May to sell transportation bonds, they bragged about the smart fiscal management at VDOT. The nation’s top bonding agencies studied the agency’s performance and agreed, rating the VDOT bonds a strong AA credit. The McDonnell Administration’s own Six Year Plan includes sizable cash reserves as a smart strategy for reserving funds for future projects.
“Ultimately the fact that there is money to spend on transportation needs is welcome news for Virginians and for the Commonwealth.”
Senator Richard L. Saslaw
September 23, 2010
SPRINGFIELD – Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw issued the following statement today regarding the private audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) commissioned by the McDonnell Administration:
As chair of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Transportation, I am pleased to see that Governor McDonnell has focused his attention on Virginia’s seriously inadequate transportation funding model and resurfaced many of the audit recommendations made by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission and Auditor of Public Accounts since 2002. While we are happy to see that the audit yielded no evidence of fraud and abuse in VDOT, it is clear that this audit identifies no new funds for transportation. What we do see, however, is an agency with a critical mission, dealing with the loss of over 1,000 employees in an unprecedented era of shrinking state revenues and considerable uncertainty in the availability of future federal funds. Coupled with the immediate challenges of allocating federal stimulus dollars, it appears that some projects may have been slowed down in the process. While no one wants to see funds lying unused, I appreciate that the VDOT management employed a cautious approach during a period of great financial uncertainty and did not over-obligate funds, as we saw under the Gilmore Administration. In fact, legislative requirements that adequate fund balances be accrued to projects prior to the authorization of contracts were put in place to prevent the abuses seen under the Allen and Gilmore administrations. This change, implemented in 2005, received unanimous bipartisan endorsement with even Delegate McDonnell voting for this requirement.
Until my colleagues and I learn more about the details in the audit, I am hesitant to affirm that there are in fact substantial new dollars for transportation. Furthermore, many of the funding recommendations apparently fail to acknowledge the statutory formula through which maintenance dollars are currently allocated, a process which ensures that all areas of the state receive necessary funding for the upkeep of transportation assets. When available balances are “redeployed”, as the Governor suggests, that may mean that some districts are winners and some are losers. Again, we need to see the details. And while I would be pleased to see additional projects go forward, we must understand that these are largely one-time resources. This audit demonstrates that the Commonwealth has yet to face the fact that it lacks a comprehensive long-term plan for solving its transportation problem.”