Daily Mail staff
Tuesday December 10, 2002
Gov. Bob Wise told about 2,700 state
employees at 15 locations around West Virginia
today that he would "ask the Legislature for
broad authority" to restructure state
government over the course of the next year.
That would include merging some agencies,
streamlining others, not filling many vacant
positions and making better use of technology,
Wise told the employees from a myriad of state
agencies they can share with him in the many
choices of how to restructure government, but
the one choice they don't have is to leave the
structure as it is.
"Only restructuring how we operate will meet
the challenge we face here," he said. "We need
to make adjustments and we need to make
them as soon as possible."
During an 82-minute program, Wise addressed
about 460 state workers at the Cultural Center
and about 2,200 more connected by video links
in 14 other locations around the state.
The governor took eight minutes to speak generally about the challenge
facing the state, followed by a 31-minute Power Point presentation with
details on why the state faces huge budget shortfalls in the years ahead and
the process he wants to follow to avoid them.
Charts in the presentation helped him demonstrate why the state faces
deficits of $250 million in fiscal year 2004, $216.5 million in 2005, $181
million in 2005 and $195 million in 2006, if no action is taken.
"Without restructuring, we will always have spending that far exceeds the
money coming in," Wise said.
In the remaining 43 minutes of the "town hall" meeting, he took questions
directly from members of the audience at the Cultural Center and others
read by Administration Secretary Greg Burton from e-mail and fax
messages sent in from the remote locations.
In answer to one question from Summersville, Wise said he doesn't have a
complete list yet of the agencies that should be merged, but combining the
Information Services & Communications Division with the Governor's
Office of Technology is one obvious choice. The state also has at least four
agencies handling health care that could be merged, he said.
After the program, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said giving the governor
broad authority to restructure government is "fine in concept," but the
Legislature would have to have ongoing oversight, and major changes would
have to go to the full Legislature for approval.
"I can't see us giving him a blank check," he said, but he added that he
didn't think Wise was asking for that much unlimited authority.
The first applause from the audience came when Marty Gibson of the
Division of Public Transit complained that state government has too many
computer systems that don't work together. She said that when she had
spoken with Auditor Glen Gainer about the problem, he blamed it on turf
battles among agencies.
Wise replied that she had stated the situation better than he could have,
although he had earlier said the state could save millions of dollars by getting
state computers to work with each other. He later told reporters that he
would end turf battles "through leadership at the top."
In response to another question, Wise said he considers the unfunded
liability in Workers' Compensation, which could be as much as $2.6 billion,
to be "every bit as serious a situation" as the projected budget deficit and he
would have a plan for paying down that liability by putting funds into a
Wise also rejected raising the coal severance tax, saying it would make
West Virginia coal unable to compete in the market, and said the state
would not cut back on economic development projects because they're
needed to get the state out of its downward economic spiral.
Prior to the start of today's event, many state employees expressed concern
about fear of job cuts or other budget reductions.
Juanita Ward, a worker at the Governor's Office of Fiscal Risk Analysis
and Management, said she heard many concerns from her fellow state
"I have heard the trepidation," she said before Wise's presentation started.
"We've been under budget constraints so long that we've kind of adapted to
that, but the main concerns now are job cuts."
Division of Highways worker James Hash, who has worked for the state
for 29 years, also was worried about layoffs. "We are all concerned to
some degree," he said prior to the speech.
Many were reassured about job security after Wise stressed that he wasn't
suggesting job cuts without restructuring government and finding other ways
to save money instead.
Linda Collins, who works with the Department of Rehabilitation, said she
was glad the governor was trying to tackle government inefficiencies
without taking jobs. "I'm glad he's discovered the problems and is working
on a solution," she said.
Renate Pore, director of the Governor's Cabinet for Children and Families,
said she felt much better about the budget situation after Wise's speech.
"Everybody's read about the $250 million shortfall, and I know that people
were concerned," Pore said. "But I really do feel reassured now that the
state is handling this as best we can."
A new Web site, the West Virginia Employee Communication Network,
was unveiled today at www.wvgov.org. The site allows anyone with
computer access to get information about the state's budget and submit
streamlining suggestions via e- mail or regular mail. Wise's presentation
was also scheduled to be available on the site after the conclusion of the
Writer Jim Wallace can be reached at 348-4819.