The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Compare and Contrast

Real Sacrifice vs. Real Issue Avoidance

Should Governor revisit the Virginia budget spending plan?

Times are hard, no doubt about it.

Here in Commonwealth of Virginia we are facing a state budget crisis (SEE RECENT POST).

We are not alone. Many other states are also trying to grapple with revenue shortfalls during an era of increasing demands for services… for example the State of Rhode Island the smallest state in America geographically and one of the smaller states in total population.

So it is of interest to the Iconoclast to compare and contrast the two states relative to how they deal with similar budget crises.

Here in Virginia we have a population of 7.1 million people as of the most recent count in 2000, distributed over a 42,774 square mile geographic area. Perhaps two thirds of Virginia’s population lives in urban areas while the other third is suburban or rural. Recent news reports indicate we have a projected $600 million hole in the upcoming budget.

Rhode Island has a population of a tad bit over 1 million people distributed over a highly urbanized and compact 1,214 square miles. According to recent media reports, Rhode Island is facing a similar budget crisis to the tune of a $200 million shortfall.

Considering that Rhode Island has only one seventh the population of Virginia and only about one thirty-fifth of the land area, the $200 million shortfall in Rhode Island is no-doubt as serious if not perhaps a bit more serious than the budget crisis in Virginia.

So how do the two states deal with their respective budget crises?

Here in Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is proposing $300 million in budget cuts and savings and the use of over $300 million out of the Virginia Rainy-day fund to make up the $641 million shortfall. This will include the sacrifice of 74 state worker positions and a 5 percent cut in the Governor’s own state salary.

In Rhode Island, Governor Don Carcieri unveiled a plan that would eliminate 1,016 state worker positions or approximately 7 percent of the total state work force. The Governor’s plan would also call for union concessions and other cuts of spending on social programs.

Ouch… that’s gotta hurt.

So… this comparison shows a remarkable difference in the approach taken by the two Governors in dealing with the pending budget crisis: Eliminate 74 state jobs in Virginia to help reduce a $641 million budget short fall, and eliminate 1,016 jobs in Rhode Island to eliminate a $200 million budget short fall.

Obviously, there are countless other material differences between the two states Virginia and Rhode Island. But without question, population and geographic size are the two single most significant factors that determine the nature and magnitude of public service demands. The more people you have, the more demand for services. The more geographic area you have, the more costly it is to serve those people. Certainly there are many other factors too numerous to mention let alone assess that would have a bearing on the cost of state government services.

In Virginia we have a Democrat Governor in Tim Kaine working with a Republican controlled General Assembly. In Rhode Island they have a Republican Governor in Don Carcieri who works with a Democratic dominated General Assembly. Does this mean anything? Maybe… maybe not… Perhaps this has nothing to do with Republican / Democrat politics.

Maybe, Rhode Island state government is riddled with fat and waste, and a lot of politically protected jobs with little return for the investment. Or maybe Governor Carcieri is just biting the old bullet and taking steps that he knows to be unpleasant and unpopular but actually quite effective in dealing with the budget crisis.

Lots of maybes… But still… the Rhode Island example raises some obvious questions.

After all, with technology advancements in computers, robotics, automation, telecommunications, etc. business and industry has for decades been dramatically reducing its personnel component of operations costs (except for top management) all the while increasing productivity.

Unfortunately, in the public sector, it is easy to expand but it is hard to reduce. When faced with a choice, government tends to just raise taxes rather than to go through the hard process of reinvention and finding ways to do more with less personnel.

Why doesn’t government follow the lead of business and industry more often?

Perhaps Governor Carcieri of Rhode Island is trying to do just that. Maybe he will succeed, maybe he won’t.

Maybe, here in Virginia, instead of borrowing from the rainy day fund, which sounds an awful lot like trying to borrow our way out of debt, Governor Kaine could take a close look at our little sister state to the north in an effort to find meaningful long term solution to our state budget crisis.

This is a tough one. What do our state government elected officials, top administrators, budget managers, or employees have to say about this very thorny issue?

Call me silly, but maybe we need to take a new look at how we budget for state government.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Regent University Swiftly Silences Dissent....

Regent University sends a clear message to students: There’s no humor in making fun of Mr. Pat Robertson…second year law student’s mental status questioned, told to take a hike…but Adam Key isn’t going without a fight.

If you attend Regent University in Virginia Beach be warned that school administration has zero tolerance for dissent, or well maybe humor? Poking fun at the "Great Leader", no not Kim Jong Ill, but Pat Robertson will lead to swift punishment and you might find yourself in a straight jacket too! Just ask second year Regent law student Adam Key...

You know college kids, always "pushing the envelope", taking things too far, always trying to prove a point….ahhh, the days of student activism... Mr. Adam Key, a second year law student at Regent University, made the mistake of poking a little “college fun” at THE CREATOR of Regent University, Mr. Pat Robertson...yeaa, that know the old guy who claims he once leg pressed 2,000 pounds...or who once used his divine connections to redirected a hurricane from hitting Virginia Beach...yes, that guy! Who would ever think to poke a little fun at him?

Well, apparently Mr. Key didn't read his student handbook? Because the second year law student would have known that posting a picture of Pat lobbing "the bird" on his “facebook” page (albeit I assume a slightly photoshoped picture) could get you booted from school...Remember Adam, people are watching…the place is crawling with informants, even in cyberspace! Therefore Mr. Key found himself in “hot water” when his transgression was exposed to Regent’s Administration. The good folks at Regent didn’t find much humor in Adam’s facebook picture and in matter of fact Mr. Key is now banned from the University….Yes, banned! Wow!

In an article appearing today in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Regent's Associate Dean for Student Affairs L.O. Natt Gantt II indicated that several students have come forward expressing concern about Key's behavior this semester and have reported that Key said he brought a gun onto campus.

Please read carefully..."several students have reported that Key said he brought a gun onto campus"...hmmm, sounds a bit circumstantial if you ask me, would that hold up in Court? Could these be "trumped up" allegations as a means to show Mr. Key what happens when you make the slightest bit of fun of Pat Robertson?

After all, anyone insane enough to overtly make fun of Pat Robertson while attending Regent must be dangerous? Right? I mean do you think North Koreans go around making fun of Kim Jong Ill’s hair? Come on Adam!

But Adam Key isn't backing down and he is quick to point out that he feels that Regent is exploiting the Virginia Tech shooting as justification for their recent actions against him. Mr. Key states, "There's a big difference between someone who was incredibly violent, like the Virginia Tech kid, and someone who disagrees with the administration," he said. "At the time we start labeling people who have dissenting voices as dangerous, we start losing the freedom that makes us Americans."

Ahhh, now it appears we are getting to the root of the problem and I'm sure such statements by Mr. Key are indeed why Regent officials are not too thrilled with the second year law student...I mean did you read that quote? "At the time we start labeling people who have dissenting voices....we start losing the freedom that makes us Americans?"

Sounds like some fancy ACLU attorney doesn't it? Using phrases like "dissenting voices" and "losing the freedom"...geez...

We here at the Iconoclast wish Adam the very best, and we hope he continues to "fight the good fight"...but in the end, I think it would be best if Adam considers a school where his dissent will be appreciated and celebrated as a core American value; a school where making fun of a school's "leader" will not get you tossed...sounds like the University of Richmond would be a perfect fit for Adam!

As for Regent University...I mean is this really a surprise? We are talking about Regent University, Adam you chose to go to Regent, you must have had some idea of the climate on campus? Still,I guess in order to attend Regent one must quickly come to the realization that certain Constitutional Rights are null-and-void while on campus…fair enough, it’s their school, do as you wish…but for all current students beware, you are being watched…..reading this post might even get you in trouble…..

Best of luck to Adam, we admire your spirit, for now please take comfort in the words of Clarence Darrow, "lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for..."

Sounds like a lost cause to me...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Freedom of Speech North Korea Style

No Internet.

No Cell Phones.

No talking on Street Corners.

No thinking.

Especially no criticizing the government.

Last week Kim Jong Il, strongman Big Boss of North Korea revealed to the world another remarkable personal talent that was heretofore unknown. He is an “Internet expert.”

This little tid-bit came to light during last week summit talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, when Rho asked Kim to allow Internet service for South Korean industries operated in the North (I guess this is something like the USA out-sourcing industrial production to Mexico, or wherever).

While acknowledging that South Korean businesses in the North industrial zone could probably have Internet service, Kim declared that such service could occur nowhere else in the North because of the “many problems”.

Kim did not elaborate on what those “many problems” might have been.

Maybe it is the cost involved in wiring the North for Internet service. How many atomic bombs, missiles, tanks, missile frigates, fighter jets, etc. would have to be sacrificed to allow the people of North Korea to sit in a cyber-café in Pyongyang and surf the net?

Noooo... it is probably not a cost issue.

It has more to do with freedom of speech. There is none of that in North Korea!!! And if Kim has anything to say about it, that is the way it is going to remain!

The Internet is a powerful tool of accessing information and interpersonal communication of ideas.

Is it any wonder that in Kim’s eyes, Internet service is not a good thing to be entrusted to the people of North Korea.

With world wide and instant access to information, the Internet presents an undeniable risk that dangerous thoughts might form in the minds of the people. Some of those people might get ideas… might even question their government.

And... gasp... eventually those people might actually criticize their government!!!

Considering the government we are talking about, this is not such a good thing for the Big Boss in Pyongyang. Corrupt governments need a compliant and ignorant population where nobody ever asks questions or criticizes the government.

Here in America, we have a Constitution that includes a Bill of Rights. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights involves freedom of religion, speech, press, the right to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Such simple thoughts and yet so profound…

Here in America the government is answerable to the people. In North Korea, the people are viewed by the Big Boss as little more than slave labor and cannon fodder.

But before we get too smug about the greatness of America, be cautioned: Just because we have a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, and a First Amendment protecting free speech and association and redress with our government, don’t think for a second that those fundamental protections are automatically safe, always and forever.

Unfortunately here in America, we sometimes take our freedoms for granted. And too, our politicians are too often tempted to grab more power than they are entitled to. An apathetic citizenry combined with the almost unavoidable lust for power, create a creeping threat to our freedoms. Pick up the news any day and see examples of government functionaries over reaching their powers.

As as amazing as Internet technology is in America, it is not nearly as amazing as what our founding fathers envisioned over 200 years ago in the Bill of Rights.

So, thanks Kim for reminding us of how good we have it here America and why a corrupt government needs to maintain ignorance, compliance and total obedience among its people.

Let us hope that we never forget how important citizen vigilance is and why those rights of free speech, assembly and petition are so fragile and why we the people must always guard over them jealously.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Governor gets tough on out of control spending... maybe.

Drastic times call for big sacrifices.

But seriously...

Sometimes you just got to laugh.

Either that or cry. Sometimes I am not sure.

Yesterday's Richmond Times Dispatch heralded the headlines"Governor's plan includes 74 layoffs" and then goes on to explain that there will be other measures as well, including keeping 386 job positions vacant, and as a show of personal sacrifice a 5 percent cut in the Governor's own personal pay check.

I like Governor Kaine, and that is real big of him to take a personal 5 percent pay cut. But....

We got problems, big problems right here in "River City" ... that being in our beautiful State Capital of Richmond on the James.

The new budget totals $74 BILLION. That is Billion with a big B. There is an estimated $641 million shortfall.

To balance the budget, the Governor's plan calls for $300 million in actual cuts, and possibly another $303 million from the so called State rainy-day fund (that meaning emergency fund).

All I can say is WOW!!!

Considering how fast the Virginia State budget has ballooned in recent years, a mere $300 million cut in the planned $74 BILLION budget is a trifling sum.

Here in Virginia we can barely pay for keeping our roads up. The average cost for tuition and mandatory fees to send one child to a Virginia state university is now almost $15,000 a year. We have a terrible track record on how we treat our mentally ill, and other social ills. We have seen a General Assembly that protects "loan sharking" in the form of Payday Lending. We have seen in recent times creative approaches to raising revenues... that being imposing brutally high fines on bad drivers with Virginia driver's licenses... under the guise of improving highway safety... hog wash.

I can go on and on but then I might cry. So back to the subject that causes me some amusement!

Now the headlines focus on the layoff of 74 state workers as if that is some kind of big deal.

Well, I can certainly feel sorry for the unlucky 74 state workers who will be making the supreme sacrifice in the interest of balancing the state budget.

But consider this... the state workforce is presently over 100,000 workers. In the big picture, what significance is 74 layoffs? That is a cut of 74 one hundredths of one percent in the state laborforce!!!

In my work, I have the privilege of working with many of these fine civil servants and know that most work hard and do an important job for the citizens of Virginia.

But lets be honest. There is abundant fat in State government. Too many state agencies are larded up with arcane job positions of questionable utility. In some of the worst cases there are three or four agency personnel doing the work that can be done by one person in most small businesses. Sometimes it is hard to figure out why those jobs exist at all. There always has been fat in government. In private business, management has no choice but to wield the axe and slash out hundreds or even thousands of jobs when business conditions dictate. In government, there is a all to common instinct to just raise taxes.

Much of the fat in government is politically protected turf and it is hard for a Governor to go in and do what needs to be done, even if he wanted to.

The idea that 74 state worker layoffs will significantly impact the current budget crisis is laughable. It is like spitting in the ocean.

What is really needed, is a 5 percent cut across the board, for all agencies and then surgically targeted cuts of obvious waste. Then the next time, look for more cuts. We need to do more with fewer people. This is what private businesses do or else they perish. Modern technology makes these kinds of efficiencies very achievable. So why not Virginia state government?

The business world has been flattening out and cutting back in management and personnel, learning to do more with fewer workers for decades now. Those that don't have gone out of business. Government on the other hand remains stuck in the old ways to assume that a little growth every year is normal and accepted no matter how much the taxpayers might squawk.

Politically protected turf is always a part of any governmental bureaucracy. And of course there will always a little fat in government.

But lets get serious about this issue. Taxpayers don't mind paying taxes, but it sure would be nice to see our politicians do something meaningful to control the bloated expansion of the state budget.