Kaine to push energy and environmental issues

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Editor’s Note: Virginia Business sat down with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to discuss the 2009 General Assembly session. The interview occurred before Kaine made additional budget proposals, including raising Virginia’s cigarette tax and cutting more state jobs, on Dec. 17. Click here for a video report.

Virginia Business: What additional budget cuts are you going to propose to make up for the budget shortfall?

Kaine: There’s nothing that is sort of sacred or not going to be touched. I’ve told my team a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, so let’s not just cut, let’s cut to reform and get the budget in a good position so that when the national economy rebounds, we will have shed some things that we don’t need to do, or put some policies in place that will position us for greater success….Even the K-12 area [which has avoided] the first three rounds of cuts …  We’re looking heavily at what we spend on education outside the classroom. I’ve generally followed a model on budget cuts that if I can find administrative savings rather than squeeze service delivery, that’s what I try to do …The state funding formula for education has a series of standards or kind of caps on the inside-the-classroom funding …. Many of the outside-the-classroom expenditures are not governed in the same way.

VB: You’ve said you’ll focus this year on energy and the environment; how much legislation do you think is realistic during the economic downturn?

Kaine: I think quite a bit …. We did a lot of new investments in the budget last year even though there wasn’t new money. We just made agencies cut more to come up with the money …There will be a number of things that we will do that will be changes in policy that do not have a price tag associated with them. Are there ways we can adjust statutes or regulations to promote more energy efficiency or conservation? We’re looking at going back into [the electricity reregulation bill] and putting more of an emphasis on conservation … on investments that produce conservations and efficiencies.
But then there will also be some things that we’ll do that will cost money … Last year we put $20 million in the budget in ’09 to match funds with farmers so that they can implement practices on their farms that would reduce runoff into streams … We need to continue that…We will probably put some money in the budget for additional initiatives — green jobs, promoting energy efficiency, etc.  I think we ought to be doing that and if that means I have to cut a little more to get there — that’s what we’ll do.
VB: Do you think the Democrats’ success in Virginia will affect the 2009 gubernatorial and House of Delegates’ elections?

Kaine: There are probably some countervailing trends. There tends to be a headwind that starts blowing against the party that wins the presidency in Virginia, but also nationally.  So, at least since the mid-‘70s, the party that wins the presidency doesn’t win the governorship in Virginia. I think the more powerful trend is what has been done in the ’05 election, ’06, ’07, ’08 — four elections in a row where the Dems have made very significant gains. They’ve done it by registering voters and turning out voters. President-elect [Barack] Obama’s campaign did a masterful job of extending that … Nearly
500,000 new voters were registered in Virginia in 2008, who were overwhelmingly favorable to Obama’s campaign.  So how do those two trends work with each other?  I don’t know, but I think the safe thing to say is the candidate and the party that is the problem-solving and unifying candidate or party is going to be successful. That’s why Democrats have been able to be successful.

VB:  Do you think that the budget restraints will hurt’s ranking of Virginia as the No. 1 state for business?

Kaine: It would be very unusual to stay No. 1 in something like a magazine ranking … but I would expect that we’ll be at or near the top … even with the budget challenges. We recently went back into the bond market, which has been volatile, and we’ve been having budget challenges, etc. So I was curious to see what the bonding agencies would say about Virginia going back in the bond market. It took them five minutes to all reaffirm AAA rating and write reports about why they were giving us AAA. They said Virginia is dealing with these budgetary challenges in straightforward, make-hard-decisions, no-gimmicks way …We’re still landing good economic development deals … The climate is affecting the number and the pace of deals, but it’s not really affecting our batting
average very much.

VB: Can you point to an accomplishment you’re most proud of so far?

Kaine: In terms of accomplishments, the higher-ed bond package I would say was key.  Mental-health reform, foster-care reform, money into [cleaning up] the Chesapeake Bay. We’re well on our way to the 400,000-acre open space preservation goal that I set … The significant expansion of pre-K, and we’ve done a very dramatic expansion of career and technical education in K-12, which was a personal interest to me because I had run a vocational school in Honduras. Those would be very strong in the educational side. ...Reregulated electricity, which, had we persisted down the path to deregulation, it would have been a disaster. Reregulating electricity and putting in financial incentives for cleaner production, that is something I feel real good about. On the health-care side I would say dramatic expansion of training of nurses and physicians, significant expansion of the health-care safety net and more pre-natal care for low-income women. More funding for community health centers and free clinics. 

VB:  What’s next for you?

Kaine: What [wife Anne Holton and I] figure we’ll do is in the spring we’ll kind of start to think about it …I think there is some chance that a year down the road when I finish, that the president or the administration might have some interest in getting me in the mix, and I think I would have some skills to bring from this seat where I could be helpful. But obviously he’s filling up the Cabinet, so who knows what would be available. The other path would probably be working in the nonprofit or higher-ed world.  I want to continue public service. I strongly believe it will be in a non-elective capacity. I have a concern right now for the fact that the higher-ed attainment rate of the American adult population and the Virginia population has been basically flat for the last couple of decades; whereas in other nations that rate has dramatically accelerated, and we’re getting passed by.  There’s no real great future for America in our economic relations with the rest of the world if we’re letting other nations educate higher percentages of their populations.  We have to figure out a way to change that. 


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