VACo Internship Week V

“That’s the kind of enthusiasm we need, Virginians” –Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Week 5:

Monday started off at 8:00 AM with a meeting of the Electric Utility Regulatory Committee in the General Assembly Meeting. It was essentially like a grand meeting of all of the lobbying rock stars in Richmond. When I walked into the room, there was a whole section to the left of the board members reserved for lobbyists. Before the meeting started, everyone was making rounds around the room introducing themselves to people and shaking hands. It was all exceptionally professional. I followed the lead of the other people I observed around the room and tried my hand at networking. I’m pretty proficient at hand shaking now.

During the meeting, members from Dominion Power, the major electric company for this side of the state, spoke about all that they were doing for their customers. A representative from Appalachian Power, the main electric company from my side of the state, also spoke about the projects and challenges facing the region and how they were working to meet the needs of their customers. It was interesting to see the way that the problems facing both entities were very different, but both presenters aimed to achieve the same end: to provide better service to the people of Virginia.

I left that meeting to cover the Governor’s Press Conference that was taking place two buildings over. I went through probably the toughest security I had ever been through (I had to take off my shoes and everything), but then I was front and center to listen to the governor. In Virginia, when his or her Excellency the Governor of Virginia walks into a room all of the people in attendance stand up and clap. I missed that memo. However, when the governor walked in and everyone stood and clapped, I got caught up in the moment and may or may not have tried to initiate some sort of a wave and or crowd surfing situation. Luckily, my gesture did not get me thrown out or arrested but simply publicly humiliated yet again. But hey, “That’s the kind of enthusiasm we need, Virginians” –Terry McAuliffe.

When I pulled myself out from under the chair that I had hidden under (figuratively, not literally), I was able to listen to the governor give an update on the state’s budget surplus. He announced that the $554.3 million surplus was the largest in Virginia history. He also spoke about how although nearly all of the money from this revenue surplus was committed to the Rainy Day Fund and the Water Quality Fund, followed by the rest going to transportation, this kind of a surplus shows that Virginia’s economy is moving forward.

When that press conference was over, Rachael took me to see her office in the Capitol. I was even able to meet her boss, a retired four-star admiral and possibly the coolest guy on the entire planet. I got to see the governor’s office and took a pretty ridiculous amount of photographs, as can be expected. I had to leave Rachael’s office to make it to another meeting in the General Assembly Building, this time on the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) review by JLARC. This time I walked into the wrong door and ended up standing right behind the council, but I waved, retreated and then went in the correct door. I was only able to stay for one presentation on VRS policy. This went along with a meeting that I attended during my second week at VACo for Erik when he was out.

Following that meeting, I went back to VACo, where I participated in and reported on a Housing Trust Fund Webinar. This webinar was essentially a workshop showing localities how to apply for housing grants. These grants are given through a very selective and complex process, so it is important for organizations like VACo to be able to walk county leaders through the process if it is something that they have an interest in or need for. It is pretty hard to believe, looking back that all that happened on a Monday, that I did everything that I just described. I am always excited to go to meetings for the VACo staff, but I think four was a little too ambitious for one day.

On Tuesday, I was assigned to research and report on the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA) now known as the Children’s Services Act as of July 1. Prior to the CSA, services to Virginia’s troubled children were very fragmented. State and local government faced service duplication, unequal access to care, and reliance on expensive forms of care, that all added to 22% expenditure growth annually. Therefore, in 1993, the CSA was established to unify those funding pools and provide the children of Virginia with emotional and behavioral problems more efficient care. This program originated as a joint state and local financial burden meaning that both shared in the responsibility. However, now a problem that is causing major issues in the CSA is the fact that the state government is not paying its contribution but is still setting the policy for the CSA. Other problems of the CSA include the failure to consistently collaborate between state and local governments, an inattention to provide fees, the complexity of the system that leads to misuse, the outdated structure of the current funding formula that was created in 1994 and leads to inequality, and an insufficient number of community-based and intermediate level services for the children of Virginia.

For my presentation, Beau asked me to present ways in which the CSA can be fixed. I have to admit that I was a little overwhelmed with being asked for my opinion on such a complex and controversial issue in Virginia. However, I came up with four major contributions that could benefit the CSA from the research that I have constructed. The first is to appropriately balance our finances in Virginia. We should recalculate the CSA budget more often to meet the ever changing needs of localities. The state should pay their share if they wish to continue to take part in the decision making process for the CSA. Secondly, resource division must be evaluated. The CSA must focus on the state’s most neglected areas, which are our most urban and rural areas. Intermediate programs must be put in place since the CSA is entirely too dependent upon residential treatment of troubled children. I proposed that the CSA ask leaders throughout the five geographic regions of Virginia where services are most needed. Perhaps they could even implement some sort of traveling service where amenities can come to the children in the most vulnerable regions. Thirdly, the CSA is incredibly difficult to understand, and on top of managing an entire locality, one can easily see how details are overlooked by local legislators. Therefore, there should be state-sponsored workshops within the localities to make sure that the leaders understand this system more effectively. Finally, there must be a commitment to collaboration among the state and local governments, children, parents, and private and public service providers. The most important lesson that I have learned at VACo is that without cooperation and understanding between groups, there can be no success. The well-being of our children is an issue that we must treat with the up most importance and priority; therefore, the ironing out of the problems within the CSA is vital.

BY: Katie Beth Bordwine ’16