In an important signal of how he plants to govern, Governor-elect Ralph Northam announced yesterday his appointment of Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne as his Secretary of Finance. Layne will replace Ric Brown, who is retiring after serving three consecutive governors in the office.
Layne, an administrator with a non-partisan, technocratic bent, works well with Democrats and Republicans alike. He served on the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) during the McDonnell administration, and then was recruited by Governor Terry McAuliffe to oversee the commonwealth’s transportation agencies. According to Virginia Public Access Project data, he has contributed to Democrats, Republicans and independents over the years.
Layne made his mark as a pragmatic administrator willing to delve into the public policy thickets. He spent much of his first year as transportation secretary digging out of controversial public-private partnerships set up during the McDonnell administration while he had served on the CTB. He canceled the U.S. 460 tolled highway between Suffolk and Petersburg after it became clear that the project could not obtain a federal wetlands permit. He also reworked the terms of the multibillion-dollar Downtown-Midtown Tunnel project in Hampton Roads.
After putting out fires, Layne was heavily involved in rewriting legislation governing public-private partnerships. Then, under the framework of the new law, he implemented a partnership to upgrade the Interstate 66 transportation corridor in a process relatively free of angst and controversy. Also under Layne, the Virginia Department of Transportation implemented a scorecard for measuring and prioritizing proposed road and highway projects. The purpose of the scorecard was to base transportation investments on objective criteria relating to congestion, safety, the environment and economic development rather than politics.
One knotty issue eluded Layne’s technocratic touch: the Washington Metro. Severely under-funded over the years, the Metro commuter rail system needs $1.5 billion a year more over the next ten years to address maintenance backlogs and other issues that have led to deteriorating safety, on-time service and ridership. But Virginia shares power in the governing authority with Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the federal government, which gives the state limited leverage to effect reform.
Layne will have his hands full as finance secretary. While the short-term budget outlook has brightened this year and next, Virginia faces immense long-term challenges dealing with an ever-growing Medicaid budget, massive unfunded pension liabilities, intense clamoring for more money for K-12 schools, higher-ed, and mental health, among other priorities, and the continued unwinding of various gimmicks used to balance the budget in the last recession.
What’s more, if Northam pushes to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program under the authority of the Affordable Care Act, he undoubtedly will look to Layne to find the state’s 10% share to finance the expansion. Layne could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.There are currently no comments highlighted.