Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Something else to think about...

Maine gets low score for government
Its agencies are not held accountable in making their budget requests, the Pew Center says.

By BEN EVANS The Associated Press March 4, 2008

WASHINGTON — Utah, Virginia and Washington state have the most effective state governments in the country, according to a scorecard released Monday by The Pew Center on the States.

The center ranked the states based on how well they manage their budgets, staffs, infrastructure and information.

Maine received one of the lowest grades, a C.

New Hampshire got a D+, the lowest score. The state is not closely monitoring its costs and performance, Pew said in a press release.

The states with the highest scores have made accountability and innovation a priority, the report said.

Washington, for example, holds public meetings led by the governor to monitor how its programs are working, while Utah has a sophisticated financial tracking system that provides up-to-the-minute data.

Virginia offers its employees incentives for meeting goals and improving service.

"Effective state government really matters," said Neal Johnson, director of Pew's Government Performance Project, citing infrastructure as evidence. "The Minnesota bridge collapse and the failure of the levees in New Orleans prove that few functions of state government have more direct impact on the daily lives of Americans."

The "Grading the States" report card was the fourth in a series of assessments issued by Pew's Government Performance Project and Governing Magazine. The last was released in 2005. The rankings are based on reviews by a panel of state government experts.

States were graded on recruitment and retention of qualified employees, their use of information and technology, management of budgets and purchasing systems, and planning for improvements to roads, bridges and other core infrastructure.

The report on Maine said:

"Maine has an on-again, off-again relationship with performance measurement that dates back to the early 1990s. Right now, agencies are not required to include performance data with their budget requests -- although many continue to use the information internally to make decisions.

"The Legislature, which fell in love with performance measurement back in 2001, lost interest when its supporters were term-limited out of office. 'You had a group that's very committed to performance budgeting and put it in place,' says state Senator Peggy Rotundo, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee. 'Then with the new people rotating through, you didn't have the same level of understanding. It sort of lost steam over a period of time.'

"While performance information has gone by the wayside, other elements in the state budget process are improving. A new, more transparent budget format debuted with the 2007-09 biennial budget and has been almost universally embraced by the legislative and executive branches. the new budget is organized by program, not line item, making it a more effective vehicle for the governor to set a strategic direction.

"Lurking is a citizen initiative that could wreak havoc on the state's finances. If it passes this fall, it would cut or eliminate the excise tax on automobiles, which brings in $203 million a year. Where would the money come from to make up for that loss?"

Susan Urahn, managing director of The Pew Center on the States, said the rankings are intended to give states objective information about how they can improve their performance.

William T. Bly, Esq.

Maine OUI Lawyer