Governors in the news: both incoming and outgoing governors are hardly taking a Christmas break

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December 23, 2010

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Florida's Incoming Governor makes a move to cut the size of state government

One day after receiving extensive reports from his transition staffers that called for sweeping consolidation and trimming of state agencies, Rick Scott, a Republican set to take office next month, has taken action. The four full-time employees of the Governor's Office of Drug Control have been given notice that their positions will not exist after Scott's Inauguration.[1] Most likely, a scaled down version of the agency will be folded into the Health and Law Enforcement Departments.

Critics of Scott's move said the half million dollars Florida will save is not enough to justify cutting an agency that has focused on the state's prescription drug abuse problems. Created by former Governor Jeb Bush in 1999 and authorized under statute, the Office of Drug Control largely concerned itself with offering policy suggestions and coordinating the activities of various other groups. It has recently been credited with facilitating the passage of a law that gives Florida greater power to monitor prescription drug use in the state, something that is now likely among the Office's final actions.

Outgoing New Mexico Governor returns from private visit to North Korea

Winding down his tenure helming New Mexico, Democrat Bill Richardson recently completed a visit to North Korea, a nation under dictatorial Communist control and widely considered the most closed off state in the world. Richardson, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has been to the country several times before but reported that conditions are now worse than he has ever seen them. Speaking of the tension between North and South Korea, Richardson called peninsula a “tinderbox”.[2]

Richardson acts as an unofficial diplomat for the U.S. in some situations and enjoys one of the best relationships with senior North Korean officials of any American. Following his visit, the state says it will allow international nuclear inspections and may be open to setting up a policy hotline with its southern neighbor. Speaking to the Associated Press, Richardson said he has some hope for relations between Pyongyang and Seoul but that both sides are very much on edge. Despite not being an official diplomat, he is expected to meet with the State Department and the White House to discuss his observations.


Pennsylvania's Governor-elect loses his Chief of Staff

Republican Tom Corbett, the state's sitting Attorney General and soon to become the Governor, is looking for a new Chief of Staff today after Brian Nutt announced he has changed his mind about joining Corbett's Administration.[3] Nutt managed Corbett's gubernatorial campaign and, prior to that, his attorney general race. He is also Chief of Staff to Corbett in the latter's capacity as Pennsylvania's Attorney General and Chief of Staff to the gubernatorial transition team. Announcing that he has decided not to perform the same function once Corbett is sworn in as the state's chief executive, Nutt said he will still serve as a consultant and strategist to the Governor. Meanwhile, he is joining the newly opened Harrisburg political consulting firm of BrabenderCox.

Most observers doubt the loss of Nutt will seriously hurt Corbett's nascent governorship or his image with voters. Both men insisted they will continue to work closely together and that there are no hard feelings. While Corbett has not yet named another Chief of Staff, he has announced his picked for an equally high-profile office, that of the State's Budget Secretary. Charles Zogby, who has experience under the previous administrations of Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker, will now be the point man as the Keystone State addresses a $4 billion budget shortfall for 2011.

Virginia's Governor is attempting to broker a new pension deal with state employees

Virginia's Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell, recently proposed that the Commonwealth's 187,000 state employees begin making 5% annual contributions to their own pensions. Due to a 1983 agreement in which workers forewent a pay raise in favor of having the state pick up their pension contributions, Virginia is one of only four states where government workers are not required to contribute to their retirement accounts.[4]

As part of a budget package unveiled before the General Assembly, McDonnell offset the pension request with a proposed 3% pay raise for the state's workers; if it passes, it will end a four-year salary freeze. Initial estimates are that the pension contributions would pump $311 million a year into the struggling retirement funds. Currently, Virginia is facing $17.6 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.