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GaneriwalaState Treasurer Manju Ganeriwala, MBA ’81

Many states could do a lot worse than follow Virginia’s example. With a AAA bond rating from all three national rating agencies and a reputation as one of the best financially managed state governments, Virginia enjoys low borrowing costs and doesn’t run a deficit. The Old Dominion State balances its budget every year, and on time.

“Virginia taxpayers should be very proud that their money is managed in an optimal fashion,” says Manju Ganeriwala, MBA ’81 and treasurer of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The current economic climate has certainly made it more challenging for the state to manage its finances, but it hasn’t compromised its ability to do so. “Governor Kaine is committed to living within our means, but he does not subscribe to across-the-board budget reduction measures,” Ganeriwala explains. The treasurer says that as soon as a decline is sensed, the governor and his team look at every program and implement varying levels of cuts depending on each program’s effectiveness, whether the biennial General Assembly is in session or not.

“We always try to tighten the belt sooner rather than later, which keeps us from making rash decisions,” she says. That prudence allowed the state to get ahead of forecasted declines in its revenues last year and avoid the multimillion-dollar budget gaps many other states currently face.

Of course, Ganeriwala isn’t always happy about the cuts that have to be made. “This state is not really liberal in terms of safety nets—we barely cover the poorest of the poor,” she says. “The cuts that pull services from already vulnerable people or that affect education are the most troubling.” Having directed the financial functions of Virginia’s Medicaid program in a previous position, she is especially in tune with the needs of the poor.

But, Ganeriwala is relieved that Virginia was the first state to use this year’s stimulus money from the federal government to plug holes in its budget that resulted from the crisis. “We’ve definitely seen the benefits of the stimulus package in Virginia,” she says. “The first thing we did was fill the Medicaid gaps and retain core services and programs. Without the money, we would have had to lay off 7,000 state employees, which would have meant more panic and drastic cuts in services.” The state is now putting stimulus money into construction projects, which Ganeriwala hopes will help to get the economy moving again.

While she’s not an economist, Ganeriwala—drawing on 24 years of state financial experience—believes the national economy hasn’t seen the bottom yet. “Here we are at the end of April, and we are still watching our daily deposits from corporate and individual taxes. I think 2009 will be the year we keep hovering at the bottom, but I think stability will return in 2010.”

It was her first state job as an analyst in the Department of Planning and Budget that cultivated Ganeriwala’s interest in public service. “The first week in the job I had no idea what was going on—I didn’t understand anything anyone said!” The incomprehensible acronyms, prolific budget-speak and financial terms she’d never encountered in her work in the private sector confounded her.

But rather than become discouraged, Ganeriwala was hooked.

“Not having grown up in America, I had no idea how decisions were made at the highest level, and I became fascinated by the process,” the India native remembers. She was impressed by the work ethic and integrity of her colleagues in the Department of Planning and Budget, an office that commands respect throughout the government and does its work outside of politics, serving the governor regardless of party affiliation.

“I learned during those first years that navigating ideas through the decision-making process and building consensus is very important,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how great an idea someone has if he or she can’t win support from various interest groups and the legislature.”

Gaining a bird’s-eye view of state government and exposure to top state officials in that first job, she came to understand the core areas very well and the budget as an articulation of the priorities of the governor. Her MBA from the University of Texas, she says, provided both the basic financial foundation and the capability to dissect and solve unique problems, which helped to distinguish her work and allowed her to advance up the state government ladder.

Ganeriwala previously held posts as deputy secretary of finance in Governor Kaine’s Cabinet, where she was involved in shaping the state’s budget and issuing debt; chief financial officer in the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services; and associate director of the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget. She was named 2009 Outstanding Woman of the Year in the category of Government and Politics by the Virginia YWCA.

—Pam Losefsky

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