Benge: Agency consolidation should be considered
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Published: 03-Jun-2010

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 03-Jun-2010

House Bill 3035 was among the cluster of notable and potentially significant reform measures that did not survive legislative scrutiny this year. Late in the session, the three state leaders who led the 2010 budget negotiations and the spending accord that dominated debate in the last two weeks of deliberations made a strong, if belated, case for a modest set of agency consolidations contained in the bill.

House Bill 3035, by House Speaker Chris Benge, a Tulsa Republican, would have created the Oklahoma Executive Branch Agency Consolidation Act of 2010.

In comments to reporters, all three of the exiting state leaders said agency consolidation remains a worthy objective for consideration of their successors in top positions of Oklahoma government.

Governor Henry, in his afternoon briefing with reporters on the last day of the session (May 28) said, “I believe some consolidation of agencies is a very appropriate policy to pursue, but it proved very difficult to achieve politically and practically.”

In his own discussions with reporters that evening, President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee said most issues that caused consternation at the end of session were the result of months of deliberation and debate. However, consolidation was an exception, and deliberately so. It was not pressed until late because the trio knew it would provoke fierce opposition from agencies – which it did.

As for Speaker Benge, this week he indicated the ideas in H.B. 3035 should remain a priority for future lawmakers. The legislation would have advanced the following consolidations:

-       Construction Industries Board into Department of Labor: $1.5 million in projected savings

-       Indian Affairs into a Governor appointed cabinet secretary position: $175,000 in projected savings

-       Human Rights Commission into Attorney General: $371,500 in projected savings

-       Office of Disability Concerns into the Department of Rehabilitative Services: $380,000 in projected savings

-       DEQ and Department of Mines into one entity titled the Department of Natural Resources: $635,000 in projected savings

-       Scenic Rivers into the Conservation Commission: $100,000 in projected savings

-       Merit Protection Commission into Office of Personnel Management: $200,000 in projected savings

-       OCAST, OK Investment Financing Authority and OK Development Financing Authority into the Department of Commerce: $1 million in projected savings

-       Defund Judicial Complaints and make self-funding through court fees: $283,000 in projected savings

Jennifer Monies, press secretary for the departing Speaker, told CapitolBeatOK, “These consolidations were identified as areas where reductions could be made in overhead and administrative expenses, while not negatively affecting delivery of services.” In all, the legislation would have eliminated a total of 47 authorized full time employees (FTEs) from the state government payroll.

According to a summary requested by CapitolBeatOK which Monies forwarded, “Several of the consolidations included in this bill were first recommended by Gov. Brad Henry in his executive budget earlier this year, including Merit Protection Commission into Office of Personnel Management and OCAST to the Commerce Department. Several others were mentioned by the governor as targets for consolidation, including the Department of Mines, Department of Environmental Quality, and the Indian Affairs Commission.”

In the envisioned plan, “Any advisory boards or commissions will remain intact to allow for continued representation for interested parties or industries." Agencies, boards and commissions would have had a six-month transition period under the legislation.

In response to questions from CapitolBeatOK, Speaker Benge said, “Oklahomans expect us to be good stewards of their tax dollars and become more efficient. We did accomplish some consolidations this year, including the combining of EBC and OSEEGIB to give state employees better and more affordable health insurance options.”

However, he concluded, “It is disappointing we were unable in the waning days of session to do more, but I anticipate with continued budget constraints that lawmakers will have another opportunity next year to target some areas of government for improved efficiency. The people of Oklahoma expect us to adjust the size of government to better reflect revenue collections.”

 

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