Before I print my update for this week, I have attached a press release from the Governor’s office regarding her government consolidation measures which I authored in the House on her behalf and which were signed into law on Friday. It has been an honor to advance these proposals this year and I shall endeavor to write future updates about these issues.
Governor Mary Fallin Acts to Reduce Size of State Government
OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today signed into law two measures that will eliminate or consolidate 55 boards and commissions within state government. The measures add to previous government “right-sizing” bills backed by the governor. Over 75 boards and commissions have been eliminated or consolidated in this session alone.
HB 1455, by Rep. Jason Murphey and Sen. Greg Treat, eliminates 27 boards and commissions that are defunct, duplicative, or are no longer necessary to include in state statutes. By eliminating travel reimbursements and staff work time on these boards, HB 1455 will save more than $50,000 annually.
HB 1467, by Murphey and Sen. A.J. Griffin, consolidates 28 boards and commissions into seven new boards that will be overseen by the Department of Health. The elimination of reimbursements and staff work time related to these boards is estimated to save more than $300,000 annually.
“Over the decades, Oklahoma has seen the creation of hundreds of boards and commissions, many of which are now outdated and duplicative,” Fallin said. “The measures I signed into law today will consolidate or eliminate these entities without interrupting services. They also will deliver significant savings to Oklahoma taxpayers. My thanks go out to the Oklahoma Legislature for working with me to right-size our state government and reduce unneeded government boards and commissions.”
Earlier this legislative session, the governor signed into law other consolidation measures including:
· HB 1481, which repeals the Oklahoma Linked Deposit Review Board
· HB 1482, which repeals the high-hazard dams study group
· SB 621, which consolidates the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center into the Oklahoma Energy Initiative
· SB 767, which transfers the duties, assets, and obligations of the Commission on Marginally Producing Oil and Gas Wells to the Committee for Sustaining Oklahoma’s Energy Resources, which is a function of the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board
· SB 1011: Eliminates or consolidates 16 different boards and commissions within the oversight purview of the Secretary of Agriculture
“All of these reforms reflect my overall commitment to deliver a smaller, smarter and more efficient government,” Fallin said. “Not only will these improvements save money, they will make our state government more modern and more responsive to the needs of our customers: Oklahoma taxpayers.”
Saying Goodbye to the Earmark
When a new legislator, I worked to learn some of the more hidden and less-than-transparent aspects in the way Oklahoma politicians spent our taxpayer dollars.
This wasn’t easy as even some legislators are left in the dark regarding the mechanics of how the legislative budget process is abused to the benefit of the most powerful of politicians.
As I researched the issue, I turned to one of my contacts from my days as a Guthrie City Councilman. I had represented Guthrie as a member of the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG) board and in that capacity I worked with Zach Taylor who had served as the Director of ACOG for many years.
Over the years, Oklahoma legislators had used groups like ACOG to filter earmarked money from the state treasury, through the budget and a pass-through entity to recipients of the legislators’ choosing. The Oklahoma Constitution prevents the Legislature from awarding money to a specific company thus creating the need for laundering the money through a third-party government entity like ACOG. This understandably put public servants like Taylor in a bad position as they had to deal with the attempts of politicians to use their entity as a pass-through vehicle in order to get around the Constitution.
Interestingly, Taylor described how his agency would receive inquiries from politicians who wanted to earmark money to their own pet causes. Those naive lawmakers had apparently failed to figure out who the powerful politicians were who controlled the earmarking process and how the process worked. Taylor would observe that funding for those causes may later appear as pass-throughs. The naive lawmakers had seemingly figured out how to get an earmark and graduated into connected politicians who were capable of capturing, directing and laundering their own share of the taxpayer’s hard earned money. I will always appreciate Taylor for incurring the personal risk to honestly respond to my questions and explain to me how it “really” worked. Ever since, I have been an outspoken critic of earmarks and last year I voted against the budget after it became clear that it contained a 2 million dollar earmark for a private entity.
Here is the exciting news.
This year’s budget appears to be a complete contrast to last year. I can not find proof of any new earmarks. In fact, I believe old legacy earmarks are continuing to be converted to criteria-based grant processes where the financial award should be based on criteria instead of politics.
Considering state government had a lot of new money to spend this year, it is a most positive testimony to legislative appropriations fficials and the Governor that this inappropriate practice may be nearing an end. These individuals no doubt came under pressure from those who would have enjoyed raiding the state treasury but all indications seem to show they held firm.
Here is more good news. These same appropriations officials will be responsible for next year’s budget. If the state can go multiple years without new earmarks, it will establish a lasting precedent against earmarks that should prove hard for future generations of Oklahoma lawmakers to break.
Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.