As members of the Legislature, the most important job we have is to write and pass a balanced budget. Our responsibility is to be the best stewards possible of the public resources we appropriate. But historically, lawmakers had to depend on either executive branch agencies or those who benefited from state programs for information on how well tax dollars were being used. We greatly needed independent verification to ensure those dollars were being used and producing the results intended.
In the 2019 legislative session, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat authored Senate Bill 1, creating the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, known as LOFT, a new government watchdog office to provide both lawmakers and the general public with independent data on agency budgets and performance. LOFT would give the ability to provide greater transparency and accountability, strengthening and supporting checks and balances within state government. The bill became law.
LOFT would have a small nonpartisan, independent staff of highly educated professionals, and it would be overseen by a bipartisan committee of Senate and House members. I was honored to be among those legislators who were the first appointed to that oversight committee, and I’ve continued to serve in that role ever since.
LOFT has indeed helped show us where reforms and greater transparency were needed to address inefficiencies and waste – the study of Tourism was an example of that, and I can tell you the Legislature and Shelley Zumwalt, the executive director of the agency who took over in 2022, have worked hard to ensure guardrails and reforms were put in place. We’ve also had reports that verified how specific programs and investments were paying huge dividends for our state, like the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program.
At the next LOFT Oversight Committee meeting, we’ll be receiving a report on the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, including assessing the agency’s role in developing affordable housing. We’ll also be talking about the anticipated success of legislation I authored in the Senate, the Oklahoma Housing Stability Program, which included an appropriation of $215 million for a new program to increase the availability of affordable housing for hard-working Oklahomans. I want to point out that the bill specified that a large portion of this funding will be used to develop housing in rural communities.
Other proposed studies will be discussed in upcoming meetings, including in-depth examinations which could include agencies like the Ethics Commission and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.
I was sold on the concept of LOFT when it was first proposed. In terms of living up to its promise of greater transparency and helping us to be better stewards of public dollars, I believe it has surpassed all expectations.
Please feel free to contact my Capitol office with any questions or concerns you may have about legislation or other issues impacting our state at 405.521.5628 or at Chuck.Hall@oksenate.gov.