The most important responsibility the Legislature is charged with is to write and pass a balanced budget on behalf of the citizens of this state. Just like a family budgeting their dollars, we know there will always be more needs and wants than resources—so just like that family, it’s our job to prioritize the state’s needs and make appropriations accordingly. In order to do that to our utmost abilities, we need the most accurate financial information possible. Unfortunately, we know from past experience that isn’t always the case.
I think the State Health Department debacle a couple of years back is a prime example of that. Some 200 employees were either let go or forced to take early retirement after the agency announced it had a $30 million shortfall. Questions were raised about how funds were used in other programs. A subsequent audit revealed showed there actually hadn’t been a shortfall, but there had been financial mismanagement.
This session the Legislature is working to address that particular situation and make sure it isn’t repeated in the future. This past week the full Senate voted for a bill to claw back a $30 million supplemental appropriation that was given to the Health Department based on the erroneous budget information they’d presented.
We also are working on a measure creating the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT). This office will give the Legislature accurate and objective financial information for all state agencies. It will be overseen by a bipartisan committee of House and Senate members and staffed by a small group of nonpartisan, highly educated professionals. LOFT will conduct performance evaluations of agencies, programs or specific divisions and will have open access to all data and budgets. All of the reports produced by LOFT will be available to the public.
In addition, bills are moving through the House and Senate that will give the governor the ability to hold five of the state’s largest agencies more accountable. These measures will give the governor the ability to hire and fire the executive directors for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Transportation, the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Currently these directors are hired and fired by boards or commissions. When a new governor comes into office, they should be able to direct state agencies to implement the policies and agenda that they were elected to pursue. The problem is these boards and directors are not directly accountable to the governor, or even the public. They can basically refuse to implement policy and programs outlined by our state’s chief executive.
By giving the governor the ability to hire and fire the director, he can more effectively implement new policy, institute new programs and reform or eliminate programs that are no longer necessary or performing as they were intended. In addition, this creates greater accountability. If the public doesn’t like the end result, they can ensure a change will take place by voting that governor out of office when they’re up for reelection.
I think these bills represent important reforms that will enable us all to be even better stewards of the public resources entrusted to us.
Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to be your voice in the Oklahoma Senate. 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 email@example.com.