Consolidation measure moves to conference committee

This week, the Oklahoma Senate passed House Bill 2140, co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman of Sapulpa and House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee, both Republicans. The measure will consolidate state government administrative processes and help to eliminate duplication of services, advocates say.

“We must be proactive in finding ways to make our state government more affordable and less expensive to the taxpayer. This is a vital part of our government right-sizing efforts in conjunction with the Governor and House, and I am pleased to see this bill one step closer to becoming law,” said Bingman.

Senator Dan Newberry, a Sand Springs Republican who carried the bill on the floor, said during questioning that this bill is necessary to help balance the state’s budget.

Newberry said, “In light of a $500 million shortfall we have to find areas of government that can be consolidated if it saves money. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue; we are all in favor of making government more efficient. Because of this recession the people of Oklahoma have had to make cuts in their family budgets — we will do the same in state government. We will be prudent with every dollar.”

H.B. 2140 begins the process of consolidating five agencies into the Office of State Finance. The agencies are the Department of Central Services, Office of Personnel Management, Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission, the Archives Division of the Oklahoma State Library, Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council and the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board. 

However, Bingman said in his Wednesday meeting with members of the Capitol press corps that the merit protection agency has made a good case to remain a separate agency. Bingman explained that some senators, “thought the argument that merit protection needed its independence, that was a contention that had some merit.”
In his comments on the legislation, Speaker Steele reflected, “The Legislature is serious about making Oklahoma government as efficient as possible. House Bill 2140 will ensure the state gives a hard look at how agencies that share several of the same functions can avoid duplications of those services in the future. These types of conversations are good for government as a whole. 

“Avoiding duplication of services frees up resources for the core services the public expects government to provide while at the same time making other services leaner, more efficient and, ultimately, a better value for taxpayers.”

The measure passed the Senate with bipartisan support on Wednesday (April 27), 36-9. It now heads to House-Senate conference.
The measure has implications for efforts by the Fallin administration and its legislative allies to bring state government spending into balance, as is required by law. A large portion of the savings Gov. Mary Fallin projected in her State of the State address are contingent upon enactment of efficiencies in purchasing, information technology and consolidation of some functions. 

On another budget issue, Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked an amendment earlier by Sen. Tom Ivester, a Sayre Democrat. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, state Sen. Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City, the Senate minority leader, noted the language offered Tuesday of this week  would have been placed in House Bill 1225, a bill to require initiative petitions to include information on how any proposals requiring state dollars would be funded.

“Sen. Tom Ivester had an amendment that would extend that requirement to all legislation heard on the floor that would result in a loss of revenues,” Rice said. “The idea of PAYGO, paying as you go, is something championed by national figures like U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. If Republicans really wants to promote accountability and fiscal responsibility, they should have approved this amendment instead of voting as a caucus to stop it.”

Ivester’s amendment was tabled, and the measure went on to passage.

“I do want to thank the bill’s author, Sen. Frank Simpson, for at least allowing this amendment to be heard. However, his party abruptly tabled it, and they therefore lost an opportunity to show they intend to ‘walk the walk’ on fiscal responsibility. Sadly, now that the Republicans are now in charge they do not want to hold themselves to the same standard that they demanded Democrats be held to for years and years,” Rice said.

The majority party leadership, in a separate statement to CapitolBeatOK, contended Ivester’s measure would make it more difficult to reduce the size of Oklahoma’s government. The amendment would have required all legislation heard on the Senate floor that would result in a loss of revenues include information on how those revenues would be replaced.  Republicans said that amendment would undo recent major reforms.

President Pro Tem Bingman explained his view, “What the Democrats are failing to realize is that sometimes, as conservatives we do things that reduce the size of government.  Sometimes we make laws that lower the amount of money our state collects from citizens, such as this year when we cut income taxes by .25 percent, without the intention of replacing it somewhere else.

“We like a smaller government with lower taxes and a bigger economy.  We are required to balance the budget, therefore a reduction in revenues equals a reduction in the size of Oklahoma’s government.”

Bingman said that while PAYGO is good, it does not function as Rice and fellow Democrats had explained.

“PAYGO is designed to prevent deficit spending by requiring politicians to explain how they will pay for an increase in government.  It has never been used as a way to preserve government spending or prevent the right-sizing of government.  This amendment would do the opposite of PAYGO, so Senate Republicans didn’t support it,” Bingman said. 
Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.