If you listen to or read the various news stories regarding Oklahoma's budget situation, you might have received the false impression that a budget shortfall is a negative circumstance poised to cause all sorts of harm and confusion.
By some estimates, state government spending will be $300 to $500 million less this year than last year. Those who have an appreciation for big government see this as a very unfortunate event because they know that government will most likely be required to shrink in size this year.
I believe the shortfall presents the Legislature with a most exciting opportunity not only to cut through bureaucratic waste and make government more cost effective, but also to streamline and modernize government services so as to provide much improved customer service to the people.
For me, the past few weeks have been some of the busiest since I have been in the Legislature. Since receiving the appointment to head the House Standing Committee on Modernization, I have enjoyed the opportunity to encourage the progress of the House Modernization agenda. Last week, the House held an interim study which demonstrated the many opportunities to save taxpayers dollars and provide better service to the people of Oklahoma through better practices and the implementation of new technologies. At the same time, House Republicans have announced that government modernization will be a part of the 2009 House Republican agenda.
Based on the state's revenue shortfall, there is an obvious opportunity for spending reductions. This provides the occasion to modernize government. Those who have argued for less government spending in the years ofsurpluses have usually been swimming upstream. However this year, most will agree that it is absolutely necessary for the state to use technology to reduce the workload and free up state government positions.
One important opportunity that must be taken advantage of is the combination of all of the state's licensing and permitting entities into a user friendly, web based portal. Currently, very few of the state agencies provide this option. However, during the recently concluded study, we heard testimony regarding the success of one agency who has implemented this reform.
The State Board of Medical Licensure is saving $20,964 per year because of an online professional license renewal system. Due to the implementation of the online system, this common sense reform freed up about two full time employees because staff time was cut by fifty percent. It also appears that 99% of the license renewals now occur online.
Can you imagine how the improvement in customer service in this system can be implemented with all of the other licensing systems to form one easily accessed entity? How about the millions of dollars of savings that will be realized if this was accompanied with the reform of centralizing the licensing system into one location, instead of having it spread across a large number of state agencies?
The shortfall is not a bad thing. Rather, it can be a great opportunity and challenge that should motive state government to do what should have been done many years ago. State government should be using technology to provide a more friendly service at a reduced cost to taxpayers. As Chairman of the House Modernization Committee, I am very much looking forward to meeting this challenge.