This week presents the first deadline of the 2011 legislative session. The deadline provides the first definitive metric by which we can judge if this is going to be a successful session.
This has been by far the busiest I have ever been as a legislator. Much of my time is spent working on Government Modernization initiatives. Because the Government Modernization Committee is now in its third year of existence, there are a number of first-generation modernization projects which are requiring either follow-up legislation or re-submission due to a veto by the previous Governor. This means that the Modernization case load has been much more significant than in previous years. Also adding to the case load is the fact that Governor Mary Fallin has proposed a series of cost-saving reforms upon which we need to take action to implement.
Agency consolidation efforts have been my first focus. These efforts are represented by House Bill 2140 by House Speaker Kris Steele and House Bill 1541 which I am sponsoring.
House Bill 2140 will consolidate several of the state’s central service agencies into one administrative department, resulting in millions of dollars of savings each year. I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with Speaker Steele in developing his proposal and have a strong appreciation for his commitment to cutting costs.
House Bill 1541 contains several of the state agency consolidations as proposed by Governor Mary Fallin. Her consolidation proposals are designed to realize significant costs savings to Oklahoma taxpayers.
Both of these consolidation bill have now been approved in committee and await consideration by the full House.
The consolidation proposals have resulted in numerous contacts between my office and the various agencies and lobbyists. They all have a series of reasons for why they cannot be consolidated. Some of these entities wholeheartedly support agency consolidation with the singular exception of their agency which they vigorously assert is a unique anomaly to the problem of too much administrative overhead which we are desperately trying to rein in.
It has been my job to work through those objections and ensure that the consolidation proposals are feasible. This has resulted in hours of meetings during which I have endeavored to sort through all the usual excuses and red herring arguments and determine the facts. After all, it is my job to defend these proposals when they are under attack from those who wish to defend the status quo, and I don’t want to hurt the credibility of valid consolidation proposals by including proposals which don’t make sense.
Probably one of the most important reforms which our committee has worked on this year has been House Bill 1304 by Representative David Derby. Derby’s legislation is a follow-up proposal to the state’s IT consolidation plan (about which I have written several articles) and if incorporated, it would also save millions of dollars each year. The Governor’s budget counts on 140 million dollars of savings based on the approval of the legislation.
This week, the Government Modernization Committee will also consider a series of proposals by state Representative Lewis Moore from Edmond. Moore has been working hard on a follow-up to our legislation to reform the state employee health insurance program which was vetoed by the previous Governor. Moore’s legislation will place an emphasis on the implementation of a market-based Health Savings Account (HSA) proposal which is designed after a similar process in Indiana that has kept health insurance costs down.
We will also hear a proposal this week by state Representative TW Shannon which would start the process of selling unneeded state assets. You may recall past articles in which I described how state officials have finally compiled a list of state owned buildings. It is incredible that this list was not in existence until recently. Can you imagine what would happen to a private business that did not even keep a list of its assets?
I will ask the committee to approve legislation which would implement a proposal from the Governor to require the state to pay all state vendors by electronic transfer, resulting in several million dollars of savings. The bill will also contain a series of aggressive cost-saving and transparency proposals.
Due to the strong support of our colleagues in the Legislature, legislative leadership and the Governor, all of our Modernization bills are still alive. I intend to keep you updated about these initiatives as the session progresses.