Monday, August 29, 2011

How Many State Employees Are Paid More Than the Governor?

There is no question that when properly used, technology provides the public with insight into government as never before. All too often, people will express dissatisfaction with the size of government and state their belief that there is too much waste in government, but fail to provide a concrete example of substantive government waste.

Technology changes this. In my view, new technologies should be quickly deployed to allow the public to see government spending, analyze government performance, and expose wasteful and inefficient processes.

I am a big believer in the fact that government should use technology to push out as much government performance raw data as possible. All too often, when the government simply creates transparency tools without releasing the underlying data, the data used by the tool is filtered in a way that is not user friendly or, worse, is designed to prevent data viewers from being able to gain a complete understanding of what they are seeing.

I have enjoyed being a part of the effort to push out raw data feeds through the portal. I believe that free market-oriented organizations will use this data to develop transparency tools that are far more advanced than those tools internally developed by the government. These new tools will not only provide the public with the means to see government performance, they will also be used by policy makers and government officials to understand the strengths and weakness of government processes (something that legislators do not currently have the ability to do).

The Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs recently provided a fantastic example of this type of service. OCPA requested several raw data sets from state government through Open Records requests. They used this data to develop a transparency website located at The site allows the public to query and see individual state expenditures, tax credit recipients, pension systems and revenue data. The site’s user interface is more user friendly and comprehensive than the state’s Open Books transparency portal. This site is free to use and I would encourage you to visit the site and see just a few of the areas where state government is spending your money.

This new tool is providing journalists with a fantastic method for sourcing new stories about government inefficiencies. For example, last week, on the blog (, writer Patrick McGuigan used the OCPA data as the foundation for an article detailing that 877 state employees earn a higher salary than the Governor’s salary of $147,000 per year. In June, writing on (, writer Paul Monies used the OCPA data to point out that 60 former state employees make more than $100,000 each year from state retirement payments. These are concrete examples of government waste.

I believe that journalists will write many such stories based on queries of the OCPA data, and think this type of tool will be a catalyst for transforming Oklahoma government.

I also believe that the data requested from the state by OCPA should have never needed to come through an Open Records request. It should have already been available through the portal. I plan to continue the effort to place additional and more comprehensive raw data sets to be published online.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Staying Focused

Earlier this year, I wrote about my decision to help bring attention to the need for a federal balanced budget amendment. I enjoyed the opportunity to document the significant amount of support in the Oklahoma Legislature for ratifying the amendment if Congress would just give us the opportunity to do so.

I also mentioned my hesitance to take on new tasks. Over the past few years I have become very focused on finding inefficient government processes and helping write and pass the legislation to transform those processes. It is my belief that this effort could result in massive tax reduction for Oklahoma taxpayers. I think it is immoral for state government to take your money and waste it in unbelievably inefficient and dysfunctional processes.

I firmly believe that these reforms could allow Oklahoma to completely eliminate its state income tax. This is one of the most important reforms that could happen because studies have shown that the absence of an income tax has been a key factor in incentivizing economic growth.

As you might imagine, this work has taken time. One of my biggest challenges has been to stay focused and not take on too many major efforts. This isn’t easy because there are so many areas in state government that need reform. At any moment, I am likely to take on a new major reform effort.

For instance, I am tempted to focus on welfare reform each time I observe someone using an access card (your money) to purchase junk food while using their own money to purchase cigarettes.

Each time higher education institutions raise tuition on students yet again, while their own budgets skyrocket upwards, even during an economic downturn, I feel the temptation to invest my energy in reforming the higher education system. I think the actions of higher education over the past few years have proven that the Legislature should have never turned over the right to raise tuition to higher education. Technology should be driving down the cost of education. The increases do a great disservice to Oklahoma students.

I am tempted to focus my efforts on human services reform whenever I see reports of DHS placing a child in a dangerous environment or see them remove a child from a safe environment. I have a series of ideas for human services reform that I plan to write about in the future.

Of course, common education reform represents one of the greatest areas of need for reform. There are far too many school districts, way too much red tape, and limited freedom of parental choice. The Legislature's refusal to act more proactively over the years on education reform has trapped thousands of students in failing school systems. I have a great distaste for the actions of politicians who grandstand on the education issue while constantly blocking attempts to enact reform.

And, then there is the antiquated system for addressing the state’s road needs. From an antiquated funding formula to a bureaucracy-heavy, top-down approach to paving local roads, too much money is soaked up in costly bureaucratic processes that are feeding a government bureaucracy and taking money away from paving roads. I could commit a great deal of focus on this issue.

These are just a few of the efforts, each of which one could spend their entire time in the Legislature seeking to accomplish. At this time, I am determined to stay focused on the effort to reduce the size of state government. However, I am also subject to taking on one or several of these efforts -- and others I haven't mentioned yet. And of course, I am always prepared to vote in support of my colleagues in the House and Senate who are working to accomplish these and other reforms. I also very much appreciate your continued feedback and suggestions. My views on the need for these reforms have been heavily influenced by the input I have received.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Consideration of Bills in Committee

In last week’s article, I articulated my support for the proposal to change House rules so that all bills receive a hearing in committee. I strongly believe in the principle that each proposal should receive an on-the-record vote so the constituents of each Representative will know where their legislator stands on each issue.

It has been my challenge to reconcile this belief with the fact that as a Government Modernization Committee Chairman, it is my responsibility to filter the good and bad legislation and give the good legislation a hearing in committee.

The Government Modernization Committee is the destination point for legislation that seeks to modernize and streamline government. I enjoy working with bills that seek to accomplish this goal and usually give them a quick hearing and our committee sends them off to the full House with our support.

Legislation that conflicts with previous modernization reforms, however, is also assigned to the committee. Under the current system, it is regarded as my responsibility to stop this bad legislation. Simply denying a hearing to these bills would be the easy way out. Instead of taking this approach, I have attempted to work with the authors of the bills to understand their reasons for their sponsorship of bills. My practice is to work with the author to refine the proposal and potentially use their bill to actually advance new modernization concepts. In fact, earlier this year, a bill that started out as an effort to reverse an important efficiency reform successfully implemented one of the most important pieces of the year’s modernization agenda.

This process is time consuming, but it has allowed me to build stronger relationships with those legislators. Most of the time, the legislators appreciate the fact that their bill was not simply rejected, and they are usually willing to work together to substantively address their concerns without reversing previous modernization and efficiency reforms.

If I were to deny these bills a hearing, I would miss the opportunity to build these relationships and to advance additional reforms.

In my three years as chairman, I can’t recall a single time when a legislator refused to work with me on addressing the issues of concern in their bill. I think you would be hard pressed to find someone whose bill was rejected by our committee who felt there was not an attempt to give the bill life.

I believe there are several committee chairmen who follow this approach. They take their jobs as gatekeeper seriously, but do not reject legislation out of hand.

Of course, there are also chairmen who invest little time and effort into analyzing the true merits of a proposal. All too often they simply take the word of the bureaucracy that would be affected by a proposal and kill the bill based on feedback from the bureaucracy. This kills creative proposals that would inject a new approach. In my opinion, this is the lazy way to chair a committee and is one of the primary reasons why the status quo is maintained.

Thank you for reading this week's update. Next week I plan to provide an update on the recent state and county redistricting processes.