Monday, February 28, 2011

Consolidating State Agencies

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.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Governor Mary Fallin Comments on House Committee Passage of Government Modernization Bills

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today praised the Oklahoma House Government Modernization Committee for the passage of several initiatives to streamline and modernize government operations.

“I’m pleased the Legislature is moving forward with several government modernization proposals. Streamlining government operations, consolidating agencies and sharing administrative costs are all important ways of addressing the state’s $500 million budget shortfall,” Fallin said. “Each one of these proposals – many of which I put forward in my executive budget - saves taxpayers money while allowing government to continue to pursue its core functions. I am hopeful the House will continue to move these measures forward.”

The House Government Modernization Committee approved HB 1304 by Rep. David Derby that consolidates information technology services of all state agencies under the direction of the Information Services Division of the Office of State Finance.

The committee also approved HB 1541 by Rep. Jason Murphey that consolidates several state entities, including the Human Rights Commission into the Attorney General’s office and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority, Oklahoma Industrial Finance Authority into the Department of Commerce.

Monday, February 21, 2011

HD31 Rural Population Largest in the State

After last week’s article about the census, I received responses asking that I follow up and provide an update about the new census report.

The report stated that House District 31 now has 44,222 residents. This represents an increase of about 10,000 over the last ten years, and it means that House District 31 will be required to give up about 7,000 residents in the upcoming redistricting process in order to meet the necessary requirement of approximately 37,000 per legislative district.

As you are probably aware, an important principle of our representative system of governance is that one person should not have less voting power than a person in another district. The redistricting process is designed to correct the inequities that have occurred over time due to the explosive area growth. Those who live in House District 31 actually have less voting power than those who live in less populated districts.

House District 31 is current the tenth largest district in the state and the eighth fastest growing district.

However, House District 31 is the largest district in terms of unincorporated or rural population. With over 27,000 rural residents, just House District 31’s unincorporated population comes within 5,000 people of surpassing the size of Oklahoma's least populated house districts.

You can only imagine how much demand this places on county government services. In fact, in Logan County District 1 alone, there are approximately 14,000 unincorporated residents. There are nearly 50% more residents in the unincorporated area of this county commission district than there are in the entire city of Guthrie. Logan County District 2 also serves a high rural population with about 10,000 rural residents which is about the same size as Guthrie.

One of the biggest implications of this report is its impact on county-level redistricting. This presents county leaders with the challenge of meeting the requirement to re-district each county commission district so that the population is divided evenly -- while not creating a large disparity in the number of road miles each commissioner must maintain. There is a large disparity in population numbers between Logan County Districts 1 and 3. Logan County District 1 contains over 40% of the population and Logan County District 3 has 27%.

Logan County is one of the top 7 fastest growing counties in the State with over 41,848 residents.

The numbers also show an explosive growth trend in the Oklahoma County part of House District 31. There are now over 3,000 residents of the district who live within the city limits of Edmond, and nearly 1,000 residents live in unincorporated Oklahoma County.

The tremendous number of rural residents demonstrates what local officials have known for several years: the growth in House District 31 is mostly in unincorporated areas and the demands of this growth have been placed on county government.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons which can be taken away from this fact is that people do not need city government in order to receive basic services. In Logan and Oklahoma Counties, over 27,000 people are demonstrating that life is possible without the tax and regulation burdens provided by city governments. There are very few if any other areas in the state with this significant level of rural residents.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

State Agency Consolidation Approved in Committee

OKLAHOMA CITY – A significant consolidation of state government administrative overhead could be set to take place following today’s approval of House Bill 2140 by the House of Representatives Government Modernization Committee.
House Bill 2140 proposes to consolidate seven of Oklahoma’s central service state agencies into one agency.
“We are committed to right sizing state government,” stated House Speaker Kris Steele who serves as the author of the legislation. “Consolidating central services agencies is a great first step toward the goal of making state government more efficient and responsive to the needs of Oklahoma taxpayers.”
Steele authored the legislation after an interim study found that Oklahoma could realize millions of dollars of savings if Oklahoma followed best practices that are occurring in other states.
The legislation is patterned after the central services governance structures used in Montana, Indiana and Utah.
“This vote represents the first time in recent history that a significant consolidation of state agencies has been approved by a standing House committee,” said state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie and chair of the Government Modernization Committee. “The consolidation of these seven state agencies will save the taxpayers millions of dollars every year.”
Murphey said the bill will also set the stage for future significant consolidations.
“This bill makes the case for consolidating state agencies based on similar mission and subject matter,” he said.
House Bill 2140 was approved by a vote of 11-2 and now heads to the full House for additional consideration.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Local Census Numbers to be Released this Week

Last summer I wrote an article describing the upcoming re-districting process and some of the potential implications of the 2010 census report.

The implications are significant. The north Oklahoma and Logan county areas are exploding in residential growth and the 2010 census should reflect that growth.

Proceeding the 2010 census, Logan County officials were asked to update the census map to show the new residential locations which needed to be counted that were not on the Census Bureau's list of houses. The county took this task very seriously and reported hundreds of new home sites that were not listed in the previous census. This work demonstrated the growth and helped ensure that the new census properly reflects the explosive residential construction.

Impacts include increased local road funding, additional representation in state government and a much stronger demographic base which will serve to attract new business investment.

A Census Bureau report is scheduled to be released this week and will include Oklahoma and four other states. The Census Bureau will first provide the report to the Governor, Speaker of the House, Speaker Pro-Temp of the Senate and Representatives of the minority political party in the House and Senate. After the bureau receives confirmation that these officials are in possession of the data, it will be released to the public.

In last year’s article I stated that the growth in Logan County and north Oklahoma County will require House District 31 to get smaller. Following the 2000 census, Oklahoma House districts were required to include approximately 34,000 people. Because of the growth in the state over the last 10 years, the 2010 redistricting plan will require each House district be drawn to include 37,000 people.

I suspect that the current population of House District 31 now includes more than the 37,000 which will be required by the new re-districting plan. As you might imagine, I am anxious to see the new numbers.

Within the next four months, a legislative redistricting plan will reduce the size of the district. Parts of the current district will potentially be picked up by surrounding rural districts which will be forced to expand to include new residents to meet the 37,000 resident requirement.

I plan to send out the new census numbers for Logan County and House District 31 through my Twitter account @JWMurphey shortly after their release later this week.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Taxpayer Dollars Going to Planned Parenthood?

This is the time of year when the previous year’s legislative initiatives have started to go into law and they are quickly becoming of significant effect.

For instance, in the next few weeks the first State Government 2.0 data feeds, sponsored by Senator Anthony Sykes and myself, are set to go online. These were approved in last year’s Senate Bill 1759. I look forward to providing you with the information about these feeds and their far-reaching implications in enhancing transparency.

Also recently placed online were the Open Books 2.0 state government spending transparency enhancements which were approved in House Bill 3422. This legislation was sponsored by current state Treasurer Ken Miller and state Senator Clark Jolley and requested by the grassroots group Oklahomans for Responsible Government (OFRG). The legislation will enhance your right to see how state government spends your money. State officials are now required to post every single spending transaction in a searchable and exportable format. These new features were placed online at the website within the past few weeks.

I will be the first to admit that the Open Books user interface is a bit clunky and I am not sure that all of the requirements of the legislation have been complied with. For instance, the exportable functionality is almost impossible to find and users must search for the recipients of government spending in all caps. This no doubt discourages usage and must be fixed. But it’s also fair to say that the product still empowers citizens as never before.

For example, last week the issue of whether or not taxpayers dollars should be going to a controversial organization like Planned Parenthood started to be debated in the national news.

It is of course little surprise to realize that federal taxpayer dollars are going to this organization. However, are state taxpayers also funding Planned Parenthood?

Using the Open Books system, with just a few clicks you can see that over $230,000 have been paid by the State Department of Health to Planned Parenthood during the current fiscal year. Without the transparency provided by Open Books, I doubt that very many people would ever know about this spending.

Readers may recall my past articles about the very bad policy of legislative earmarking. For instance, in 2007 I wrote about an earmark for an organization known only as A Pocket Full of Hope. In 2009, I wrote that legislative earmarks were starting to disappear as the state budget was forced to contract because of the economic downturn. However, even though the earmark is gone, according to Open Books, A Pocket Full of Hope is still on the public dole. This raises the disturbing possibility that legislators are still verbally directing agencies behind the scenes on how to spend money. How many other former earmarks are still taking place away from the purview of the public?

Once the user interface is more functional and its usage becomes more widespread, the Open Books platform will transform the way citizens hold government accountable. State government officials will become very cautious when they spend taxpayer dollars because they will understand that you will be reviewing their expenditures.

And now we also have a powerful new tool as legislators to do our job as policy makers to guard taxpayer dollars.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Murphey Appointed to Governor's Transition Team

GUTHRIE - Local State Representative Jason Murphey has been appointed as a member of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s Government Reform Transition Committee.

Murphey, who chairs the House of Representatives’ Government Modernization Committee has provided Fallin’s committee with updates and insights regarding recent and ongoing efforts to reform Oklahoma State Government.

“I have enjoyed the opportunity to assist the Governor in the effort to reform State Government. I have a strong appreciation for her desire to streamline state government services and save taxpayer dollars,” Murphey said.

Murphey says the Governor has expressed an interest in government reform from day one. “The Governor’s policy team has been involved in reform ideas from their start. They have been attending government reform policy meetings and they understand these issues,” he explained.

The Governor is expected to call for the adoption of state government reforms during next week’s state of the state address.