By Steve Fair
Oklahoma State Senate Co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee- R, Oklahoma City has three bills that will be voted on this session that will work to streamline and modernize Oklahoma government. Senate Bill 1865 would create the Office of Accountability and Innovation within the Legislative Service Bureau. This office would conduct regular performance audits of agencies, recommend best practices to improve efficiencies in government, review the effectiveness of tax incentives, and bring new innovations to government to make it more effective for taxpayers. Now there’s a unique thought- innovation in government. In Oklahoma, the government is the state’s largest employer, so innovation and accountability is long overdue in the bloated bureaucracy.
Another bill Coffee was able to get past committee was Senate Bill 1698 which would merge the Criminal Justice Resource Center into the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The OCJRC is a division of the Legislative Service Bureau with its director appointed by the Oklahoma Sentencing Commission (OSC). Its primary responsibility is to provide crime statistics for local, state and federal agencies. The agency itself is less than twenty years old, and only has about twenty employees. Coffee’s proposal to merge the agency into the state’s crime agency is both efficient and logical. To have a crime statistics agency reporting to the legislature doesn’t make any sense since the Republicans took control of the House (ha ha).
A third bill that Coffee has presented is Senate Bill 1709 that would merge the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner into the OSBI. According to their website, the mission of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is “to protect the public health and safety of Oklahomans through the scientific investigation of deaths as defined by state statutes. This process involves scene investigation and medicolegal autopsy (including radiology, toxicology, histology, and microbiology) complementing the activities of law enforcement agencies, district attorneys and public health officials.” The agency is about forty years old, has a board of directors and about a hundred employees. Many states have their ME office under the jurisdiction of state law enforcement agencies, but watch for a fight on this proposal.
When you consider that Oklahoma state and local government is outpacing the private sector in growth by a two to one margin, it’s time we get a handle on state agencies. According to a report by the University of Central Oklahoma’s Policy Institute, from 1992-2002 Oklahoma state tax revenues increased by 60.75%, slightly less than the growth in personal income. Using the ratio of tax revenue growth to personal income growth, that ranked Oklahoma as the 19th fastest growing state government in the nation.
When was the last time you heard about a state agency having a layoff or downsizing or shutting down? It doesn’t happen, yet in the private sector, companies that are not viable close their doors everyday- they lay off people- they reorganize. That just doesn’t happen in government- at any level. Why? Because in the private sector, an employee has to produce a good or service at a cost that will return a profit to his employer. His employer has to stay competitive in the free market economy, but in government, the agency just cries and whines to elected officials until they get the budget they had last year increased and we the taxpayers write the check. Ronald Reagan said, “the closest thing to eternal life on the earth is a governmental agency.”
If Coffee wants to take his accountability/efficiency crusade to the next level, he should consider zero-based budgeting. That is a method of budgeting in which all expenses must be justified each new period. Zero based budgeting starts from a –0- base and every function within an agency or organization is analyzed for its needs and costs. Budgets are then built around what is needed for the year, regardless of whether the budget is higher or lower than last years. Most agency heads don’t subscribe to zero based budgeting. They contend the whole process would be too time consuming and cumbersome and take time away from their Solitare and Free Cell games, but it’s our money and they should have to justify every nickel.
The biggest problem with America today is that the government is too large- at all levels, but particularly at federal and state level. With an ever-growing appetite, government leaves us with increasingly complex rules and regulations that are virtually impossible to understand. And then it raises our taxes so that it has enough money to keep on growing.
Think about this: “The Lord’s(model) Prayer" is only sixty six words and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is just 286 words and the entire Declaration of Independence is just 1,322 words. But the government regulations on the sale of cabbage total 26,911. That’s a lot of cabbage and you and I are writing the check.