Monday, November 29, 2010

Weekly Opinion Editorial
OKLAHOMA GOVERNMENT & LAYOFFS!
by Steve Fair
Governor elect Mary Fallin said in a interview last week that Oklahomans voted for smaller more efficient government when they swept Republicans into statewide offices. Fallin said in The Oklahoman, “The people of Oklahoma have spoken very clearly in the election that they do want change, that they expect solutions to problems, that they want government to be efficient and effective, that they don't want taxpayer money wasted. But they want results. They want us to give our children and our communities the very best possible future.”
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Fallin went on to say, “I'll spend a lot of time on the budget and budgetary issues, looking at state programs — which ones are functioning, which ones are not functioning, which ones are relevant, which ones are not relevant to today,” she said. “You have to inspect what you expect out of state government.”
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On November 2nd Oklahomans did vote for smaller government, but whether they will get it remains to be seen. Last legislative session, the Republicans missed a golden opportunity to begin the ‘right sizing’ government initiative. Instead they elected to go with ‘across the board’ cuts at all state agencies because it was easier and less time consuming. The across the board cuts did not take into account the mission/importance/relevance of each agency. Instead of implementing ‘zero based’ budgeting and requiring every state agency to justify every dollar they requested, the lawmakers took the path of least resistance.
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What Oklahoma government really needs is a good old fashioned layoff. In the private sector when business is bad and revenue is down, people lose their job. That rarely happens in government. In fact, job security is one of the key selling points government uses to recruit new employees. As Ronald Reagan said, “the closest thing to eternal life on this earth is a government agency.” But that may be changing.
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According to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, local and state government is the largest employer in the U.S., providing a combined 19.5 million jobs, including 2.2 million in California alone. Over the past two years that number has been cut by more than 400,000. That includes 100,000 in California, just in this past year. According to Zandi, state and local governments across the country are still cutting jobs at a pace of 25,000 to 30,000 per month. But we are not seeing those types of cuts in Oklahoma. Take for example, the largest state agency in Oklahoma.
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The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has over eight thousand employees and has an annual budget of over 1.7 billion dollars. They have offices in all seventy seven counties. Former State Senator Howard Hedrick(an R) now Director of DHS, has a goal of maintaining his staffing numbers over the next five years, not reducing them.
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If you do not believe there is significant waste in an agency the size of DHS, you are incredibly na├»ve, According to DHS; thirty six (36) percent of the 8,000 employees (2,880) at DHS will be eligible for retirement by 2014, which presents the agency a unique opportunity to ‘retool.’
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In a 52 page strategic plan entitled, “Everyday Heroes,” Hedrick says, “OKDHS’ priorities are to protect the most vulnerable of society and to identify and address social conditions that lead to the abuse and neglect of these individuals. Work has proven a somewhat successful strategy for many of these challenges.” The entire five year strategic plan can be accessed online at: http://www.okdhs.org/NR/rdonlyres/60C99DEC-6447-43D2-8856-53BE0F79B056/0/S080183_OklahomaDepartmentOfHuicPlanFY20072014_oprs_090120081.pdf
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Vulnerable means, “One who is open to attack or damage.” The most vulnerable of society in Oklahoma is the taxpayer! Their income is under attack and their standard of living is being damaged by a bloated wasteful government. Oklahoma government is long overdue for a ‘right sizing,’ but will the elected officials have the courage to do it?
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Three things need to be done to ‘right size’ Oklahoma government: : (1) Implement ‘zero based budgeting’ for all state agencies, (2) Prioritize ‘essential’ government services and fund accordingly, and (3) Consolidate agencies and eliminate duplication of personnel and services. Executing these will take more time and effort than past legislatures have put into the budget process, but the result will be a more efficient and effective government- exactly what was promised during the campaigns.
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Edmund Burke said, “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.” Unfortunately an elected official’s hypocrisy can cost the taxpayer plenty.

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