Monday, February 1, 2016

Are there any GENIUSES in Oklahoma?

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     On Monday, the Oklahoma State legislature convened.  They will consider 921 filed bills on the House side and 704 on the Senate side.  In addition, there were a total of 73 Joint Resolutions filed between the two chambers.  The number of bills is down substantially on the House side- down by 25%, but slightly up in the Senate compared to last year.  This session will be a challenging one for legislators.  Tax revenue is down, due to the declining price of oil.  They face not only the prospect of cutting next year’s budget(a projected $1 billion dollar decline from last year), but trimming the current fiscal year budgets to match the projected shortfall.  But with every challenge comes an opportunity.  For years, legislators have campaigned about streamlining government and trimming waste.  There is no time like the present to put their money where their mouth is.  Governor Mary Fallin told The Oklahoman editorial board last week: “It's a time for us to be bold, to do things that we talk about doing, we need to do, but we just haven't done as a state.” Here are a few things that could/should include:
     First, every Oklahoma tax payer dollar should be justified by those spending it.  Instead of state agencies simply taking their current budget and adding/subtracting from that number, they should start at zero and justify why they are getting money.  It is called zero based budgeting(ZBB).  ZBB is a repeatable process that many companies use to review every dollar in a budget and build a culture of cost management.  In a recent survey of 138 CEOs of public traded companies, 21% were using ZBB in their companies.  The food industry has embraced ZBB with zeal.  Perhaps because food processors traditionally have to deal with lower profit margins than other industries.  ZBB forces everyone in an organization to watch costs.  Major food companies currently using ZBB include Nestle, Kellogg, and Con Agra. “ZBB provides people the opportunity to challenge how we have done things and drive activity out that isn’t benefiting the consumer,” Kellogg CEO John Bryant says.  In tough times, just appropriating money to an agency because it has always gotten the money isn’t good enough. 
      Second, there must be a commitment to finding waste in Oklahoma government.  There can’t be any sacred cows.  As late Labor Commissioner Mark Costello said, “The sacred cows belong next to the mashed potatoes.”  Every expenditure must be scrutinized.  No agency or appropriation can be left out.  That includes common and higher education, corrections, and transportation.  So how do we find the waste in government?  The Oklahoma constitution sets forth the duties of the elected office of the State Auditor & Inspector.  The State Auditor and Inspector is supposed to have access to all books, accounts, reports, vouchers and other records of information in any department, institution or agency.  When the legislature cuts the State Auditor’s budget more than other agencies, they are not serious about finding waste in government.  Proposals to expand the reach of the State Auditor’s office to include auditing tax credits has failed in the legislature.  Until the legislature commits to funding and empowering the office of State Auditor, their talk of finding waste in state government is sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.  How can you cut waste if you don’t fund the state’s watchdog agency?  It’s political double talk and is an example of cowardly leadership.
     Third, consolidation of services must be on the table.  That means consolidation of agencies, education administration and governmental functions.  No legislator or elected official likes to use the word consolidation.  That likely involves jobs being eliminated, or a school consolidation, but Oklahoma’s education model is from the 1950s with too many buildings and infrastructure.  Few businesses are operating in the same way they did 60 years ago, yet government hasn’t streamlined and changed their operating model.  The primary reason is that lawmakers lack the political will to take on the bureaucrats.
     Abigail Adams said, “These are the hard times in which a genius would wish to live. Great necessities call forth great leaders.”  The 2016 legislative session will soon reveal if Oklahoma has great leadership.

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