Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Okla. Gov. Fallin Calls for Agency Consolidation, Spending Reduction

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Okla. Gov. Fallin Calls for Agency Consolidation, Spending Reduction

Article excerpt

Designed to offset a $600 million budget hole, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is calling for the consolidation of at least eight state agencies and a capital spending freeze that, she said, would save the state about $50 million.

Released as she delivered her first State of the State speech, the governor's budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1 includes a $142 million spending reduction for information technology projects and a $69.9 million savings associated with full- time employee costs for 602 state employees.

Fallin said almost $70 million would be generated by reducing costs for full-time state employee positions that are currently budgeted but vacant. She also called for the implementation of a hard hiring freeze for all state information technology positions.

The governor said her budget "strikes a balance between streamlining government functions and pursuing necessary agency cuts."

"Given the current revenue crisis, additional cuts are unavoidable," the governor wrote in a letter that accompanied her budget. "All state agencies must make shared sacrifices. While no state agency will be protected completely from budget cuts, my plan proposes lesser cuts to health, education and public safety entities in an effort to preserve vital services for the citizens of Oklahoma."

In addition to the government modernization plan, Fallin's budget calls for the consolidation of several state agencies, including the Construction Industries Board into the Department of Labor, the Human Rights Commission into the attorney general's office and the Merit Protection Commission into the Office of Personnel Management.

Fallin's budget also asked the Legislature to merge the Oklahoma State and Employees Group Insurance Board and the Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council. That coupling, proposed last year by state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, was vetoed by then-Gov. Brad Henry after concerns arose about the pricing for state employee health benefits.

Henry shot down a measure to combine both agencies, complaining that it was not finalized until the last week of the legislative session and citing concerns by some lawmakers that the legislation was flawed because it could allow the state advance knowledge of other insurance plan prices - a problem known as "shadow pricing."

However, this year lawmakers could be more receptive to the idea of merging both agencies.

"I think there are some good ideas there," said Senate Democratic Leader Andrew Rice. "But the good question on agency consolidation is this: Can we make sure that the work which results from the consolidation will be as efficient as the money saved?"

Senate Democrats, Rice said, want to see the same efficiency of work in consolidated agencies.

Under Fallin's plan, both insurance boards would be combined to create the Oklahoma Health and Wellness Board. …

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