By Rep. RICK WEST
Just hours after the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Senate adjourned special session on Nov. 17, Gov. Mary Fallin announced she was vetoing part of the budget agreement.
She kept the parts of the bill that funded health care services, but she opted to do away with the rest of it. This caught lawmakers by surprise because Fallin had told us she would sign the bill – her action went against her word.
In her veto message, Fallin said the bill “does not provide a long-term solution to the re-occurring budget deficits.” She plans to call lawmakers back into a second special session, and we’re waiting to hear when that will be.
Fallin also issued three executive orders in the days before Thanksgiving – two aimed at streamlining school administrative costs and one seeking to eliminate agency spending for “swag” like pens and stress balls.
Fallin’s order concerning common education could force some schools to consolidate their administrative costs. According to the executive order, the Board of Education would put together a list of all K-12 schools spending less than 60 percent of their budgets on instructional costs.
The Board would then “consider and make recommendations for consolidation or annexation of school districts.” These plans would take affect during the 2020-2021 school year.
The governor’s higher ed consolidation plan calls on the Chancellor of Higher Education and the State Regents to present a plan for administrative consolidation of universities, colleges, centers and branch campuses by this time next year. Those plans would need to take affect by December 2019.
Carl Albert State College and our local schools do a great job at keeping administrative costs low. I am hopeful Fallin’s executive orders may eliminate some waste at the administrative level at huge schools like the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
Fallin’s third executive order deals with an issue I have talked about several times – “swag” spending at various agencies. This means the state should see immediate savings because agencies will no longer be permitted to spend thousands of dollars on nonessential items.
Tourism, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Career and Technology Education are exempt.
One of my friends in the House actually introduced a bill similar to this twice, but the legislation didn’t go anywhere either time. Perhaps if our governor had supported the bill originally, we would not have had to rob the roads and bridges fund to bail out the Department of Health because of gross mismanagement.
Finally, Speaker Charles McCall announced a special investigative committee on Nov. 20 to dig into the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). The bipartisan committee will look at the financial mismanagement that cost taxpayers $31 million.
Even though the group is starting with OSDH, McCall has said other agencies could come into the picture.
I’d like the committee to pin down exactly what people at OSDH were doing and how they managed to squirrel away more than $30 million. State Health Commissioner Terry Cline owes the state some answers, and I hope we can get them before the next legislative session begins.
As we wait to hear when the second special session will start, please get in touch if you know of any government waste. Lawmakers depend on our constituents to help us make the state better. You can reach me at 405-557-7413 or [email protected]. Thanks, and may God bless you.
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