As I composed last week’s article regarding the need for a reform of the state budget process, I recalled a letter in which I made the case for reform and sent it to members of the House Majority Caucus during the spring of 2014. In that letter, I sought to point to the potential advantages if we should decide to reform the state budget process and evolved it into a “member-driven” budget development framework.
Here is the abridged version of that letter.
“Every year I hear a nearly-universal refrain expressed by frustrated caucus members.
As the time for approving the state budget draws near, they once again realize that they have had little to no input into what should be the most important responsibility of our job as legislators. They know that within just a few weeks they will be asked to vote for a state budget without the option of voting no and still avoiding the risk of special session. As always, they vote yes and hope that next year will be different — but it never is.
Since coming into control of the House, Republican legislators have yet to meet the challenge of democratizing the budget creation process. We are missing an opportunity to truly leverage the talents and abilities of our caucus members and to hold state bureaucracy to account. It is beyond the capability of any budget chairman to possess sole command and control of $7 billion of appropriations, much less the $17 billion of total spend, while serving as the lead negotiator with the Senate and the Governor.
We must provide our caucus members with the tools to truly develop a zero-based budget from the ground up and free the A&B Chairman to focus on negotiations. I suggest it is an imperative to transition to a member-driven budget.
Last year, we laid the foundation for a member-driven budget by creating a robust Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee infrastructure. This dispersed oversight responsibilities among a greater amount of subcommittees and allows the level of micro-focusing and oversight needed for a member-driven budget.
This infrastructure, if reconstituted in its current form, will allow us to assign specific agencies to specific members. OMES has assigned 208 individual agency numbers to Oklahoma state government agencies. Most of these agencies could easily come under the purview of a single member of the House. Once assigned, the member would be provided with full access to payroll, purchase card spend and vendor payments register for each agency; given the budget work program documents which show all spend (not just the appropriated monies); and perhaps most importantly, receive the OMES performance benchmarks and measurements of the agency’s deliverables.
This level of specialization will allow the assigned member to get to know those who work within the agency. He will find that his best information comes not from those who are at the agency’s top echelons, but from those who work deep within the agency and who would never come into contact with legislators if it weren’t for the member-driven budget and specialization.
The importance of building relationships with ground-level agency personnel can perhaps be demonstrated by the recent success of one of our freshman representatives. Over the last few months, he has spent time at one of the state facilities inside his district. He built a relationship with an employee who told him about millions of dollars of waste through the inefficient use of technology and because a vendor appeared to be gaming the system. He acted on this input and asked the Budget Chairman and me to help him investigate. After a few weeks of investigation, it was determined that the vendor truly appeared to be overcharging the agency — and state purchasing officials took action to remedy the situation. This one action by a freshman representative will likely save millions of dollars over upcoming years.
I firmly believe this one instance could be repeated time and time again if our budget creation process were to allow all members of the caucus to build these types of relationships with the agency personnel who are buried within the bureaucracies.
There are many exciting potential benefits to the member-driven budget proposal.”