Tuesday, January 08, 2019

OCPA column: Three resolutions for Oklahoma


Three resolutions for Oklahoma
by Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA)

The new year is a time for resolutions. Here are three for state government, things the Legislature can do in the upcoming session that would make Oklahoma government more effective and accountable.

The first resolution will be familiar to a lot of us: slim down. Take a look at a list of Oklahoma state agencies and compare it to other states. Or look at the 150-page directory necessary to list all the agencies, boards, and commissions. We’re not a big state, but we have a sprawling state government bureaucracy.

This slimming down needs to start at the top, with management. Instead of having a bunch of unaccountable boards and commissions running major agencies, the ultimate authority should rest with the governor. After all, that is the governor’s job.

Imagine as CEO and president of a company you have multiple divisions. Each division has a manager. But the managers don’t report to you and aren’t even selected by you. The managers are selected by separate boards in each division, and your competition or those interested in a hostile takeover select the board members who pick the managers of the divisions. This debacle is how Oklahoma state government is structured.

So, our first resolution is to make agency posts appointed, give the governor power to hire and fire agency heads, and trim the number of agencies. By slimming down government, we can make it more efficient and more effective, getting better results for all Oklahomans.

While our first resolution deals with the executive branch, our second deals with the Legislature. We all know from civics class that it holds “the power of the purse,” but the truth is that our Legislature is understaffed. It lacks the structure to conduct a thorough budget process and oversight. Current talk of creating an accountability and oversight office within the Legislature is heading in the right direction.

The third resolution involves education. Lawmakers should work to increase teacher salaries so that they are the highest in the region and empower public schools, teachers, and students with programs that expand their educational options and expand innovative programs in public schools.

All of these reforms require legislation. In every case, they would bring some common sense to state government, making it more efficient and accountable. We will have at the state Capitol soon a new governor and many new legislators. It’s an exciting time as both Governor-elect Stitt and lawmakers have said they will prioritize efficiency and accountability in state government to safeguard taxpayers and the most vulnerable.

What better way to start 2019?

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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