How would you reduce the state budget? To answer this question, I have maintained the following framework for restoring a responsible and fiscally conservative budget -- without increasing taxes.
This framework would realize many millions in savings from the elimination of inappropriate and inefficient government spending.
The framework is as follows:
1. The state's numerous corporate welfare programs and special interest tax credit giveaways must end, as well as the state's failed experience with dirigisme.
Oklahoma can no longer afford the massive giveaways that haunt the state's balance sheet. For just a few examples of these abuses, I would encourage the reading of the articles written by Mark Lash and Warren Vieth, which you can find with a Google search.
2. The state must rein in the many inappropriate, wasteful and unnecessary spend items that remain in the budget, including millions in travel costs. This is a subject for next week’s article.
3. We should eliminate the many expensive programs that have proven to be ineffective but that the state hasn't been courageous enough to bring to a stop. These are political sacred cows and bringing them to an end would require legislative courage.
4. Administrative overhead costs in state government agencies, common education and higher education entities must be reduced.
I would challenge anyone to go through Oklahoma's Agencies, Boards and Commissions directory and attempt to justify the existence of many state agencies.
The ABC directory is a maze of acronym soup and is complete with duplicative agencies that share the same subject matter domain. Not only does this waste millions in unnecessary overhead, it contributes to the costly and caustic environment in which bureaucracies burn millions of dollars fighting, competing, and dealing with each other.
Think about this matter in terms of the business world. Can you imagine the absurd practice of a business owner who divides his business into a hundred different decision-making divisions with all the same infrastructure as the other divisions in the same company? This would never happen.
Just as this would never be an acceptable practice in the business world, neither should it be accepted when taxpayer dollars are involved.
National education funding reports also clearly expose the enormity of this problem as it applies to the common education entities. They show that Oklahomans are forced to pay more in high level administrative costs than their peers in many other states.
5. The legislative oversight process must be made effective and we should build on the very successful Government Modernization oversight methodologies to accomplish this. The Government Modernization successes were possible because we took the input of outside auditors/consultants and state vendors instead of relying on the word of those bureaucrats who rarely admit to wasteful practices. These best practices, if extrapolated to the whole of government, would save millions in tangible and intangible benefits.
6. We must implement actual and meaningful controls into the auditing of welfare eligibility. I believe all areas of the now massive welfare state have likely become filled with fraud.
For example, approximately 25 percent of the state's population is enrolled in the government's single-payer health care system. This expansion has perhaps been the primary reason for the state's growth in spending.
Ironically, this growth has occurred as state leaders have aggressively campaigned on a platform of opposition to single-payer health care.
In 2012, the number of enrollees surpassed one million and it has remained over that notable threshold ever since. In at least one county, enrollment numbers have neared 50%.
There is evidence to suggest that the high enrollment numbers may be an indicator of the state's failure to ensure that those participating in the system are true qualifiers. One such estimate indicates that as much as 85 million in cost savings would result from enrollment audits. These audits would restore a level of confidence to the system.
The Legislature must get a handle on these matters; however, that won't happen if the Legislature is successful in increasing taxes. It is tax increases that will allow all this waste to stay in the system.