In the private sector, companies that refuse to face the realities of the changing market go out of business. Competition breeds innovation. Historically, government has had the luxury of not worrying about competition. So naturally, they have not felt the pressure to innovate, cut costs, and return money to the people and instead simply opt to maintain the status quo. As Ronald Reagan once quipped, “’Status quo’ is Latin for the ‘mess we’re in.’” Today, taxpayers deserve and are demanding better.
In the waning days of the 131st General Assembly, the legislature passed Senate Bill 329 to create a more efficient and more accountable state government, having the legislature evaluate agency effectiveness and performance. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bill, arguing that the current budget process was adequate to review agency operations. I disagree and I have reintroduced this bill as House Bill 51. I am optimistic we will be able to once again get broad support for this legislation and send it back to the governor’s desk — this time for his signature or with time for the legislature to act and override his veto, if necessary. Here are answers to some of the key questions surrounding House Bill 51.
Does the existing budget process already provide for this review? Ohio’s budget process does not lend itself to a detailed evaluation of overall agency effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency. As the budget process currently operates, the governor, with his hundreds of staff, takes between six months to a year to prepare his budget for introduction to the legislature by the beginning of February. Each chamber of the legislature then has a little over a month to review each of the governor’s recommendations and determine whether they should be included in the budget. Constitutionally, a balanced budget must be passed by both legislative chambers and ready for the governor to sign by July 1, the beginning of the state’s fiscal year (Ohio operates on a two-year budget). Those familiar with the budget process know that there is simply not enough time or resources to look at the more than $140 billion in budget spending requests while conducting a detailed analysis of agency efficiency and effectiveness in the few short weeks allotted to each legislative chamber. I am reminded of this reality as currently I serve on the House Finance Committee and chair the finance subcommittee for state government and agency review.
What does House Bill 51 do? House Bill 51 intends to rebalance the process by moving the examination of effectiveness and efficiency of state government outside of the traditional budget process and without the constraints of the tight budget calendar. The legislation divides agency review and appropriations process into two separate processes, thus providing a more detailed review of agency effectiveness and efficiency, over two full terms (four years) of the General Assembly. Every four years, each agency will be evaluated under a series of performance factors and customer service standards and, if warranted, reauthorized for another four years. During this process, agency functions can be modified, redirected, or continued as justified by the facts and evidence. Agencies that are not reauthorized during the four-year cycle will “sunset” and wrap up or transfer operations during the next two-year budget.
Will House Bill 51 lead to the elimination of good state agencies? Some argue against the bill because it “sunsets” every state agency, if not reauthorized by the legislature. To sunset, an agency would have strayed so far from their purpose or current public policy priorities that they no longer warrant state funding. Such decisions will not be taken lightly. As set forth in our Constitution, our elected representatives are empowered to determine whether Ohio is spending money appropriately, in the right amounts, and if we are getting a proper return on our investments, all while holding government agencies accountable and removing unnecessary bureaucracy. It is altogether fitting and proper that the legislature be expected to periodically revise and reauthorize continued agency operations and not allow the default to continue by simple inaction. The legislature, given proper time, is fully equipped to perform a thorough and responsible evaluation of state agencies spending taxpayer dollars. Legislative committees with subject matter expertise are the best place to evaluate each specific agency performance. There are 23 state agencies, so roughly six agencies will need to be evaluated every year by a standing committee of the legislature. Including subcommittees, there are currently 27 committees in the House and 17 in the Senate to handle a total of six agency reviews each year — hardly an insurmountable task.
House Bill 51 is a targeted process that aims at improving the “status quo” by removing perpetual bureaucracy where necessary. House Bill 51 is a better way. It is, and will be, a positive force to improve Ohio and to ultimately promote a better more efficient, effective, and transparent state government. It is time we change the status quo and update our government operations. Ohioans desire and expect better, and this bill will go a long way to improve the way Ohio government operates.
The writer represents the 84th District in the Ohio House of Representatives.
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