Time to modernize our government

Over the course of this prolonged national recession, Oklahomans and Americans everywhere have been called on to make sacrifices. They’ve balanced their budgets by tightening their belts, and they have found creative, sometimes difficult, ways to live within their means.

Government is not immune to the recession, nor should it be exempt from the kind of sacrifices that Oklahoma’s families and businesses have been making for several years.

Going into Fiscal Year 2012, our state government is facing a $500 million shortfall. Balancing the budget will require difficult decisions and budget cuts.

Originally, those budget cuts were estimated to be as high as 8-10 percent for every agency. While not impossible to absorb, those kind of deep reductions would certainly have a real impact on agencies dealing with public safety, health, and education. 

I am proud to say that, through the use of innovative cost-saving measures, my executive budget has reduced those cuts from 8-10 percent to a much more manageable 3-5 percent. That’s an enormous difference, and it’s one that allows us to trim government waste and tighten our belts without jeopardizing the quality of our schools, the safety of our streets or the health of our citizens; if, that is, these reforms are adopted by the Legislature.

Many of our proposed reforms are just common sense, like moving the state from paper to electronic billing. Everyone knows that it is wasteful to have one government agency print, write, and mail a check to another government agency rather than transfer that money with a few clicks of the mouse.

Other changes involve consolidating administrative and information technology services, so that multiple agencies can share the same support personnel. The Legislature has already taken strides to implement these consolidations, which have the potential of producing over $100 million in savings annually, and they should be applauded for it.

The budget includes a host of other proposed consolidations and changes, all of which are designed to allow government to perform its vital functions while operating in a more cost-effective manner.  

As you might expect, not all of these changes are easy to make or popular among the directors of government boards and agencies. Change can be difficult, and we can expect any challenge to the status quo to be met with resistance.

That resistance will always be headed by individuals who, however well-intentioned, do not want to see a change to business-as-usual and oppose our attempts to make government smaller, smarter and more efficient.

That is their right. But it is our right as citizens to demand that our government make smart, sometimes difficult choices, rather than once again kicking the can down the road and burdening taxpayers with unnecessary expenses.

If the Legislature passes the modernization reforms proposed in my budget, the state of Oklahoma stands to save roughly $286 million annually. That money allows us to close the budget gap without big cuts in vital government services. It brings our government out of a 20th century model and into the digital era and it allows our public employees to better serve our customers, the people of Oklahoma.

In the following weeks, it’s my great hope that the Legislature will pass these reforms, get them to my desk, and work with me to deliver the kind of state government the people of Oklahoma deserve.