Progress for process reforms, on a difficult day for Murphey’s Law

 In an afternoon (April 18) where seemingly routine measures in the state House of Representatives attracted sometimes harsh floor scrutiny, the debate over Senate Bill 541 proved challenging for its advocates. The bill is an element of the purchasing reforms that are an important part of Governor Mary Fallin’s agenda to “right size” state government and make it more efficient.

Republican state Rep. Jason Murphey of Guthrie  has pressed government purchasing efficiencies, information technology (IT) reforms and some consolidation of agency functions on behalf of House Republicans, and handled S.B. 541, by state Sen. Anthony Sykes of Moore, in today’s floor debate. 

Procedural moves were required to get the bill through the process — and the process took roughly 50 minutes of precious floor time from start to finish.

Republican state Rep. Corey Holland of Marlow said, in floor debate, that he supported Murphey’s purpose and objective, but would not support the bill because Higher Education was not included in the reach of its provisions. He argued near the end of debate, “Let’s treat all agencies the same.”

Rep. Murphy said he appreciated Holland’s point, but “We can’t get everything in one bill, and we can’t get it all done in one year. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” He promised to assist colleagues in fashioning legislation “to include Higher Ed next year. I’ll help you with that.

An indication of Holland’s underlying sympathy to Murphey’s objective could be seen when he voted with his colleague on the first two of today’s four votes, but against “third reading,” i.e. final passage. The margin then was 61-34, with six members not voting.

Rep. Holland then supported Murphey when the latter sought declaration of an “emergency.” On that vote, a 56-36 majority votes yes, far short of the super-majority needed to speed the measure into law.

Rep. Murphey was disappointed in the vote on the emergency clause, but nonetheless was encouraged the Senate version of the measure prevailed. He told CapitolBeatOK, “It was vetoed last year, and that was disappointing. I got involved on this issue because of the reaction I had when I studied the analyses showing how expensive our transactions are in Oklahoma government.”

Murphey pointed to 2008 data from the Hackett Group which found that the cost per invoice in state government is $20.05, compared to $3.58 in peer group transactions. The state processed 2,039 invoices per full time equivalent employee (FTE), compared to $15,693 per FTE for peers. 

The same 2008 study found the state of Oklahoma had a customer billing cost per transaction of $4.63, in contrast to a $1.07 for the peer group. The number of customer bills processed per FTE by Oklahoma was 15,212, compared to 70,570 for peers.

Murhey said, “The sooner we can start incorporating these savings, the better.” He praised Senator Sykes for working on the legislation and expressed confidence the measure will eventually pass and gain Gov. Fallin’s signature.

The lack of an emergency clause on measures such as this could have implications for the budget process, and negotiations between Gov. Fallin and legislative leaders. The dynamic under way could reduce by millions of dollars the projected savings that would be achieved if changes went into effect quickly.

In this afternoon’s process, some measures that gained overwhelming approval “on the merits” were nonetheless deprived of emergency provisions. In some cases the shift between third reading and the emergency clause vote was drastic. One measure (S.B. 272) went from 90 yes votes, to only 53 on the emergency provision.

Evidence from roll call votes points to a developing strategy involving nearly all House Democrats working in cooperation with a cluster of a dozen or so conservative Republicans. This alliance is methodically depriving Republican leadership of votes needed for emergency clauses on certain bills.

If the pattern sustains itself and is applied to spending measures, super-majorities needed to move quickly on budget savings will be difficult to attain.