Treasurer Ken Miller surveys positive momentum for state government after first few months in office

 Reviewing his first few months in office, state Treasurer Ken Miller told CapitolBeatOK, “One of my bigger surprises when I assumed the responsibilities of the state treasurer was finding that the agency’s financial software programs, used to account for the billions of dollars handled by the state, are written in COBOL, a computer language that is completely antiquated.

“While the business world quit using COBOL programs years and years ago, the state of Oklahoma has continued to use them due to high replacement costs.

“Fortunately, I also found that my predecessor, Scott Meacham, recognized the problem and had started the process to get the old systems replaced. Incremental cost savings, realized through numerous projects including a 26-percent reduction in staffing over the past five years, were saved to pay for the upgrades. We are currently working as quickly as possible to transition our critical data to a modern, dependable system.”

Asked to name any other developments that had surprised him since taking the oath of office in January, he responded, “I was quite surprised by the intense reaction to my critique on the budget this past session. I was struck by how polar opposite the reaction was from those inside and outside the Capitol.

“A few inside the building seemed to take it personally rather than constructively. Folks outside the building were most supportive. I simply felt a prime opportunity to build a better state budget was missed, and I still do, but I am optimistic about next year.”

As for disappointments since assuming his statewide job, Miller commented, “While my biggest policy disappointment was the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, my biggest disappointment was when I learned in June that an employee of the treasurer’s office had violated the public trust. I immediately called in the Attorney General and the OSBI to investigate and I terminated the employee.”

There have been many encouraging developments, in Miller’s view, most notably the performance of the Oklahoma economy: “I continue to be impressed with the resilience of Oklahoma, its people, its businesses and its economy. I also think the last legislative session brought encouraging news with pension and tort reform.”

Relations with the state Legislature have been generally productive, Miller said in the interview at his office this week: “My office had a good working relationship with the Legislature, specifically with reform of Oklahoma’s public pension systems, putting the state’s checkbook online and increasing the use of electronic payments by the state.”

Miller’s office is comparatively small in size, but has broad impact. Asked about the numbers, he replied, “We are appropriated approximately $4 million each year. We have 56 employees, which is a 26 percent reduction from five years ago. Our office is continuing to look for ways to do more with less.”

Encouraged briefly to summarize the “big picture,” Miler said, “I remain bullish on Oklahoma. I believe we are moving in the right direction in allowing the private sector to do what it does best – generate jobs for the people of Oklahoma.”

Looking ahead, the former Budget and Appropriations Chairman in the House of Representatives was asked to outline policy objectives he considers achievable in the near-term, particularly the 2012 legislative session.

He outlined a broad range of potential reforms he considers within reach for the state: “We need to move into the second phase of pension reform, including reducing and stabilizing outlays, and creating portability, flexibility and choice for new workers. In short, we still need to modernize our pension systems.

“In general, I will be supporting budget reform and tax reform. We need to further right-size state government by focusing resources on core functions and eliminating wasteful spending. We must also modernize our tax structure by eliminating incentives that don’t work or have outlived its useful life and by adding sunset dates to all tax incentives.

“I believe we also need to work on asset monetization – turning unused and underused state assets into cash to pay down debt, and working with the private sector to realize efficiency in the operation of state government.”