A bipartisan legislative committee today started a three-month process of reviewing state government and coming up with plans for reorganizing and downsizing. Governor Chet Culver has hired a consultant to come up with recommendations, but Dick Oshlo, the governor’s budget director, says this is not a competition between the executive and legislative branches of state government.
“The governor’s made it very clear this will be a collaborative effort, a bipartisan effort,” Oshlo says. “It will be open and transparent.” Public Works, the consulting firm the governor hired, has evaluated other states, too, according to Oshlo. “They’ve been active in several other states including major efficiency studies at Colorado, New Mexico and West Virginia where they’ve identified hundreds of millions of dollars of savings and elimination of unnecessary costs,” Oshlo says.
Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City who is co-chair of the State Government Reorganization Commission, says the consultants have a “good track record.” “We’ve been watching that and they’ve been giving us information,” Mascher says. “And then we’re calling back and asking folks, you know: ‘Give us the rest of the story. Tell us exactly what you have been able to accomplish.'”
The State Government Reorganization Commission is to come up with its recommendations by December 10th. As for the target amount of savings, Mascher gives this answer: “a lot.” “There’s a lot that can be done,” Mascher says. “We’re hearing great ideas and I’m real excited about some of the proposals and possibilities.” The legislative branch of state government will be the starting point, according to Mascher.
“We figure we’ve got to lead by example, so we’re starting with ourselves and taking a look very carefully,” Mascher says, suggesting the two separate payroll systems for the House and for the Senate could be merged into one. The House and the Senate each have rooms which contain multiple copies of all the bills that have been introduced. Mascher suggests that’s another area that could yield big savings in paper and printing costs if bills are only printed when someone asks for a copy.
“I’m tired of, you know, killing trees and throwing paper away at the end of the year,” Masscher says. “So if we can be more purposeful in the things that we do, we can change some of those things immediately.” Oshlo, the governor’s budget director, says in addition to reorganizing and downsizing departments, the consulting firm may come up with different ways of delivering services, too, because they will be taking a “fresh look” at state government.
“They’re neutral observers and they’ve seen what’s worked in other states,” Oshlo says. Some Republicans have criticized Culver, a Democrat, for hiring the consultant, saying Republicans offered up millions of dollars in proposed state budget cuts this past spring which were rejected by Democrats who control the legislature’s debate agenda. The last major reorganization of state government happened 23 years ago.