Efficiency in State Government

April 16, 1992

When the General Assembly's extended legislative session ended last week, one group had achieved exactly what taxpayers desired. The Commission on Efficiency and Economy in Government took its first steps to curb waste and make state government more self-supporting.

Among the group's successes: passage of a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists (savings to the state, at least $1.3 million a year); elimination of funds for the resident trooper program for Carroll County and rural counties (savings, $1 million a year); higher user fees for a variety of licenses and permits to pay more of the actual processing cost, and partial state control of local social service department directors, who oversee spending of $700 million in state and federal aid.

This panel of high-powered business and academic leaders, headed by former C&P chairman J. Henry Butta, is on the right track. The commission is taking the lead in suggesting ways to root out excessive spending and make government operations lost costly and less onerous for taxpayers.

In the coming months, legislative leaders ought to embrace the next round of commission recommendations and push for far-reaching changes. By the end of April, the panel is expected to release another batch of cost-saving ideas.

Here are some suggestions already on the table the governor and legislators should endorse:

* Requiring state agencies to move from expensive leased space to vacant state-owned offices.

* Utilizing video conferences to reduce travel costs and delays for the Parole Commission (and possibly the Office of Administrative Hearings).

* Embarking on a major information technology management initiative to save tens of millions of dollars in duplication and incompatibility in computer systems owned by the state.

* Shutting down some of the 19 state hospitals that are underutilized and consolidating programs to improve health care while saving millions.

* Merging the natural resources and State Police communications and aviation divisions to end wasteful spending and improve coordination.

Other ideas are bubbling to the surface. Why hasn't the Assembly or the governor merged the state's three in-house service departments -- personnel, general services and budget? Why haven't the overlapping functions of the natural resources, environment and agriculture departments been consolidated? Why aren't outside contractors used for janitorial services or computer data centers? Why can't certain state activities be privatized?

If legislators want to persuade constituents that the General Assembly is committed to more than a "tax and spending" policy, this is the way to do it. Mr. Butta's group is already pointing lawmakers -- and the governor -- in the right direction.

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