October 1, 2014

Oversight

Another Bright Idea?

It's questionable whether a proposed sunset law would shrink the ranks of agencies.

Neil Skene | 2/1/2006
How many legislative committees does it take to change a light bulb? At least one more, it appears. Republican House Speaker Allan G. Bense and Speakers-in-Waiting Marco Rubio of Miami and Ray Sansom of Destin have teamed up to propose new "sunset" legislation. It would eliminate any state agency that didn't survive a legislative review and win reauthorization every eight years. The legislation comes complete with a joint legislative committee with 10 legislators and a couple of outsiders to oversee the review.

"It's an opportunity to further the accountability that the governor has created," Sansom says. He adds later in an interview, "The governor has embraced this because he is a strong believer in accountability."

Besides, Texas likes it. Texas created a sunset commission in 1977 and since then has merged 11 agencies and saved $737 million, Sansom says. Sounds like a lot, until you realize that the Texas budget is about a third bigger than Florida's, and the whole amount after 28 years is about 1% of the current Texas budget.

Under the concept put forward by the speaker and the speakers-in-waiting, the joint commission would go through every state agency, in a rotation to be established by law, and ask, in Bense's words, "Is this agency really doing what the people want us to do? Are we fulfilling a mission that was given to us when our agency was created?"

But we're getting to the point of holding the bulb and turning the ladder. Every government agency in Florida already responds to at least four legislative committees -- a policy committee and an appropriations committee in each house. A joint sunset committee would make five.

In addition, the Legislature has an Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, whose analyses are more removed from political pressures. But Sansom led an unsuccessful effort in 2003 to get rid of OPPAGA, a goal shared by Gov. Jeb Bush, who didn't like some of the analysts' conclusions about Bush programs. At the time, OPPAGA claimed about $443 million in savings over its nine years of existence and said another $1 billion in savings had not been adopted by the Legislature.

Through the years, the Legislature has tried zero-based and performance-based budgeting. We have management by objectives. The governor's own budget office puts agencies through their paces every year. We have a "sunrise" law, requiring special reviews whenever the Legislature wants to regulate some new area (not that it happens much). We even had multiyear budgeting, something Senate President Tom Lee has talked about resurrecting.

But every year the Legislature passes a budget that looks very much like the previous one, except for the mad scramble to maximize the political effect of new tax revenue and federal grants.

Tags: Politics & Law, Around Florida, Government/Politics & Law

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