Review of state spending nearer with launch of LOFT

Good Government

Ray Carter | July 31, 2019

Review of state spending nearer with launch of LOFT

Ray Carter

Members of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) Oversight Committee held the group’s first meeting Tuesday, convening briefly to name two subcommittees that will develop proposals regarding the hiring of an executive director and administrative rules to guide the entity’s work.

While the group’s initial meeting was mundane, legislators voiced optimism that the newly created LOFT will produce research that has a major impact on the state budgeting process in future years.

“This is a huge undertaking,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, an Oklahoma City Republican who championed the creation of LOFT. “It’s been about 30 years in the making.”

He predicted LOFT will increase state financial transparency and “get to real numbers” that allow lawmakers make “informed decisions” in the future.

“This is the start of something really special that will change the way we do business in the Legislature, and I’m just extremely excited to be here on the ground floor,” Treat said.

House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chair Kevin Wallace, a Wellston Republican who is co-chair of the LOFT Oversight Committee, said LOFT will “help all legislators do their jobs,” bring accountability to agencies, and provide taxpayers “transparency in their tax dollars,” calling creation of LOFT a “great, great step forward.”

In a statement released after the meeting, House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said it has been clear that the agency budget hearing process “was not as efficient and transparent as it should be, and that lawmakers did not have enough time to fully vet budget requests or analyze how effectively agency programs were serving Oklahomans.”

He said LOFT is “aimed at instilling accountability, transparency, and efficiency into our government. Not only will LOFT track appropriated dollars and analyze agency programs, but it will also provide lawmakers information prior to agency budget request hearings that will allow us to make better informed decisions.”

The subgroup tasked with developing the job description and hiring process for LOFT’s executive director and staff will present those recommendations at the oversight committee’s next scheduled meeting on Aug. 20. The subcommittee’s work will not be conducted in open meetings, but its recommendations will be made public.

Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson, an Okemah Republican who is the other co-chair of the LOFT Oversight Committee, urged the other subgroup, which will suggest rules that govern LOFT, to proceed deliberately.

“Keep in mind that we want to lay a very firm foundation that will last for generations,” Thompson said. “Speed is not what we’re after. What we’re after is a solid foundation.”

One national expert familiar with the workings of LOFT-style entities in other states cautions that Oklahoma’s system may not work as well as proponents hope due to the structure of the oversight committee.

“If all of the members of the committee are members of the Legislature, then I’m not confident it’s going to be as successful as it should be, because it will become too partisan,” said Maurice McTigue, vice president for outreach at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. “If there can be a significant quantity of those people come from the private sector—experts and everything like that—then I think there’s a better chance of there being a real debate.”

As a cabinet minister and member of parliament in his native New Zealand, McTigue helped enact market-driven reforms in government. He noted that outsiders ask questions that political insiders often fail to consider.

But Wallace said he believes LOFT’s staff will provide that service.

“The staff and the executive director will not be members of the Legislature at all, and they will be trained, successful professionals,” Wallace said. “They’ll probably be auditors and accounting people, policy members.”

And, regardless of how the oversight committee is structured, Wallace also noted any resulting proposals must still gain broad support from elected officials.

“If everybody doesn’t agree in this building—House, Senate, governor—it doesn’t become law,” Wallace said. “We all know that.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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