Wichita-area legislators on government efficiency

Who could be against more efficient government? Even those who score poorly on the Kansas Economic Freedom Index say they are in favor of efficiency and eliminating waste. Here’s an example from the campaign website of Nile Dillmore, who is running for re-election:

“Nile rejects that ‘tax-and-spend’ is the most effective and efficient way to manage government! Nile supports cutting waste and inefficiencies and keeping our tax burden as low as possible.”

But as is often the case in politics, legislators’ campaign rhetoric and promises don’t align with their actual votes. For example, in the 2011 session of the Kansas Legislature HB 2194 was introduced, which in its original form would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships.

According to the supplemental note for the bill, “The purpose of the Council would be to ensure that certain state agencies, including the Board of Regents and postsecondary educational institutions, would: 1) focus on the core mission and provide goods and services efficiently and effectively; 2) develop a process to analyze opportunities to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and provide quality services, operations, functions, and activities; and 3) evaluate for feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency opportunities that could be outsourced. Excluded from the state agencies covered by the bill would be any entity not receiving State General Fund or federal funds appropriation.”

This bill passed by a vote of 68 to 51 in the House of Representatives and did not advance in the Senate. Wichita-area legislators who are running for re-election and who voted against this bill included Dillmore, Gail Finney, Geraldine Flaharty, Dan Kerschen, Dillmore’s current opponent Brenda Landwehr, and Jim Ward.

In response to the vote on this bill, Dillmore was quoted in the Wichita Eagle: “Rep. Nile Dillmore , D-Wichita, pointed out that the Republicans cheered 44 days ago when newly elected Gov. Sam Brownback, in his State of the State address, repeatedly said ‘The days of ever-expanding government are over’” ‘What’s our response?’ Dillmore said. ‘Let’s create a commission for this. Let’s create a commission for that. Let’s grow some government.’”

But this bill — and two others described below — proposed to spend modest amounts aimed at increasing the manageability and efficiency of government, not the actual size and scope of government itself. As it turns out, many in the legislature are happy with the operations of state government remaining in the shadows, despite claims made during campaigns.

Another bill from 2011 was HB 2158, which would have created performance measures for state agencies and reported that information to the public. The supplemental note says that the bill “as amended, would institute a new process for modifying current performance measures and establishing new standardized performance measures to be used by all state agencies in support of the annual budget requests. State agencies would be required to consult with representatives of the Director of the Budget and the Legislative Research Department to modify each agency’s current performance measures, to standardize such performance measures, and to utilize best practices in all state agencies.” Results of the performance measures would be posted on a public website.

This bill passed the House of Representatives by a nearly unanimous vote of 119 to 2, with Wichita’s Dillmore and Flaherty the two nay votes. The bill didn’t advance in the Senate.

Another 2011 bill was HB 2120, which according to its supplemental note “would establish the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, which would have the purpose of improving the performance, efficiency, and operations of state government by reviewing certain state agencies, programs, boards, and commissions.” Fee-funded agencies — examples include Kansas dental board and Kansas real estate commission — would be exempt from this bill.

In more detail, the text of the bill explains: “The purposes of the Kansas streamlining government act are to improve the performance, streamline the operations, improve the effectiveness and efficiency, and reduce the operating costs of the executive branch of state government by reviewing state programs, policies, processes, original positions, staffing levels, agencies, boards and commissions, identifying those that should be eliminated, combined, reorganized, downsized or otherwise altered, and recommending proposed executive reorganization orders, executive orders, legislation, rules and regulations, or other actions to accomplish such changes and achieve such results.”

In testimony in support of this legislation, Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute offered testimony that echoed findings of the public choice school of economics and politics: “Some people may view a particular expenditure as unnecessary to the fulfillment of a program’s or an agency’s primary mission while others may see it as essential. Absent an independent review, we are expecting government employees to put their own self-interests aside and make completely unbiased decisions on how best to spend taxpayer funds. It’s not that government employees are intentionally wasteful; it’s that they are human beings and setting self-interests aside is challenge we all face.”

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 79 to 40. It died in the Senate. Wichita-area legislators who are running for re-election and who voted against this bill included Dillmore, Finney, Flaharty, Landwehr, and Ward.


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