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Letters to the Editor

Big, bloated government

Mike Brake July 3rd, 2013

Mickey Hepner’s lament about income tax cuts (Commentary, “Death by a thousand cuts,” June 5, Oklahoma Gazette) claimed that “one small tax cut shrinks our government services.” That assumes that current government services are being wisely funded, but even a cursory look at the state budget raises doubts about that.

Let’s start with Mickey’s home in higher education. Unlike most states with a consolidated higher ed system, ours is fragmented, with nearly 30 separate colleges and universities, each with its own president, squadrons of vice presidents, deans, provosts and other administrators and enrollment and business offices. Bring all the two-year colleges under one statewide community college system, assign the many four-year schools as subsidiaries of either the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University and you’d save tens — perhaps hundreds — of millions.

Our proliferation of public school districts is an ongoing scandal — 527 in 2012, more than half with 500 students or fewer. LeFlore County alone has 17 school districts, 10 of them small to miniscule, often just a few miles apart. One superintendent could oversee all of them at 10 percent of the current cost. Multiply such savings by 77 counties and you’d have enough to raise pay for classroom teachers significantly.

State government is packed with duplicate and often useless boards and commissions. We have a task force on foreign animal diseases, licensing agencies that oversee dozens of occupations like interior decorators and foresters, a Shaken Baby Prevention Education Initiative Task Force that has never prevented a baby from being shaken.

The State Board of Cosmetology employs 12 people to examine and license beauty operators. Why this should be a function of state government is a mystery, as is the simultaneous presence of a State Barber Advisory Board. One agency to deal with people who cut hair is a waste; two of them is a scandal.

Even when it funds and runs a necessary agency like the state Department of Health, government is a clumsy, spendthrift and sometimes venal beast. In 2000, investigators found a swarm of “ghost” employees there, including a former Democratic state senator and his wife who apparently had been working and being paid as “environmental health consultants” for a decade, without ever showing up for work.

The Republicans who now govern us have made a start at trimming away the deadwood and waste in state government, but it is only a start. Until we have a government that is structured for efficiency and the delivery of maximum service at minimal cost, Mickey’s complaints are specious.

—Mike Brake, Oklahoma City

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