Policy Matters Blog
Inefficient, redundant, costly bill should be killed
October 5th, 2016
Senate Bill 329, which would give legislative committees the power to eliminate whole agencies in the executive branch, streaked through the Senate in two days. It is a blitzkrieg attack on public services. It would establish a “sunset” process that would abolish state agencies in the governor’s cabinet. Departments or agencies on the list would shut down unless the legislature authorizes continued operations.
No one would seriously suggest that we shut down all our universities, prisons and nursing homes, lay off all our state highway patrol officers and end all projects to keep up our roads and bridges. If these things are going to continue, why impose a needless, time-consuming and expensive process of asking whether they should? These institutions do not need to demonstrate a public need for their continued existence; that is self-evident.
Promoters of the sunset law admit it is a tool for legislatures to use in asserting authority against an executive branch. It’s a time consuming and expensive weapon. Texas is the only state in which executive departments are vetted for continuation (by a 12-member commission with a professional staff of 28). Like SB 329, the Texas Sunset Provision abolishes state agencies unless the legislature “renews” them. Under SB 329, if a legislative committee reviewing an agency hits a stalemate or chooses not to act, the legislature may never get to a vote. The agency will be shut down.
In Texas, agencies are up for sunset once every 12 years. Under SB 329, they could be abolished once every four years.
If we want to make sure state agencies are accountable, there are numerous existing vehicles for doing so. The first is the state budget process. If the legislature believes that a standalone agency is not necessary and should be consolidated with another, it can do so at any time. If it finds duplication, or mission creep, or conflict of interest, it can reduce or increase funding, call in the state auditor or get the office of the inspector general involved. Moreover, creation of this new sunset provision is redundant: Ohio already has a Sunset Review Committee that is characterized as comprehensive and robust.
Businesses small and large, from highway contractors to hospitals and nursing homes, should be concerned about SB 329. Systemic uncertainty about how government operates and regulates would hamper long-term planning and stable growth. Some businesses might need to factor in the possibility that an agency that buys their products, regulates them or provides a market for them would be eliminated or changed every four years. This could even encourage campaign contributions to sway legislative action.
SB 329 introduces internecine drama into the serious business of serving the people of the state. The notion that we are going to shut down the state budget office, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, or other critical agencies is laughable on the face of it. We need to recognize this for what it is – infighting – and make sure it makes no further progress in the legislature.
Wendy is Policy Matters senior project director.