May 16, 2017
May 16, 2017
Testimony to House State and Local Government Committee opposing House Bill 51
Good Morning Chairman Anielski, Vice-Chair Hambly and members of the committee. My name is Wendy Patton. I am with Policy Matters Ohio, a not-for profit, non-partisan research organization with a mission of contributing to a prosperous, equitable, inclusive and sustainable Ohio. Thank you for the opportunity to offer opponent testimony on House Bill 51.
House Bill 51 would give legislative committees the power to eliminate state departments in the Governor’s cabinet through a new “sunset” process. The process could be highly public or it could be invisible. Whole departments could cease to exist without a vote of the legislature if a committee reviewing that department does not act to renew.
No one would seriously suggest that we shut down our universities, prisons and nursing homes, lay off our state highway patrol officers and end all projects to keep up our roads and bridges. If legislators want to make sure these operations are accountable, there are numerous existing ways to do 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.
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 approach.
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 HB 51, the Texas Sunset Provision abolishes state agencies unless the legislature “renews” them. However, the legislature must vote on the Commission’s recommendation.
Under HB 51, agency review is referred to a (already busy) standing committee of the legislature. If the 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 HB 51, they could be abolished once every four years.
Businesses small and large, from highway contractors to hospitals and nursing homes, should be concerned about HB 51. 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.
The notion that we are going to shut down the state budget office, the Department of Natural Resources or other critical agencies is no laughing matter. HB 51 proposes an expensive process that would divert time and resources from the delivery of important public services.
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