Streamlining state government

This past year when the Maine Legislature passed the budget, they intentionally left a gap of $25 million. This was on the assumption that at least that amount could be squeezed out through increasing the efficiency of the government.

To reach that goal, a Streamlining Task Force was set up. This task force consists of 12 members, including current and former legislators and members of the public, and it is chaired by Department of Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Sawin Millett. They are specifically tasked with performing an analysis of state government and prioritizing programs and services, consolidating functions, eliminating duplications and identifying positions that can be eliminated or consolidated. While the task force is required to come up with savings totaling at least $25 million, they are looking to find as much as they can.

The task force has had two meetings so far. At the first, the Governor’s Office made their proposals for a general breakdown of the cuts. The major recommendations are as follows:

• Health, human and social services    , $22,470,772
• Higher education, $6,809,044
• K-12 Education and State Board of Education, $1,102,734
• Economic Development, $602,090
• Administrative & Financial Services Department, $905,417
• Corrections, $1,600,513.

The total amount of cuts they proposed amount to more than $25,000,000, but there was assumption that not all of the proposals would be accepted.

So far, the task force has approved $11.3 million of cuts, including $8.9 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, and these cuts have been made largely through consolidations and efficiencies. They haven’t made any decisions yet on any cuts concerning higher education. The task force will have at least four more meetings, with the next one scheduled for Oct. 28. Once they are done, they will put their recommendations in a bill, which will have a public hearing before the Appropriations Committee and then voted on by the entire legislature.

While in general I would rather that the legislature had been able to put together a fully balanced budget last spring, the work of the task force is a useful exercise. Unless an organization is perfect, there is always room to make it more efficient, and periodically state agencies need someone from outside to look at them and help them identify the areas where improvements can be made. I am also glad that the bill will have a public hearing, as changes like this need to have a full, public airing.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter, both concerning the process and recommendations for specific ways the state government can be improved. Please feel free to contact me at 287-1515 or e-mail me through my website at www.mainesenate.org/diamond and let me know your thoughts.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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