A state senator wants to eliminate 101 elected positions across the state, and he's asking for help from Oklahoma voters.
Senate Joint Resolution 43, filed by Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, would allow voters to create a constitutional amendment creating a unicameral legislature consisting of 48 legislators, effectively dissolving the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
“That may be a tall order, but I think as a legislative body we're always looking to state agencies, asking them to become more efficient, asking them to save taxpayer dollars, and I think if we really look at what we do as a legislative body switching to a unicameral legislature would be a great step forward for the taxpayers of Oklahoma,” Anderson said.
If the bill were to pass, it would make Oklahoma the second state to have a unicameral, or single house, legislature. Nebraska has had a unicameral system since 1937.
Anderson contends the move would save taxpayers the $16.5 million dollars it costs to operate the House annually, adding having two chambers duplicates many legislative efforts.
“Why not just eliminate one of those chambers and make it the one that has the most members and is most inefficient in its operations,” Anderson asked.
Anderson acknowledged it will be difficult to ask House members to essentially vote to eliminate their own jobs, but he said the money saved could be put to better use.
“I think $16.5 million is a significant sum, and if we're able to put that money into education and we're able to put that money into public safety then I think we're making a better investment with those dollars than any legislative salary,” he said.
Anderson said he does not have a House author for the measure nor has he had a response from House members.
“The House/Senate system has served the people of Oklahoma quite well over the more than 100 years of this state's existence,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Mike Jackson, R-Enid. “Why would we want to eliminate the body that is closest to the people and has proven to be the champions of their will?”
The concept that reducing the size of a legislature will save a lot of money is often misleading, said Brenda Erickson, senior research analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Erickson gave the example of Illinois, which reduced its Legislature by 59 seats in 1982 to save money. According to Erickson, the move required increasing the state's districts, which resulted in the necessity for more staff, negating the cost savings created by eliminating lawmakers.
“Most people think that the legislature spends so much money,” Erickson said. “On average, the money spent on legislatures is generally very small compared to the general government expenditures, usually less than 0.2 percent.”
Oklahoma spent 0.17 percent of its budget funding the Legislature in 2013, more than $30 million, said Erickson. By comparison, the state's government as a whole spent more than $19 billion in the same year.