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Oklahoma officials propose ways to save taxpayers money

Oklahoma officials acknowledge saving money is a priority, but sometime special interests, lobbyists, bureaucracy, political pressure work against streamlining state government.
by Rick Green Modified: June 9, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: June 9, 2014
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Dank said some streamlining can occur on relatively minor matters, but big savings usually involve issues where there are powerful special interests exerting influence to maintain the status quo.

“How many times can you consolidate the Santa Claus commission?” he asked. “Until we get into the big things, the money things, then we can’t make any progress.”

Many legislators wilt under political pressure and aren’t willing to cut spending in areas sensitive to their constituents, Dank said, citing school district consolidation as one such issue.

“They think it’s too politically toxic; they don’t want to mess with it,” he said.

The state treasurer did compliment the Legislature on a pension issue dealt with this year.

“Lawmakers took an important step this session to modernize the state’s second-largest pension system — the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System – by establishing a 401(k)-style system for new workers,” Miller said.

“This reform will provide future state employees with a modern and portable retirement program.”

However, he qualified his praise.

“And while this move makes substantial progress to move away from an outdated and unaffordable pension system, left undone is addressing the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System, whose $8 billion unfunded liability is the largest debt on the state’s balance sheet.

“The state should enact reform similar to what was done this session with OPERS for Oklahoma teachers.”

The powerful Oklahoma Education Association would fight such a move, said Linda Hampton, OEA president.

“At the Oklahoma Education Association we represent more than 35,000 educators across the state,” she said. “We believe moving educators to a defined contribution versus a defined benefit pension system would not save the state money.

“Instead, this move has been proven to send many educators, upon retirement, into poverty. In the end, this would cost the state more money to support the needs of poverty stricken education families. It is sad that Oklahoma is ranked 49th in the nation in what we pay our teachers. Also, we are suffering from a severe teacher shortage which will worsen if the retirement system is changed.”

by Rick Green
Capitol Bureau Chief
Rick Green is the Capitol Bureau Chief of The Oklahoman. A graduate of Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., he worked as news editor for The Associated Press in Oklahoma City before joining The Oklahoman.
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Did you know?

Proposals for saving taxpayers money:

Pension administration consolidation

•Oklahoma spends $80 million to $100 million each year to administer pensions for state employees.

•Combining administration and management of these systems would save $15 million a year, according to a report by New England Pension Consultants.

•A bill to unify administration of the two largest state pension systems, public employees and teachers, and save $11.7 million a year did not get a hearing in this year's legislative session.

Legal services consolidation

•Consolidating all state legal services under the attorney general's office would save $10 million.

•A bill to do this was introduced in 2010 but was not enacted.

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