Gang, meet House Bill 25.  House Bill 25 is a proposal by Representative Adams (of the “let’s repeal the State’s income tax” fame) to “consolidate a number of state agencies.  It’s based on a similar proposal former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro (R) first proposed during the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary against Ken Blackwell.  It was offered as “red meat” for the more moderate Petro to offer to try and win over the more conservative elements of his party away from Ken Blackwell.

Here’s what House Bill 25 would do.  It would essentially abolish the following agencies (most of which are Cabinet-level agencies):

Those agencies’ duties, for the most part, are assigned to new division created in existing, but modified agencies as follows (in order):

  • DAS duties’ become part of the Department of Finance and Operations (now known as the Office of Budget and Management).
  • Agriculture goes to the Department of Resource Protection (now known as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources).
  • The Liquor Control goes to the mammoth Department of Business (now known as the Department of Commerce)
  • Mental Health goes to a bloated agency called the Department of Public Health (now known as the Department of Health).
  • Department of Developmental Disabilities goes, in part to Department of Public Health, but job placement duties go to the Dept. of Human Resource Development (now known as the ODJFS.)
  • Insurance goes to Business.
  • Youth Services goes to the the Department of Community and Institutional Rehabilitation (now know as the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.)
  • Ohio EPA goes to “Resource Protection” as part of its “Resource Quality Assurance Division.”
  • Aging goes to Public Health.
  • Alcohol and Drug Addiction goes to Public Health.

But that’s not all, several independent licensing boards would now be moved under the umbrella of either the Department of Business or Public Health.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission, an independent agency, instead because part of a division of the Department of Human Resource Development.

The Department of Public Safety is in charge of the Ohio National Guard, and takes over Capitol Square from the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board.

And I’m sure there’s more.  But you get the point.

The agency makes a number of bureaucratic marriages that prior legislatures conspicuous sought to avoid.  For example, the bill strikes out language that required the Division of Financial Institutions, the state agency that regulated the banking industry, be kept independent from the influence of the head of the Department of Commerce (now, under the bill, the Department of Business.)

The idea to merge the Department of Youth Services with the Department of Corrections was kicked around the Statehouse in the 1990s, but was rejected because there’s a philosophical difference between how our juvenile system treats juvenile delinquents versus how our criminal system treats adult criminals.  This would weaken the wall between these diametrically opposing philosophies. 

And how much would these frantic mergers save Ohio?  Well, according to the bill’s supporters, $1 billion a year.  We can’t know for sure because, well, the Republican abolished the legislative office that used to do fiscal analysis of bills in the last rash of Republican government consolidation.  (It was called the Legislative Budget Office.  It was, and I’m not making this up, eliminated to save money.)

But suffice to say, most outside observers question whether these consolidations will really save any serious money at all.  In fact, quite the opposite.

Governor Bob Taft tried consolidation as a means to create savings when he eliminated the Ohio Department of Human Resources and the Ohio Department of Employment Services by merging them together into the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.  Ironically, Adams’ bill takes that behemoth organization and renames it the Department of “Human Resource Development.”  Taft’s creation of ODJFS as not been generally regarded as an effective cost savings tool.  In fact, it turn into quite the ethical mess as one of Taft’s Cabinet officials had to resign over awarding no-bid contracts in facilitating the merger.

Instead of savings by decreasing duplicity, the plan actually created most of its savings when Ohio ended local employment assistance offices and forced everyone to file for unemployment over the phone instead.  That had virtually nothing to do with the act of consolidation, however.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents a large sector of the lower lever civil service employee who would actually see the largest jobs cuts (I mean, “savings”) opposed a companion bill in the Senate which is the same as House Bill 25 when it was being considered by the State Senate as a GOP alternative to Strickland’s plan to either permit Video Lottery Terminals at Ohio’s horseracing tracks, or a freeze of the final $824 million in planned income tax cuts passed in 2005 with no plan to pay for them.

They estimated that the bill’s promised savings would likely only come from the elimination of over 10,000 state government jobs—roughly a quarter of the State’s workforce.

However, the proponents of these bills aren’t factoring in the initial costs such mergers cost: in relocating personnel into new offices, consolidating filing systems, and bringing IT systems that had operated independently from one another into a single IT system… and the retraining costs along with it.

Guess what plan the incoming House Speaker publicly latched on to as a way to solve Ohio’s budget crisis (caused almost entirely by Republicans passing tax cuts we can’t afford) in addition to his Medicaid cuts?

You guessed it.

Some people never learn.

 

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