House leadership open to Rep. Grove's merger bill, but that may not be enough
Both House Democratic and GOP caucuses are open to state Rep. Seth Grove's proposal to merge eight state agencies into four new departments, but the leadership says it's not a priority.
The Dover Township Republican, along with a group of six other GOP lawmakers, introduced the seven-bill package last week. Smaller merging proposals have been lost in budget negotiations in past years.
"Looking at our agency system, we've had it for quite a while," Grove said. "We're trying to systematically reorganize and group things together. ... This is big restructuring."
The bill: If passed, the bill would require the mergers to cut the former departments' administrative costs by at least 20 percent — a number that could be subject to change through negotiations and further analysis. That could bring in a ballpark of $51.3 million in savings when going off the general fund appropriations numbers.
Here's how it would work:
- The Budget Office, the Department of General Services, the Office of Administration and the Governor’s Office of Policy and Planning would be merged into the Commonwealth Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
- The Department of Labor and Industry would be merged with functions of the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of State to create the Department of Business, Tourism and Workforce Development (DBTWD).
- Some powers and authorities from the Department of State and the Department of Community and Economic Development would be merged into the Department of Local Government and Community Affairs (DLGCA).
- The Department of Human Services and the Department of Health would merge into the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
In 2017, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf proposed merging the departments of health, human services, aging, and drug and alcohol programs. The proposal didn't come to fruition following concerns raised by some legislators and elderly advocacy groups.
The governor limited the merger to just the departments of health and human services last year — as Grove does in the new proposal — but that still didn't make it into budget negotiations in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Grove's might not make it onto the priority list this budget season either, even though he's a part of the majority.
"In terms of strong support of the leader, I don't have that at this time," said House Republican Caucus spokesman Mike Straub. "It's not at the top of our agenda right now. But it's certainly a worthy idea."
Straub said the package will likely come up in April or May as the House weighs government dysfunction and cost-cutting bills.
Dems open: Wolf spokesman JJ Abbott placed blame on Republicans for blocking the governor's previous efforts, but he added Wolf would welcome discussion of Grove's proposal.
"We would be open to further conversations about streamlining state government, but Gov. Wolf would only approve legislative changes negotiated in a collaborative way," Abbott said.
The idea also resonates, at least at first glance, with the House Democrats. Caucus spokesman Bill Patton said Democrats supported Wolf's proposed mergers, and it would welcome discussing Grove's proposal.
"We're supportive of anything that makes government work more efficiently for the people it serves," Patton said, adding the potential administrative cost cuts, although they might be difficult, would be welcome if they could be done without affecting services.
If Grove's merger breaks through, the OMB would oversee all aspects of the state's budgetary management, including state expenditures and budget preparation — a model used by the federal government and 29 other states. The DBTWD would encompass all forms of economic development.
The DLGCA would serve as a liaison between the state and local governments, and the DHHS would consolidate the roles of the two former departments to save taxpayer money and coordinate the programs.
In addition to merging the agencies, the bill package would eliminate 10 boards and commissions deemed outdated to eliminate redundancies. It also would merge the management of Public School Employees' Retirement System and State Employees' Retirement System to cut costs.
Additionally, the Office of Information Technology would broaden its scope to oversee all of the executive branch's information technology systems and contracts.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.